2006 as Microsoft’s Year?

Brad Feld thinks so: “Microsoft has been kicked around plenty the last few years by the likes of Google, Yahoo, the press, and many participants in the software industry. However, during this time, the Microsoft money machine has continued to generate cash at a prodigious rate. The home of build it cheap and stack it high is about to have two major project releases (Vista and Office 12) that will be relevant to over 500 million computers during the next few years. Vista, Office 12, and all the supporting technology, dev tools, platform layers, and web services equate to a massive force of change which if history is a guide will result in a huge amount of money flowing to Microsoft and many of the members of the Microsoft ecosystem.”

Fred Wilson likens Bill Gates to a cat with nine lives and says:

…software is becoming “organic”. I believe Google started this movement. They released a free web service that people responded to in an emotional way. That created a phenomenon that drew developers and users to the Google franchise. Google opened up their APIs so people could build businesses on top of them. Now they have a whole ecosystem. This has happened with other software platforms too – Craigslist, Flickr, Skype, etc.

Microsoft may want to be part of this “organic” software world, but its not in their DNA. And I think many of their leading technology minds get this new way of being and want to be part of it. So they leave, some to Google, many to do startups.

Consumers get this too. They don’t want to be locked in any more. Microsoft is the master of lock in. They want open software, open source, open potential. You don’t have to look any farther than Firefox’ market share to see this happening in the consumer market.

Business Week’s Web Picks

Business Week picks its Best of the Web and writes: ” At many new Web sites and services, the creative energy of countless souls virtually crackles off the screen. They’re cobbling together their own services from customizable Web sites and Lego-style pieces of Web software. By the millions, they’re gathering and disseminating their own news with blogs and podcasts, creating customized article and photo feeds from their favorite sites and even annotating them with helpful text tags that others can search for on the Web site del.icio.us. They’re producing their own entertainment on video, social-networking, game, and photo-sharing sites such as Yahoo’s Flickr. At MySpace.com, some 21 million monthly visitors spend up to several hours a day sharing their thoughts, photos, and music with friends on personalized home pages. Ditto at Cyworld, which claims almost a third of South Korea’s 48 million people as members.”

Personal Health Information

The latest Release 1.0 deals with personal health information.

Most health information is incomplete or lacking in context. Yet, if that information can be made liquid – flowing from where it is generated to where it is needed, combining with other bits of information to make sense – it can be tremendously powerful. It can suggest diagnoses and treatments, direct resources, affect behavior and ultimately, prolong lives and make them more satisfying.

Specifically, personal health information is powerful in two distinct ways: First is when all the information for a single patient is digitized, aggregated and made meaningful for that person and her health-care providers. Second is when that same kind of information is rendered in standard formats aggregated across patients, and then data-mined, analyzed and refined.

Healthcare is an interesting area in India from the IT automation point of view. Given that limited legacy exists, how can we rethink healthcare for tomorrow’s world?

Mobile Web Design

Cameron Moll and Brian Fling write:

Youre considering retrofitting an existing website/web app to be more accessible to mobile users, or youre planning a new website/web app and want to include mobile in the mix. What are your options?

The way we see it, your options boil down to four choices:

1. Do nothing.
2. Kill all styling and allow raw HTML to be rendered.
3. Use media=”handheld” stylesheets.
4. Repurpose content, code, and images specifically for mobile users.

Math Matters

Thomas Friedman writes:

As Low-Sim Ay Nar, principal of Xinmin Secondary School, explained to me, Singapore has got rote learning down cold. No one is going to outdrill her students. What it is now focusing on is how to develop more of America’s strength: getting Singaporean students and teachers to be more innovative and creative. “Numerical skills are very important,” she told me, but “I am now also encouraging my students to be creative – and empowering my teachers. We have been loosening up and allowing people to grow their own ideas.”

She added: “We have shifted the emphasis from content alone to making use of the content” on the principle that “knowledge can be created in the classroom and doesn’t just have to come from the teacher.”

Toward that end, some Singapore schools have adopted a math teaching program called HeyMath, which was started four years ago in Chennai, India, by two young Indian bankers, Nirmala Sankaran and Harsh Rajan, in partnership with the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University.

HeyMath’s mission is to be the math Google – to establish a Web-based platform that enables every student and teacher to learn from the “best teacher in the world” for every math concept and to also be able to benchmark themselves against their peers globally.

TECH TALK: Building a Better India: Prologue

A recent business trip in India was unusual for me. I covered three cities (Bangalore, Chennai and Pune) in four days before returning to Mumbai. Most of my trips are single-city trips with me returning to Mumbai in a day or two. I was away from home for four days one of the longest in recent memory for a non-international trip.

When one travels, there is plenty of time to think. The three Jet Airways flights I took all ended up being delayed two by half-hour, and the third by an hour-and-a-half (there was a bird hit on the previous sector). The road journey from Mumbai airport to Pune and then back home took almost four hours each way even though the expressway part was covered in just over an hour.

This multi-city tour gave me a better understanding of the changing India. This Tech Talk is about the new India that is being constructed around us. As I look at around, I cannot help thinking that we have an opportunity to do things much better than what we are doing. We can make our cities much more livable and improve quality of life if we are prepared to think a little before we get down to doing things. The early results, though, are very mixed.

Take our roads, for example. Even after all these decades of road construction, we dont get it right. We build roads to last from monsoon to monsoon. The first heavy downpour of the season washes away the tarred surface. It is then a few months before we get to fixing these roads. A few months of delight and it is time for the next monsoon. Of course, some roads in cities like Mumbai have been concretised. They survive.

It should have been obvious to our municipal corporations that given the hyper-growth that is happening, we do not have time to fix the same problem again and again. We need to get it done right and move on. There is no shortage of things which need attention, especially since we do not believe in planning ahead. Ours is a reactive governance. When people (or the media) make noise about something, give attention to that problem and then provide a short-term fix.

Corruption at various levels is of course the obvious answer to why problems do not get a permanent fix. But I think it is more than that. I think it is also because we as a citizenry are very accepting of the poor public infrastructure that we find around us. A few decades of steadily diminishing expectations have conditioned us to be delighted by the good stuff we find around and inured us to the not-so-good stuff. We have set the bar too low. And as individuals, we feel helpless. What weight does one voice have? Or even a few. Everyone else seem to just be going about their lives silently.

This is the part we now have to change. And for the first time, we have the tools to do so. We need to, however, reset our expectations and raise the bar of what we consider satisfactory in the things that we see around us. Citizen activism is what will help us build a better India. But before we look at the how, let me share some more of my experiences.

Tomorrow: The Bad