Podcasting

The New York Times writes in the aftermath of Apple’s entry into the business:

“Podcast” is an ill-chosen portmanteau that manages to be a double misnomer. A podcast does not originate from an iPod. And it is not a broadcast sent out at a particular time for all who happen to receive it.

It is nothing other than an audio or video file that can be created by anyone – add a microphone to your computer, and you’re well on your way. The file begins its public life when you place it on a Web site, available for anyone to download to a computer and, from there, to transfer to a portable player, which may or may not be an iPod. It’s encoded in such a way that the receiving computer can pick it up in successive installments automatically, whenever they are posted to the Web site. Subscribing is the term used for the automatic downloads, and it’s apt.

The delivery mechanism for a podcast subscription is rather slick. There’s no need to go to the trouble of browsing the Web site again for fresh material: the new stuff moves without so much as a beep from the original server to your computer. Then it moves automatically to your attached portable player, keeping the content perpetually refreshed. Welcome to the post-Web era.

Microsoft and Open-Source

HBS Working Knowledge has an interview with HBS professors Pankaj Ghemawat and Ramon Casadesus-Masanell, who consider the competitive dynamics of the software wars between Microsoft and open source:

One main advantage of open source software is that because users can modify the code directly (as they encounter problems or have new ideas on how to improve it), the development cycle is significantly shorter. Proponents of OSS claim that if this demand-side learning (as we call it) is sufficiently strong, OSS will oust traditional software. In addition, software engineers claim that the better architecture of most OSS projects make them a potentially superior product, adding to the probability of success.

However, OSS has disadvantages too. Most importantly, it comes from behind in terms of market share (installed base). Because the value of an operating system depends critically on the number of users, traditional software has an advantage. Clearly, a larger installed base implies that there will be stronger direct and indirect network effects, and this will enhance the value of the operating system to current and potential users. In addition, a larger installed base also implies that there will be more feedback on bugs and more suggestions for new features.

Our paper introduces a dynamic mixed duopoly model in which a profit-maximizing competitor (Microsoft) interacts with a competitor that prices at zero (Linux), with the installed base affecting their relative values over time. We use a formal model to ask what conditions are needed for Linux to take over Windows. The questions that we address are: Is Linux’s superior demand-side learning sufficient to win out? What is the effect of forced procurement by governments and some large corporations on the long-run equilibrium? How do cost asymmetries play out? Can Microsoft use piracy strategically to improve its market position?

Our main result is that in the absence of cost asymmetries and as long as Windows has a first-mover advantage (a larger installed base at time zero), Linux never displaces Windows of its leadership position. This result holds true regardless of the strength of Linux’s demand-side learning. Furthermore, the result persists regardless of the intrinsically better design and potential differential value of Linux. In other words, harnessing demand-side learning more efficiently is not sufficient for Linux to win the competitive battle against Windows.

IT for Mobile Staff

IT Week writes:

A more recent trend is for firms to move beyond email and PIM data to look at mobilising other enterprise software such as CRM and enterprise resource planning (ERP) apps. Extended Systems, for example, offers mobile systems for sales, field service and pharmaceuticals, which are built on top of the same platform as its OneBridge Mobile groupware.

Systems such as this typically link to one or more central databases on which the corporate application is built, and may require some developer work by the vendor or a local systems integrator to meet a company’s exact needs.

Alternatively, web-based access to applications and data can largely avoid the need for middleware, but not all applications can be “published” to the web, and handheld clients often have only basic browsers that may not support JavaScript or other technology used by such applications.

Another solution is to use a VPN to allow mobile clients to link securely to the corporate network. Pocket PC devices have had a built-in VPN client since the 2002 version of the platform, while Certicom offers versions of it Movian VPN client for Palm, Symbian, and Pocket PC. VPN appliance maker Neoteris (now part of NetScreen) last year added middleware to its Secure Access devices, allowing Pocket PC and Symbian clients to link to corporate resources using just a browser.

Managing the Information Lifecycle

InfoWorld has a special report: “Information lifecycle management turns traditional storage on its head, separating information from raw data and storing it based on its business value.”

The current darling of the storage industry, ILM is based on two simple concepts. First, not all information has the same value to the organization. Second, whatever value information has tends to change over time.

If these assumptions are true, then why apply the same level of expensive storage, management, and protection to all information in an enterprise? By moving less-valuable information to less-expensive storage and applying appropriate levels of protection to each storage tier, companies save money and reserve high-end resources for the information that demands them.

The result: Mission-critical systems are less bloated, more stable, and better performing. Backup windows shrink, storage runs out less often, upgrades are less frequent, and the overall cost of storage and storage management drops.

Wikis, Weblogs and RSS

Knowledge@Whartonhas an interview with Philip Evans, a senior vice president at Boston Consulting Group, Janice Fraser, CEO of Adaptive Path, and Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText, by Kevin Werbach:

Fraser: When you look at the trends in web development, you will see a shift from what I call host-provided value — such as CitySearch (where publishers provide local events listings in different cities) — to user-provided value in websites such as Upcoming.org (a global events calendar managed by users). There is a giving up of control. The new web applications are lightweight, single function and focused on a specific problem or interaction. When you combine that trend with creative developers who are beginning to have the energy and insight to recombine technologies in new ways, you get not the explosive growth of the 1990s, but you get something more relevant. I can’t anticipate exactly what that will be, but I see the potential for businesses to change the way they think about developing and deploying technologies…When you combine applications like blogs, Wikis and RSS feeds and put a front end on them, that’s a different vision for the Internet and knowledge-sharing and management.

Evans: Now we are seeing companies choose to work in ways that’s much closer to the original vision of the Internet being a medium that is genuinely peer-to-peer, is loosely coupled and sparks different kinds of interactions. The great step forward is not the technology itself — the blogs, etc. are wonderful, but technologically minor — but rather one of new perceptions or how people see fresh possibilities and may be willing to invest in them in new ways. We have come full circle.

Mayfield: As more and more people are on the web longer, they have more access to tools and discover new ways to interact. This means you end up with a phenomenon that is as disruptive as the open source phenomenon in software — but now you see it in the media, with blogs, with communities like Wikipedia, in politics (as evidenced by the Howard Dean campaign) and many other sectors. I think such interactions have now reached a critical mass. There may be some value to letting these tools evolve in almost a Darwinian fashion on the public Internet.

TECH TALK: Shift-Ctrl: USA

The thought for this Tech Talk was sparked off by a column Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times recently and my visit to CommunicAsia in Singapore. Let us start with Friedman. He wrote in The New York Times (June 1):

In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They “make you feel so unwanted now,” said Mr. Das. America was a country “that was always reinventing itself,” he added, because it was a country that always welcomed “all kinds of oddballs” and had “this wonderful spirit of openness.” American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. “If you go dark, the world goes dark.”

Bottom line: We urgently need a national commission to look at all the little changes we have made in response to 9/11 – from visa policies to research funding, to the way we’ve sealed off our federal buildings, to legal rulings around prisoners of war – and ask this question: While no single change is decisive, could it all add up in a way so that 20 years from now we will discover that some of America’s cultural and legal essence – our DNA as a nation – has become badly deformed or mutated?

This would be a tragedy for us and for the world. Because, as I’ve argued, where birds don’t fly, people don’t mix, ideas don’t get sparked, friendships don’t get forged, stereotypes don’t get broken, and freedom doesn’t ring.

As I thought about Friedmans points, I also considered my own feelings. There was a time when I’d look forward to visit the US. I would find any excuse a conference, some meetings to make a visit there. [For the record, I lived in the US from 1988 to 1992 studying at Columbia in New York, and then working at NYNEX in White Plains, just north of New York. I also spent six months in the Bay Area before returning to India for good in May 1992.]

I found the US a great way to re-charge the brain. Meeting people, visiting trade shows and conferences, walking in malls and bookstores, there were ideas aplenty. There was an infectious energy that I did not find in India. The US was the epicentre of innovation and I was an avid student.

Something has changed in the past few years.

Tomorrow: USA (continued)