Dumping the Desktop

WSJ writes:

There’s a revolution brewing on your desktop.

For years, software makers and Web boosters have been forecasting that the Internet would break Microsoft Corp.’s stranglehold over business software. Instead of buying a copy of, say, Microsoft Word and installing it on your computer, you would travel to a Web site, type and edit your document there and store it online. The fee would be tiny compared with the cost of buying Microsoft’s software, and you wouldn’t have to pay anyone to troubleshoot the program or update it.

Now a host of small software companies — and some Internet giants like Google — are bringing that vision closer to reality. A quick search online will yield a host of inexpensive — or free — online alternatives to Microsoft’s widely used software. With names like Writely, ThinkFree and AjaxWrite, these offerings cover the gamut of standard desktop applications — from word processors to spreadsheets to email.

Dell Direct Disadvantage

Nicholas Carr writes:

On the production/distribution side of the PC business, Dell’s direct model has given it a big cost advantage, which in the past enabled it to make lots of money selling machines at prices that competitors could match only by taking a loss.

But there’s another side to the PC business: the support side. And here, the direct model looks less attractive. If, after all, you’re selling directly to customers, you have to shoulder all the related support costs, from handling information requests before the sale to taking and tracking orders to handling service inquiries after the sale. You can’t offload any of those costs onto resellers or retailers or other distribution partners – because you don’t have any distribution partners.

The direct sales model provides a cost advantage on the production side, in other words, but brings a cost disadvantage on the support side.

Emerging Giants

Business Week writes:

A new breed of ambitious multinational is rising on the world scene, presenting both challenges and opportunities for established global players.

These new contenders hail from seemingly unlikely places, developing nations such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and even Egypt and South Africa. They are shaking up entire industries, from farm equipment and refrigerators to aircraft and telecom services, and changing the rules of global competition.

Unlike Japanese and Korean conglomerates, which benefited from protection and big profits at home before they took on the world, these are mostly companies that have prevailed in brutally competitive domestic markets, where local companies have to duke it out with homegrown rivals and Western multinationals every day. As a result, these emerging champions must make profits at price levels unheard of in the U.S. or Europe.

The Future of Computing

Dr. Dobb’s Journal has an article by Max Fomitchev of Penn State:

This trend of decentralized computing met a subtle reverse in ’90s when the Internet and World Wide Web provided a means for integrating decentralized computational resources into a unified client-server environment. In reality, what seems like 60 years of technological advancement represents a full evolutionary cycle: We started with shared computational resources occupying rooms of equipment and through brief desktop detour arrived at shared computational resource model built on the backbone of intranet/Internet. There is unquestionable numerical difference between what we 30 years ago and what we have now in the sense that computers now are used by much larger population and for a far wider range of tasks. There is a characteristic difference too: we kept our desktop PCs and we use them for more then mere terminals. In fact computing did not just come a full circle; it came a loop of spiral: We have not really come back to good old centralized computing but rather to arrived at distributed computing model. Although a bulk of work may be done by centralized resources such as servers providing computational services, our desktop PCs and client workstations handle independently multitude of tasks.

Serverless Apps

Jon Udell writes:

Bill Seitz alerted me to one of those footpaths the other day: Les Orchard’s S3-backed wiki. Outstandingly cool! For those who have not followed the various plot threads closely, this is an evolution of the idea of the serverless wiki. TiddlyWiki, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times, is a member of that species. It’s a single HTML “page” that implements wiki behavior in client-side JavaScript; you save your page to your local disk to record changes permanently.

Les has substituted Amazon’s S3 network storage for the local disk. It’s a wonderful hack that anticipates a whole new breed of highly-available serverless applications. When I first wrote about the concept of a SPADE (Single Page Application Development Environment) it seemed interesting but far-fetched. Backed by S3, though, it starts to look a whole lot more practical.

TECH TALK: Good Books: The Long Tail (Part 2)

Steven Johnson wrote about the book: It occurred to me reading The Long Tail that the general trend from mass to niche can explain some of this increased complexity: niches can speak to each other in shorthand; they don’t have to spell everything out. But at the same time, the niche itself doesn’t have to become any more aesthetically or intellectually rich compared to what came before. If there’s a pro wrestling niche, the creators don’t have to condescend to the non-wrestling fans who might be tuning in, which means that they can make more references and in general convey more information about wrestling — precisely because they know their audience is made up of hard core fans. But it’s still pro wrestling. The content isn’t anything to write home about, but the form grows more complex. In a mass society, it’s harder to pull that off. But out on the tail, it comes naturally.

An example from the book: Whats extraordinary is that virtually every single one of those tracks [on Rhapsody] will sell. From the perspective of a store like Wal-Mart, the music industry stops at less than 60,000 tracks. However, for online retailers like Rhapsody the market is seemingly never-ending. Not only is every one of Rhapsodys top 60,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, but the same is true for its top 100,000, top 200,000, and top 400,000 — even its top 600,000, top 900,000, and beyond. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if its just a handful of people every month, somewhere in the world. This is the Long Tail.

The New Yorker wrote:

Both eBay and Google turn out, in Andersons account, to be long-tail businesses, too. On any given day, about thirty million individual items are bought and sold on eBay, many of them cheap and obscure. Barely a decade after Pierre Omidyar founded eBay, more than seven hundred thousand Americans report it as their primary or secondary source of income, according to a study by the market-research firm AC Nielsen. For Google, the long tail is populated by small advertisers. Major corporations pay to get their ads placed next to the results of popular search terms, such as luxury S.U.V.s and flat-screen televisions. But much of Googles annual revenue, which now exceeds five billion dollars, comes from tiny companies whose ads appear next to queries like Victorian jewelry and Hudson Valley inns.

The forces behind the long tail are largely technological: cheap computer hardware, which reduces the cost of making and storing information products; ubiquitous broadband, which cuts the cost of distribution; and elaborate filters, such as search engines, blogs, and online reviews, which help to match supply and demand. Think of each of these three forces as representing a new set of opportunities in the emerging Long Tail marketplace, Anderson suggests. The democratized tools of production are leading to a huge increase in the number of producers. Hyperefficient digital economies are leading to new markets and marketplaces. And finally, the ability to tap the distributed intelligence of millions of consumers to match people with the stuff that suits them best is leading to the rise of all sorts of new recommendation and marketing methods, essentially serving as the new tastemakers.

Overall, a book definitely worth reading for everyone in the business of selling.

Tomorrow: The Change Function

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