Microsoft’s Nightmare

News.com writes that Microsoft’s nightmare is inching closer to reality.

As early as May 1995, three months before Netscape Communications’ initial public offering sparked the dot-com boom, Microsoft executives were worried that the nascent World Wide Web could one day become a significant threat to the Windows franchise.

In an extensive memo called “The Web is the Next Platform” that was introduced as evidence in Microsoft’s antitrust trial five years ago, Microsoft engineer Ben Slivka described a “nightmare” scenario for the software giant.

“The Web…exists today as a collection of technologies that deliver some interesting solutions today, and will grow rapidly in the coming years into a full-fledged platform (underlined for emphasis in the original memo) that will rival–and even surpass–Microsoft’s Windows,” Slivka wrote.

Microsoft, however, didn’t heed the warning. Instead, it embarked on a strategy–championed by Jim Allchin, who today heads up development of the next version of Windows–that was fanatically focused on the operating system.

Fast-forward 10 years: The nightmare is inching closer to reality and Microsoft execs are apparently paying attention to the decade-old alert. As part of a management shuffle, Microsoft said Tuesday it would make hosted services a more strategic part of the company and fold its MSN Web portal business into its platform product development group, where Windows is developed.

OneWebDay

Susan Crawford has an interesting idea:

The internet has revolutionized the lives of people all around the world, who treasure the interaction and cultural richness they find online. Because the internet is made up of machines, people sometimes think of it in a mechanical way and, often, as a machine that needs to be fixed. But the internet is as interesting and diverse as society itself. It is also fragile.

Just as we have an Earth Day to celebrate and focus on the health of the Earth, we need a day to celebrate the health and diversity of the internet and our interactions online. OneWebDay, planned for Sept. 22 of every year, will provide a chance to do that.

But OneWebDay is not just about pictures. Its about action. Well be encouraging global efforts to wire villages, connect schools, put up more hotspots, build collective online artworks, write and perform collective online music, show days on the web, and many other barn-raising and creative and connecting projects. We will have a major offline component, with people telling stories about how the web has changed their lives, and showing each other special OneWebDay artifacts. Theres no limit to what will happen on OneWebDay every year.

Business Ideas

Business 2.0 offers many entrepreneurial business ideas as part of its $50 million giveaway (via VCs). One of them:

$5M SUBSCRIPTION PCS FOR SENIORS

WHO: John Zagula, Ignition Partners, Bellevue, Wash.
WHO HE IS: As a top marketing exec for Microsoft Office from 1992 to 2000, Zagula helped it grow from a $50 million product to a $10 billion industry standard. In 2000 he joined Ignition, which manages $300 million in venture funds.
WHAT HE WANTS: PCs tailored for senior citizens, who would rent the machines on a monthly basis.
WHY IT’S SMART: By far, seniors make up the fastest-growing demographic in the United States; their numbers will swell to more than 70 million by 2030, when they’ll make up 17 percent of the population. They’re also going online in record numbers, despite the fact that many seniors find PCs too complex to use.
Zagula thinks the answer is a stripped-down PC that runs on Web-based applications, each tailored to make the most popular features — e-mail, instant messaging, photo sharing, bill paying, gift shopping, prescription ordering — as easy to use as hitting the “On” button. Leasing the machines for $30 or so per month would be attractive to seniors who are reluctant to buy. Retirement communities might lease them en masse (as part of tenants’ monthly fees), and the AARP could offer them to its members at a discounted rate. “Any easy solution will be hugely differentiated, given how much the software industry seems addicted to adding complexity,” Zagula says. “My mother-in-law is the customer. She’s a terrific person with ample discretionary income. And her need is clear: She wants a better means of gossiping with all her friends.”
WHAT HE WANTS FROM YOU: You and a team of four or five programmers need to develop a handful of Web applications with a senior-friendly format to make them irresistible. Zagula expects the initial funding to pay for limited trials.
SEND YOUR PLAN TO: info@ignitionpartners.com

TECH TALK: Rajasthan Ruminations 2: Timeout

For the last nine years, the Rajasthan trip has been pretty much the only time out that I take during the year. Most of my travels always combine a little bit of pleasure with a lot of business. It also gives me time to think away from a routine of emails, phone calls and meetings.

I still remember my first visit in this series in early 1997. Bhavana had suggested we make the trip to Nakodaji. Those were difficult times for my business. I had reluctantly agreed. It was on that trip as we drove back from Nakodaji to Jodhpur that we thought up all the Indian names which later became our portals khoj (search), khel (cricket), samachar (news), bawarchi (food), dhan (finance), manpasand (favourites). Since then, every year, I have always kept a list of things to ask the Gods for!

All these years, it had been just Bhavana and me making the trips. Id sit in the car on the long drives thinking about work, and what was going right or wrong. The trips become a good time for introspection because I got near-infinite, uninterrupted chunky time. It is hard to get that in our modern, always-connected world (except on international flights). Even though I would have my mobile with me, I would put it on Silent mode for the entire trip choosing to ignore incoming calls and messages. I was on my mini-vacation.

This year, it was different, thanks to Abhishek. He was the object of all attention. He managed rather well, sleeping for the most part through our road journeys. We had rented a Toyota Qualis, so it was quite comfortable. The roads were somewhat bumpy at times, though! Traveling on single-lane or two-lane roads which are semi-tarred can slow you down fair a bit.

I always keep a small diary in my pocket and a notebook (the paper variety) with me for making notes. I write down all my thoughts and ideas as they come. Writing helps me think better. As thoughts flit in and out of the mind, I capture them on paper so the mind can move on, uncluttered and not having to worry about remembering the previous thoughts.

Vacations are not something I am used to. It takes a day to get used to a very different pace of life. Time seems to pass ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. But it is good to experience something different. As I was telling Bhavana towards the end of the trip, I would love to spend a week or so at one of the temples completely cut-off from the world with just a few books and my thoughts for company.

Tomorrow: Water Problem

Continue reading

Creating India’s Middle Class

[via Suhit] ACM: Ubiquity has an interview with Michael Schrage. Excerpts:

SCHRAGE: Particularly if we’re looking 25 to 50 years out, it’s probably in the best interests of America as a nation and Americans as individuals to encourage this worldwide explosion of invention and opportunity because everyone everywhere will have greater choices for less money. The challenge is the Wal-Mart phenomenon. Look, let’s go back to Henry Ford, who did something brilliant when he came up with the affordable automobile, the Model T, and then did something extraordinary that people, except for sociologists, don’t talk as much about: he invented the five-dollar day for his employees (a huge pay increase!) so they could actually afford to buy the automobiles that they made.

UBIQUITY: And you’re saying the same idea needs to be applied to the developing world.

SCHRAGE: Absolutely. I’m doing work with Intel, and with Microsoft, and with Cisco, and they’re all looking hungrily and with fear at the developing world. So the most important product Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft need to create in China and India is not hardware or software or services, the most important product would be the creation of a Middle Class.

Computing’s Future

Nicholas Carr writes:

At the start of this year, I wrote an article about utility computing that came to be published in the spring edition of the MIT Sloan Management Review under the title The End of Corporate Computing. In it, I argued that advances in networking and related technologies like virtualization and web services are going to radically transform the way information technology is supplied to businesses. Companies are going to shift from the traditional, fragmented model of client-server computing, which requires them to buy, assemble and maintain vast quantities of complex and inefficient computing machinery, to a centralized utility model, in which computing assets are rationalized, standardized and consolidated and what we’ve come to call “IT” is supplied over networks as a service from central utility plants. The economic advantages of the utility model are so great, I argued, that the transformation of IT is inevitable.

When I wrote the piece, I assumed this shift would play out slowly, as the utility model battled against a status quo propped up by the entrenched interests of both suppliers and corporate IT departments. But now I’m not so sure. I may have been thinking too conservatively. In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen, particularly on the software side, growing signs of a sea change. As consolidation, commoditization and weakening demand turn traditional packaged software into a rust-belt industry, dominated by a couple of big suppliers looking to milk the installed base, innovation and growth seem to be shifting quickly to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) arena. Pushed by diverse utility upstarts like Google (on the consumer side, so far), Salesforce.com, RightNow Technologies, 37signals and Rearden Commerce, traditional software makers are now jockeying to position themselves as players in the SaaS world.

Bill Joy Interview

[via Abhay Bhagat] Excerpts of an interview with Bill Joy from NerdTv:

Bob: I guess I’m wondering about areas that are emerging technologies that are interesting. And in every technical era we say oh that’s client server computing, that’s network computing, that’s workstations, that’s wireless. What are we just leaving and what are we just entering into?

Bill: We’re leaving an era where it was relatively simple. There was electronics burst on the scene where as law and things changed very quantitatively. So we had a mini computer then a big personal computer. And the personal computers kept shrinking and/or getting more powerful for very long period, maybe 20 years. And then suddenly what happened was we passed a threshold where the miniaturization allowed suddenly a phone, cell phone had the power of what your computer used to be but now if fits in your pocket and a little tiny keyboard, little tiny screen and is always connected. That’s very different. So the computers on the information side are becoming less recognizably kind of morphologically, kind of the same shape just shrunk and slightly altered as they were 30 years ago. They’re becoming more invisible. They’re having different ways of interacting with them by talking to them or touching them or having them always with you as opposed to something that’s in your bag which you don’t always have with you. So we’ve gone from a kind of a single trajectory, the Microsoft Intel personal computer wave trajectory with some life science, early genetics sighted to now having new sciences and materials, whole range of new opportunities and energy. Much, much broader set of opportunities than the life sciences and really a confluence of software with all the sciences that makes new things possible.

Yahoo Mail Implications

Walter Mossberg writes:

Yahoo, EarthLink and AOL all have recently introduced versions that lift their functionality well beyond the old model of Web mail. All are using new programming techniques that turn them from simple Web pages into something resembling the fluidity of desktop applications.

For instance, these new email offerings allow you to drag and drop items, and do most things without waiting for a Web page to refresh or a new page to open. That’s a big change from the old system, where any significant action was performed in circuitous ways and required the Web page containing the email program to tediously reload.

This is a major breakthrough, and one that will extend beyond Web mail. More Web sites will be revamped to look and work like regular desktop programs, hastening the day when most applications may reside online.

Ajax technology will be the next upgrade to the Web.

Web 2.0 Mash-ups

[via Sadagopan] Mark Sigal writes:

So what is Web 2.0? At the core, it is an applied web service model that blurs the line between software and service. It can do this because: 1) it is optimized for the 60 million broadband connections in place; 2) it can count upon an installed base of 300 million video-ready mobile and PC devices; and 3) Thanks to the AJAX meme, it can reliably assume the ubiquity of a really good browser experience.

So that answers the “HOW” side of the equation, but “WHY” now? Simply put, the emergence of the blogosphere has changed the equation. First off, its footprint has become really meaningful. At last count, according to Technorati, there are 16 million blogs in existence, growing 100K new blogs a day and generating a jaw-dropping 1.2 million new posts a day.

Second, the mainstreaming of RSS is enabling syndication and subscription systems that can intelligently process context-aware messages. Over time, these systems will become adept at handling rich content “payloads,” enabling further innovation. Slide is an early example of one such application, and I covered the RSS side of the Web 2.0 equation in an earlier post.

But the real shocker in all of this is that people really seem to enjoy generating lots of custom content and then sharing it on a broad scale, proving that the open source movement is not just some techie phenomena.

As a new class of photo and video cameras gain support for wi-fi based upload capabilities, this will remove a perceived hurdle to getting multimedia content online (a challenge that mobile devices happily avoid), fostering creation of some really compelling digital media services.

TECH TALK: Rajasthan Ruminations 2: Temples

Recently, I made my annual visit to Rajasthan. It is a trip my wife and I have done since 1997. [Here is what I wrote after my last years visit.] For a few days, we will leave aside the comforts of urban life and travel through Rajasthan visiting temples and staying in Jain dharamshalas for Rs 50-100 a night with only the most basic amenities. This year, we had four-and-a-half-month-old Abhishek with us. We were also joined by Bhavanas mother, and her sister, her husband and their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

We began the trip in Jodhpur, and drove 1200 kms. over four days before taking the flight back to Mumbai from Ahmedabad. En route, we visited 14 temples with Nakodaji, Ranakpur, Dilwara (in Mount Abu) and Ambaji being the more prominent ones. Every trip begins for us in Jodhpur with a visit to Nakodaji, and then the route varies depending on the time we have.

Nakodaji (about 110 kms. from Jodhpur) holds special significance for Jains. It attracts a lot of visitors round the year. I have memories of visiting it during the Rajasthan visits I used to make as a child and teen also. Here is a little background from Jaintirths.com: The ancient name of this Tirth is mentioned as Virampur. Virden and Nakorsen of the third century of the Vikram era built this temple and His Holiness Acharya Sthulibhadraswami installed the idol. In course of time, this temple was renovated many times. When Alamshah invaded this place in the year 1280 of the Vikram era, the Sangha kept this idol hidden in the cellar in the Kalidrah village for protection. This temple was again renovated in the fifteenth century. 120 idols were brought here from Kalidrah and this beautiful and miraculous idol was installed here as Mulnayak in the year 1429 of the Vikram era. Acharya Kirtiratnasurishvarji installed the idol Bhairavji here. Nakoda Bhairavji is very powerful and benevolent. He protects the Tirth and fulfills the wishes of the worshippers. His miracles are known all over the world.

Ranakpur is perhaps architecturally the most spectacular. Pilgrimage-India writes: Ranakpur is famous for some marvelous carved Jain temples constructed during the regime of Rana Kumbha of Mewar in 1439 AD. Ranakpur is ranked among the 5 holiest pilgrimage center of the Jain religion, remarkable in its architecture splendor and beauty. The temple shrines contain 24 halls with exquisite carved 1440 pillars. All the pillars are unique in themselves, with each one adorned with intricate and delicate work. The most famous central temple dedicated to the Jain Thirthankara Adinath ji, is also called Chaumukha- four-faced.

The Dilwara temples are often described as a dream in marble. NetFundu writes: The Jain Dilwara temples of India are located about 2 kilometers from Mount Abu, Rajasthan’s only hill station. These temples dating back from the 11th to the 13th century AD are world famous for their stunning use of marble. Although the Jains built some beautiful temples at other places in Rajasthan but none come close to these in terms of architectural perfection. The ornamental detail spread over the minutely carved ceilings, doorways, pillars and panels is simply marvelous and has to be seen to be believed.

Visiting these and other temples transports one to a different world. It is a world where time has almost stood still. The pooja rituals are performed the same way day after day after day. Every day is just like the previous one. Some days have a lot more devotees, other days a little less. But the temples stand there as they have for centuries, accepting one and all. The Rajasthan visits take me back to my roots to the land where my parents grew up, but one with which I now struggle to make a connection.

Tomorrow: Timeout

Continue reading

Singapore and India

Atanu Dey was in Singapore recently and compares it with India:

Comparing Singapore to India from an Indians perspective is depressing: how did we – given all the advantages we had in 1950 compared to Singapore – squander it all and end up being a poor misgoverned over-populated country? That is the depressing bit.

There are lessons by the score that one can learn from the Singapore experiment; lessons that could be arrived at through simple logical reasoning in the abstract but made all the more compelling to see it actually work out in practice. The fundamental lesson to my mind is this: policies well thought out, rigorously implemented, and single-mindedly enforced have the power to transform.

Information Value

David Wessel writes in the WSJ:

Most of the time, speedier, cheaper information allows the economy to produce more from less, often by eliminating mistakes, cutting wasted effort and shrinking doubt. Uncertainty is costly. Information is the antidote to uncertainty, as Harvard psychologist Donald Cox put it 40 years ago.

Thirty years ago, Mr. Arrow said the fundamental problem for companies trying to get and use information for profit was “the limitation on the ability of any individual to process information.” Computers remove that limit, and force society to wrestle with practical issues that seemed only theoretical a generation ago.

Internet Bubble?

The Economist writes:

The Skype deal is absolutely a return to the 1999 mentality, says Pip Coburn of Coburn Ventures, a technology-strategy firm. It and many of the other recent and mooted internet deals seem to be based on little more than the belief of management that everything is going to change dramatically in the next few years, in highly unpredictable ways, and so all options need to be covered. Given that mentality, says Mr Coburn, a manager can pretty much justify paying any price.

One difference between today and the late 1990s is that today many of the fancy prices of internet firms are being paid by companies buying them, rather than by investors merely buying their shares. Their motives are understandable: to protect themselves from the potential risks and position themselves for the potential rewards of a maturing internet. What remains to be seen is how much some of these embattled firms will pay in their pursuit of the winning lottery ticket.

Killer Maps

Technology Review writes:

The mapping revolution could, in short, change the way we think of the World Wide Web. We’ve long spoken of the Web as if it were a place–with “sites” that we “go to”–but as places go, it’s been a rather abstract, disembodied one. Now that’s changing. Geotagging means the Web is slowly being wedded with real space, enhancing physical places with information that can deepen our experiences of them and making computing into a more “continuous” part of our real lives.

For example, users of smart phones and wireless PDAs with location technologies such as Global Positioning System chips may soon be able to automatically retrieve stories, photos, videos, or historical accounts related to their current locations, along with ads and listings for nearby shopping, dining, entertainment, and business outlets.

And the information is already flowing both ways: users can upload their own texts, photographs, and other data to the Internet and pin them to specific latitudes and longitudes. “Historically, maps were a ‘read-only’ medium,” says Schuyler Erle, chief engineer at Locative Technologies and coauthor of Mapping Hacks. “Maps were only created by professional cartographers and professional GIS [geographic information systems] people. What has happened because of Moore’s Law is that people now have the computing power on their desktops to manage the vast amounts of data that are required for digital cartography. Maps are increasingly a ‘read-write’ medium. That changes how we interact with them and the impact they can have on our everyday lives.”

Microsoft and Software

WSJ writes about how Microsoft is changing the way it develops software to counter Google:

Microsoft’s holy grail is a system that cranks out a new, generally bug-free version of basic Windows every few years, with frequent updates in between to add enhancements or match a competitor’s offering.

The Longhorn crisis helps explain the sweeping restructuring that Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer announced this week to organize the company into three major business units. A key goal is to force Microsoft to be more nimble in producing and delivering software.

While Windows itself couldn’t be a single module — it had too many functions for that — it could be designed so that Microsoft could easily plug in or pull out new features without disrupting the whole system. That was a cornerstone of a plan Messrs. Srivastava and Valentine proposed to their boss, Mr. Allchin. Microsoft would have to throw out years of computer code in Longhorn and start out with a fresh base. It would set up computers to automatically reject bug-laden code. The new Longhorn would have to be simple. It would leave bells and whistles for later — including Mr. Gates’s WinFS, Messrs. Srivastava and Allchin say.

The Great Internet Transformation

Kevin Werbach offers an explanation for the emerging world:

Something tells me the model of the Internet and communications world we’ve followed since the early 1990s may be falling appart.

The concept is that connectivity, applications, and content are distinct technical, business, and regulatory spheres. I’m one of the culprits, as an advocate of the “layered model” for Internet policy. But if you go back to Mary Meeker’s seminal “Internet Report” in 1995 (written, she told me, because so many prospective investors she met on the Netscape IPO road show were completely clueless about the Internet), you’ll see the same pattern: infrastructure businesses (ISPs), application businesses (search, advertising, and e-commerce), and content businesses. The only company that seriously spans all those markets today is AOL Time Warner… and look where it got them.

Soon, though, most of the major Internet players are likely to be hybrids of two or more layers. Google and eBay will be infrastructure and applications; Yahoo! and News Corp. will be applications and content; telephone, wireless, and cable operators will be infrastructure nad content; Microsoft and Time Warner will span all three levels. And that’s just what we’ve seen announced so far. In this market, everyone is in play.

It does sound as though all of us excited about the “Web 2.0” vision of open standards built on top of open standards, facilitating mashups and lightweight innovations all around, might want to question our assumptions. Yes, that is where we have been heading, but it might not be where we ultimately go. If GoogleNet, SkypeBay, MSAOL, Telco Fiberia, and CableLand emerge as competing integrated fiefdoms, we’ll see something more like the early 90’s online services, albeit on a much bigger stage.

The Future of Entertainment

Newsweek has a cover story in its international edition on the future of entertainment:

Just as all politics is local, all news and entertainment is now personalin the digital age, users can manipulate media to do what they want, when they want. Thanks to high-speed broadband pipes and peer-to-peer technology that puts more computing power in the hands of individuals, it’s become much easier to create and manipulate media online. In this new world, consumers, as much as creators, are in control.

Secondly, the Internet changes the timeline of entertainment production, broadcast and consumption. Instead of a movie opening on the big screen, then trickling down to television, video and the Internet, it can appear in all formats at once, as 2929 Entertainment plans to do with new Steven Soderbergh releases. At the same time, in a world of digital choice, people can ignore your offerings, but they can also keep watching, reading or listening forever. That concept, famously dubbed the “Long Tail” by Wired editor Chris Anderson, also changes the entire economic model of entertainment, creating hugely successful niche products over longer periods of time.

Asian Innovation Awards

WSJ writes about the finalists:

Forget, for a moment, the idea that an innovation has to be something new, either in terms of the problem it solves or when it was invented.

Just ask Mohammad Saidullah, an Indian honey seller in his 60s, who has been peddling his amphibious bicycle around the flood-prone plains of Bihar — and once or twice across the Ganges — for the past 30 years.

It’s not much to look at — a sky-blue tangle of spokes, paddles and wooden floats — but it has finally gotten some recognition. Discovered by an Indian organization called the Honey Bee network, which collects data on such initiatives via a web of students, nongovernment groups and volunteers, his contraption earned Mr. Saidullah a life-time achievement award in January from India’s National Innovation Foundation. And now he’s one of 12 finalists for this year’s Asian Innovation Awards, presented by The Asian Wall Street Journal in association with Global Entrepolis@Singapore. The awards honor people and companies who improve quality of life or business productivity.

Map of the Web 2.0 World

Chris of Web Service Finder writes:

When looking at the world of web 2.0 I think that you can categorize the companies and products into a few different areas:

Data Silos:
Sites that create or originate content but do not share them openly are what I call data silos. Many of the “Web 1.0” companies fall into this area. Examples include: Match.com, Career Builder,

Web Service Providers :
Sites that expose functionality and data openly are what I call web service providers.
Examples: Google Maps, eBay API, Flickr

Data Silo Aggregator:
Sites that unify data from separate data silos into one common view.
Examples: AP News Wire (offline), Indeed.com, Oodle

Web Services Aggregators:
Sites that unify separate web services and/or data silos.
Examples: Chicago Crime Guy, Weatherbonk, Craigslist/Google maps mashup

Longhorn and Microsoft

Julian Bond thinks that Longhorn (Vista) will be the end of Microsoft.

Well I’m reading more and more about how Intel and Microsoft in conjunction with the hardware manufacturers will be bolting DRM in various forms right in the middle of the OS. I’m reading about how I won’t be able to do what I want to do. The only reason I stay with XP is because so much software appears on XP first, Apple later and if you’re lucky and Linux hardly at all. But if significant software I want to run is prevented from running, It’s finally going to tip me over the edge to switch.

The other side to this is that MS is getting into the classic big software project mentality. Whatever the bug or feature is, it will be fixed in the version that comes out with Longhorn. Because all the software is so intimately tied to the OS, there’s come a point where they can no longer ship each individual piece early and often. Everything has to wait for the big release. And that big release therefore ends up being vast and untestable. And late.

Now it looks like I’m going to be due a machine upgrade round about the time of the Longhorn release. And by chance that coincides with when Apple-Intel laptops should be available. So finally I’m being forced into making a choice that I otherwise could have put off for a bit longer. Will I stay with MS for another cycle or is this the time I jump ship? Will all the endless annoyances of windows being added to by another load of DRM and control finally tip me over the edge?

I think I’m not alone in this. A Unix based OS with a pretty face, stable drivers, and easy access to all that OSS feels awfully attractive. Just maybe a Linux distro will be as good as Mac OSX but I kind of doubt it.