Microsoft after Gates

Dave Winer asks some hard questions:

When the top executive of a major company steps down, even gradually, we are too easily distracted by the emotional arguments, and Microsoft plays this sleight of hand better than almost anyone, but come on, do you think Bill would be stepping aside if the [stock] graph were inverted?

How effective has Microsoft’s capital expenditures on software R&D been over the last decade? Doesn’t all the revenue still come from R&D that was done in the early 90s? How can Microsoft justify employing all those programmers? What exactly are they doing?

Why doesn’t Gates leave now, so that the new management can start fresh and make the adjustments that are needed to reverse the slide? And who’s going to take Ballmer’s place when they realize they need more than a sales guy who can lead a pep rally to run the company?

I guess the question is why is Gates taking so long to get out of the way?

Attention Scarcity and Marketing

Fast Company Blog writes about a talk given by John Hagel:

The challenge he posed is: The new scarcity = attention; there has been a profound shift in busienss economics from shelf space as the key scarce resource to people’s time and attention and the key scarce resource.

So what does this do to/for (because there’s opportunity as well as challenge) to branding, marketing, metrics?

According to John, marketing was formerly based on the three I’s — Intercept, isolate, inhibit — and instead it should be based on the three A’s: attract, assist (develop understandingn of context both pre and post purchase); affiliate (mobilize people to help deliver value)

This, says John, is an inexorable move from product and vendor centric promises (buy from me because I have great products or because I am a great vendor) to a customer-centric promise (buy from me because I know you as an individual customer beter than any one else and you can trust me to confiugure the right bundle of products and services to fill your needs as they evolve over time).

RSS Readers

Ryan Stewart has a review. “News readers are becoming more and more indispensable as people turn to blogs for their news – and even major news sites are making increasing use of RSS feeds. Being able to take that content wherever you go – online or offline, is going to become very important. The explosion of mobile devices and the coming of the living room entertainment system are going to provide new ways for users to consume RSS. The solutions that are going to get the most attention are those that can deploy on any of these platforms and also provide the ‘2.0’ functionality that has changed the web.”

China’s Middle Class

The McKinsey Quarterly writes:

Housing and health care will be two of the fastest-growing categories. In many emerging economies consumers spend proportionately less on housing as their incomes increase. Since private ownership of China’s housing stock has only recently begun and government subsidies for housing have been reduced, Chinese consumers will have to allocate more of their income to paying for shelter and utilities. These outlays are expected to reach a combined 16.6 percent of household budgets by 2025. In addition, increased home ownership will fuel spending on construction services, building materials, and furnishings. Given the importance of health care to Chinese families, the country’s rapidly aging population, and the challenges facing the public health care system, we project that private health expenditures by urban consumers will grow at a rate of more than 11 percent annually over the next two decades. This increase in spending will create significant opportunities for health care providers, insurance companies, medical-equipment manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies.

As incomes rise, Chinese consumers will also devote a larger proportion of their household budgets to educational expenses (such as tuition, tutors, and textbooks)more than their counterparts in developed countries. This spending will be driven by the strong link between education and higher salaries, as well as by the growing number of options for both higher and vocational education.

Mobile Communities

[via Vinu] Mobile Community Design has an interview with Jeff Axup.

Communities are defined by sociologists as networks of people who share strong social ties which provide informational and physical resources. Traditionally these were geographically bounded neighbourhoods. However, with the advent of modern communication and transportation technologies, they are increasingly mobile and dispersed. A tourism research paper recently noted that “Society as a whole is becoming more restless and mobile, in contrast to the relatively rigid patterns of modernity. One of the cultural symbols of this increasingly mobile world is the backpacker” (Richards & Wilson, 2004). As we become increasingly more mobile, it is likely that we will adopt behaviours similar to existing mobile communities such as backpackers, truckers, and travelling business people.

Mobile device manufacturers already want to support “anytime, anywhere” access, and they may be able to benefit from a better understanding of how these communities operate and what their needs are.

TECH TALK: Computing for the Next Billion: Network Computers

I have written extensively in previous Tech Talks on using thin clients (or network computers) as the solution to making computing affordable and manageable, and thus taking it to the mass market of users in emerging markets. [See the right panel on my blog and look for the sub-section Affordable Computing and ICT for Development under My Best Writings.]

Novatium, a company I have helped co-found, is working on exactly this. The company website offers the benefits:

Novatium’s access devices are Thin because their complexity has been moved from the device to a central server. So, the user finds an appliance-like simplicity in using Novatium devices.

Devices built on Novatiums technology platform, which is a ground-up invention, offer users the following Go Thin! benefits:

  • Control: Novatium access devices are centrally managed and therefore easy to control. All installations, configuration changes and application software additions are implemented at the central server.
  • Secure: Novatium offers custom built high security solutions at unmatched price points like biometric and smart card authentication modules.The threat of virus and hacker attacks is diminished, because all data is securely protected at a single point. Back-up becomes easier, as all data is stored on the server.
  • Economise: Novatiums access devices cut down the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). For enterprise computing environments, the overall cost savings range from 25% to 50%, depending on whether it is a Linux or Windows environment.
  • Entrust: Novatiums access devices do not possess moving parts that normally contribute to break-downs. With downtime drastically lowered, organizational productivity is enhanced.
  • Outlast: Novatium devices are virtually obsolescence free. This is because all system upgrades are carried out at the server end.
  • In an article in February discussing the various options for providing computing to the poor, Michael Kanellos had this to say about thin clients:

    Thin clients are inexpensive, lightweight terminals that rely on servers to store data and crunch numbers. They’re used by banks, airlines and insurance companies in the west, and entrepreneurs such as India’s Rajesh Jain and academics like Deepak Phatak and Ashok Jhunjhunwala are promoting them for rural use.

    Pros: Because they don’t need fast processors or a hard drive, thin clients can be produced for about $100, including a used monitor. Some designs use an existing TV to cut costs further. The fact that the software is centralized on a server also makes it easier to handle upgrades and control viruses. Interestingly, local leaders, rather than multinationals, are behind this one.

    Cons: Thin clients rely on servers, so if the server goes out, the terminals go down. Users have also said that thin clients can run slowly if too many people log on to the server, but proponents say the technology has steadily improved.

    So, having covered all the various options, what do I think about which of these approaches will win?

    Tomorrow: My Views

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