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Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Travelling - Update delayed!!

What's next after AJAX?

(Via Infoworld) Rohit khare writes there are some capabilities that Web-based apps can't handle - yet. Excerpts with edits and comments:
While it may be right that the rapid spread of the term AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) - from Weblog to Wall Street Journal within weeks! - might lead developers to assume it’s a breakthrough that heralds the death of desktop applications. The recent spate of new Web applications under the AJAX banner have redefined end-users’ expectation of what’s even possible within a Web browser by offering smooth scrolling, incremental updates, and more responsive input forms. Nevertheless, so-called fat-client UIs still retain one fundamental advantage over Web UIs: real-time event notification. AJAX alone does not address IM, stock tickers, and other collaborative applications that require “push” data streaming. The key goal of AJAX-style applications is to decompose jarring transitions that download an entire new Web page into a series of smaller, more frequent transactions. Developers consider AJAX to be “asynchronous” because data can be updated without interrupting the user. In the middleware community, however, the formal definition of asynchrony refers to the capability of sending a message at any time, in either direction. AJAX provides the upstream direction, but HTTP would appear to make server-initiated transmission impossible.
Manuel Kiessling’s open-source ARSC (A Really Simple Chat) uses AJAX techniques to send input lines upstream, whereas a modified HTTP server that holds open thousands of simultaneous connections rebroadcasts the chat stream to other users. The subtler and broader implication of combining AJAX with asynchronous event notification is to extend publish-and-subscribe application integration across the Internet.
The clear benefits of migrating desktop applications to the Web in terms of maintenance, security, and scalability must be weighed against the costs of slower response times, limited interactivity, and less-than-beautiful graphical interfaces. With AJAX, push technology, and the ubiquitous plug-ins for PDF and Flash, the Web is closer than ever to becoming a viable default platform for application development.

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Monday, May 30, 2005

The Coming Explosion Of Data

Paul Kedrosky makes an excellent assessment, about the amount of data that would be generated if every mobile device that could be networked : If most non-stationary device that can be Internet-enabled are made so – with embedded GPS and telemetry like phones, PDAs, cars, trucks, laptops, motorcycles, and cameras, but a host of other devices too, ranging from the sinister to the sublime, we are probably talking about a billion location aware devices, including the 500-million cellphones being sold each year, on out through 20-million cars and trucks being sold annually, and a host of other industrial devices. There is going to be a data explosion from the bottom up as all those data devices are constantly sending GPS and (likely) telemetry data, the data will be flowing inexorably outward. Continuous telemetry (at 10Hz) and GPS (at 1 Hz) requires about 1 kb/s. Two hundred million devices will require, well, 200,000,000 kb/sec of bandwidth - or 200 gb/sec. It is a large load on networks, one that could, in aggregate, soak up considerably otherwise unused bandwidth out there as devices continually ping out location and direction. It is also going to require off-device storage, as most of these devices have no capacity for logging all the data - but keeping the information will be crucial as people search through and find new optima in these large, location-enabled datasets. In a more practical way RFID implementations see explosion of data – with tagging and tracking data continually streaming in – providing for collecting and analysing these data needs huge storage and unique retrieval capabilities.


The Power Of The Ecosystem In IT World

Jonathan Schwartz writes, Sun is seeing more and more momentum behind what it sees as the ecosystem of strategic communitites, driving Mozilla Firefox, OpenOffice/StarOffice, NetBeans, the Java community and the OpenSolaris/Solaris community. All, interestingly, appear to be accelerating and Sun is saying that its in lfeeling pretty positive about the revenue equations, too in large deals (We shall wait for the numbers to be announced)
Jonathan adds, the NetBeans community has pretty much caught up - and is on a path to keep up the momentum. If it wasn't obvious, blogs (coupled with extraordinary innovation) are playing a central role in driving community awareness and adoption - of all these platforms. Blogs put a human, and real-time, face on communities, their participants and community evolution.
On the launch of Sun-Ebay community initiative,Jonathan outlines that you can compete against a product, but it's close to impossible to compete against a community. It's no coincidence that as we enter our most aggressive product cycle ever, an understanding of ecology, ecosystems and community development will once again be at the core of our strategyActually brilliant words, letting aside the context in which it is said - Sun despite all its difficulties - is showing certain vibrancy in trying out new things - we have to wait and see how future rewards the company.


On Demand – Adoption & Future

(Via Internetnews) Computing On Demand - as IBM describes it, means offering data center services like a utility, and basing those services on open standards that underpin integrated systems imbued with self-healing (autonomic) capabilities.As On Demand describes too many functions at once, its pickup appears quite slow. The JP Morgan Chase outsourcing contract reversal demonstrated - It's taking longer for internal cultures, as well as senior management making buying decisions, to warm to the approach - and to the depth of work it will take to achieve this kind of computing anytime you want it. John Patrick, an industry visionary who helped craft IBM's Internet and On Demand strategy says explaining On Demand is really about explaining an attitude - "It says that all of the data and all of the processes that are needed by any of the constituents of that organization will be available to them whenever they need it, wherever they are - with any device they might be using to connect to the Internet,". Moving to a true On Demand computing system means talking about virtualization, hosting applications, resilient infrastructure, failover databases (after all, this is On Demand we're talking about), and other systems management concepts.
SaaS, software by subscription are much easier in the software industry, especially as more people discover that much of what they do on the Web each day is, in part, a kind of on-demand software service. However there are more challenges ahead : In one On Demand model, customers get the software delivered to them by the network. They play around with easy pull-down menus, and customize it without having to interface with prickly programmers. When upgrade time comes - It can become chaotic maintaining old APIs and new ones, especially for smaller customers. Customers can’t be in the business of programming themselves - the lovely idea of On Demand software - having somebody else deal with the development and maintenance costs - is back on the customer's plate again. That's the downside to the shift away from burning software on a CD and shipping it to customers to configure as they will. Already, industry analysts are racing to release research reports warning about the bewildering array of APIs and difficulty that On Demand providers such as Salesforce.com are running into when it's time to deliver software upgrades On Demand.
Bruce Cleveland of Siebel says the umbrella label is on account of the fact - the industry is at a relatively early point for shifting to this kind of technology delivery - these services go beyond what you would consider to be application managed services, where traditionally one would outsource computing to an EDS, who would then take care of the software management. The story of system vendor Digital Equipment's demise is a good way to explain why software and computing On Demand are inevitable -no matter how slow or confusing the process right now.
On demand needs killer applications like airlines allowing people to switch flights, or check travel data from their smart phone, or make secure data calls to the enterprise via Web services – will herald a thundering herd of companies signing up for the work of delivering computing and data, On Demand, by the drink, utility style. But it is clear : On Demand is happening. And eventually, the baby-step pace will become a jog, then a sprint, then a race.

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Mobile Technology & Newspaper Renaissance

Just finished publishing rupert murdoch's views on technology & newspapers. Smartmobs points to Mr Jim Chisholm's(strategy advisor for the World Association of Newspapers) view at the World Association of Newspapers,on how newspapers can profit from mobile technology.Mr Chisholm suggested "some of the ways showing how mobile technology provides the perfect medium for newspapers to expand their reach and increase revenue:
- Mobiles build single copy sales by creating a ubiquitous fountain through which newspapers can distribute their content.
- Portable devices add value to subscriptions through tools such as SMS announcements
- Newspapers can add video to their content through mobiles
- Mobiles increase advertising sales, especially classifieds through tools such as MMS where consumers can see photos of products
- Advertiser response improves through mobile use as newspapers can beam their advertisements to consumers while they shop
- Newspapers can build communities through mobile by, for example, alerting commuters to traffic problems
- Research is facilitated by mobile as readers can report in real time through polls and surveys
- Mobile helps newspapers create the news by relating more closely to the reader who are then encouraged to send in stories
- Newspapers can improve their operational efficiency with SIM card technology which allow them to update and track events as they are happening, as well as send photos immediately back to the newsdesk
- Mobiles attract new readers,especially younger generations who carry mobile devices with them everywhere".


Rupert Murdoch, Digital Natives & Digital Immigrants

Jeff Jarvis blogs about Rupert Murdoch’s speech and warning - to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington today, telling them that papers are whistling in their own graveyard and recommending some solutions, including even blogs: He starts by acknowledging that he and the assembled sages aren't the ones to reinvigorate news. Excerpts with edits:
In the words of Murdoch : Like many of you, I’m a digital immigrant. I grew up in a highly centralized world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few proprietors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives.... The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants – many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated - to apply a digital mindset to a set of challenges that we unfortunately have limited to no first-hand experience dealing with.

We need to realize that the next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from. They want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle. Murdoch explains the print medias inertness in the face of this advance.
- First, for centuries, newspapers as a medium enjoyed a virtual information monopoly – roughly from the birth of the printing press to the rise of radio. We never had a reason to second-guess what we were doing.
- Second, even after the advent of television, a slow but steady decline in readership was masked by population growth that kept circulations reasonably intact.
- Third, even after absolute circulations started to decline in the 1990s, profitability did not. But those days are gone. The trends are against us.

He scolds the editors for not taking full advantage of the internet: We have not, as an industry, embraced digital technology and the Internet in the way … or to the extent … that we should, and must.... Murdoch says he is optimistic about the news business because the public, including the young, want news.
The challenge, however, is to deliver that news in ways consumers want to receive it. Before we can apply our competitive advantages, we have to free our minds of our prejudices and predispositions, and start thinking like our newest consumers. In short, we have to answer this fundamental question: What do we – a bunch of digital immigrants - need to do to be relevant to the digital natives?
And then he goes to the blogs: The digital native doesn’t send a letter to the editor anymore. She goes online, and starts a blog. We need to be the destination for those bloggers. We need to encourage readers to think of the web as the place to go to engage our reporters and editors in more extended discussions about the way a particular story was reported or researched or presented.At the same time, we may want to experiment with the concept of using bloggers to supplement our daily coverage of news on the net. So long as our readers understand the distinction between bloggers and our journalists, and so long as proper safeguards are utilized, this might be an idea worth exploring. To carry this one step further, some digital natives do even more than blog with text – they are blogging with audio, specifically through the rise of podcasting – and to remain fully competitive, some may want to consider providing a place for that as well. And with the growing proliferation of broadband, the emphasis online is shifting from text only to text with video. The future is soon upon us in this regard. Here's the full text of the speech.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Business-ification of IT & SOA

The leaders of SOA must understand both business and technology deeply says Kevin McKean, CEO and editorial director of InfoWorld.Excerpts with edits and comments:

First, SOA is fast becoming vital to the enterprise not just because it gives insight into the right way to approach IT - platform independence, reusable code, and so on - but because it furthers the ongoing "business-ification" of IT.For most companies today, IT doesn't just serve the business, IT is the business besides eBay and Amazon - from giant shipping companies to financial institutions to military and governmental agencies, IT is the nervous system that permits the organism to function. SOA permits the rapid realignment of that nervous system to suit the organism's needs without limiting its ability to change again tomorrow as the economy and competitive environment evolve.
- Second, the most intractable obstacles to SOA tend to be human, not technical. The technical obstacles are plenty difficult - breaking enterprise functions into logically derived "services," abstracting communication and security protocols, and so forth. But technical problems tend to be solvable, whereas human problems - who own the data, who foots the bill - may prove insurmountable.
- Third, SOA is better implemented by experts. The field is evolving rapidly, and those who've implemented SOA successfully have usually had lots of advice from experienced peers, consultants, and/or vendors. InfoWorld survey reveals prior experience turned out to be the No. 1 most sought-after quality in a partner, ahead of other important factors such as reputation, resources, and a proven methodology for a successful SOA deployment.
- Finally, the leaders of the SOA revolution will be neither businesspeople with a superficial knowledge of IT nor technologists who have a passing acquaintance with business but will be people who understand both aspects deeply.. SOA deployment are huge exercises, if impleented in the right spirit. Like any other enteprise initiative, SOA deployment needs careful planning, deep collaboration, lots and lots of change management and a measurable objectives with well defined checkpoints identified in between are essential in any SOA deployment engagement.


Small Software Firms & Patents

Andre Carter thinks that patents remain key to protecting innovations for small software firms. The reports of death of small software firms appear to be exaggerated. New software firms continue to emerge, break new ground, and trounce their competition. They succeed because they tackle new problems and continue to innovate in the face of competition. The expansive patent portfolios of industry giants can certainly make some competitive development projects difficult for small firms. However, software patents have emerged as the most effective tool for small firms to protect their inventions against the large players.. The competitiveness of the software market demands that trailblazing entrepreneurs protect their innovations in order to profit from them, and copyright and trade secrets are often not enough. While copyright is an important intellectual property protection for software developers, it is not sufficient for protecting unique inventions. Copyright only protects the software code, not the innovative ideas behind it. Patents enable small firms to simultaneously protect their innovations and share them with their partners and potential clients. Small firms with patents are often able to deter predatory action by large companies and negotiate from much stronger positions.
Using their institutional advantages of market penetration, geographic reach, promotional dollars, etc., larger competitors can simply co-opt the copyrighted inventions of smaller firms. Soon,they can reverse engineer their technologies and quickly distribute the new products through their well-established pipelines. Patents help encourage venture capital both by demonstrating value and showing a company's commitment to its engineering. This value and commitment can also encourage acquisition. Small companies, like large, can use their patents to derive licensing revenue or to create cross-licensing deals. Perhaps the most important value, is that patents can prevent larger competitors from simply co-opting the inventions of smaller firms without licensing them. Small software firms continue to compete and innovate despite dire predictions. Instead of buying into the gloom around software patents, small firms should focus on developing a cohesive intellectual property strategy


Yahoo Mindset - Next Step In Search Technology!!

Bernard Mangold writes, about yahoo's newest offering : A new twist on search that uses machine learning technology Yahoo!mindset. Search results sorted according to whether they are more commercial or more informational (i.e., from academic, non-commercial, or research-oriented sources). Sometimes you want to buy stuff and sometimes you just want to do research. In a typical search page, results point to commercial pages that are mixed together with non-commercial pages, so it's harder to find the type of information you're looking for. Mindsethelps solve that problem.
Through the use of machine learning for text classification, yahoo classifies each web page in the top 100 search results for a query. Then sorted those results according to the preference set. Mindset uses an intuitive slider in the interface, so the user can set the bias for commercial vs. non-commercial results. Pages not classified are tried to be classified at the background. It allows user to sort search results for your query into commercial or non-commercial (informational) results, based on whether on the need : shopping or seeking information. Every page is assigned a relatively continuous score ranging from -2 (most commercial) to +2 (most informational). Pages scored 0 are a balance of commercial and informational.

Glinden says he is surpised to see this focus on sliders. He thinks that these aren't particularly useful. Most novice users will not use or understand the slider; they just want the top result to be useful. It's not even that useful to power users since sliders fail to provide the level of granularity they need. More knobs, more buttons, more complexity. With less than 1% of users even bothering with the existing advanced search options on search engines, are more controls really what people need? Most searchers just want the right thing to happen. They want it to just work. Me think - this is a good advancement - for one it brings lot ore transparency in ranking the pages and fundamentally recognises that different clases of users or at different times the expectations on search results could be different - good attempt in that without system guessing what the user may be needing based on profile inforation which may not be contextual - this looks better.


Outsourcing Trends & Best Relationship Awards

The Outsourcing Center discovered six prominent trends in today's outsourcing relationships:
1. Cost is no longer the only key driver; an important emerging driver is the need for process expertise.

2. Full-service human resources outsourcing is gaining acceptance.

3. Offshoring is here to stay, but still only has a small presence.

4. The deal sizes are getting smaller; there were significantly more small deals than mega-deals.

5. Few buyers want a mid-term contract of seven or eight years; most
buyers prefer less than five years or more than ten.

6. Companies are moving away from complex service level agreements;
fewer, more effective metrics
are becoming more popular.
The center finalized through a structured nomination and evaluation process six outstanding outsourcing relationships for best relationship awards. In the process it was noticed, that both customers and service providers have become much more adept and sophisticated in forming partnerships that are built to last.
The six winning relationships identified for the award are:

Best First Steps: Bank of India and HP
Best Governance: Westpac and EDS
Most Transformational: KeyBank and ABN AMRO
Most Innovative: Fairmont Hotels and Avendra LLC
Best Partnership - Government: QinetiQ and Accenture
Best Partnership: Johnson & Johnson and Hewitt Associates

Outsourcing relationships are improving and maturing a lot - new innovative measures, performace leavel expectations and maturity in relationships are becoming to be felt.

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Intel Chips & DRM

Intel has now embedded DRM within its latest dual core processor Pentium D and accompanying 945 chipset.The new offerings come DRM-enabled and will, at least in theory, allow copyright holders to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted materials from the motherboard rather than through the operating system as is currently the case. Some concerns have been expressed about the dual use of technology. It's got uses and misuses. The situation presents an interesting dilemma for IT security managers as they may now be beholden to hardware-embedded security over which they have little say, information or controlIntel is heavily promoting what it calls "active management technology" (AMT) in the new chips as a major plus for system administrators and enterprise IT. Understood to be a sub-operating system residing in the chip's firmware, AMT will allow administrators to both monitor or control individual machines independent of an operating system. Additionally, AMT also features what Intel calls "IDE redirection" which will allow administrators to remotely enable, disable or format or configure individual drives and reload operating systems and software from remote locations, again independent of operating systems. Both AMT and IDE control are enabled by a new network interface controller.

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

The IT Software Evolution

Is the enterprise software business dying? Is anybody out there buying new licenses? Based on data coming in the past few weeks, it seems that there are very few buyers.The collapse of new licensing revenue isn't news - it started five years ago- but the latest news makes it look like a permanent and accelerating fact of life for software vendors. The CIO of British Petroleum said in a sandhill conference that out of a $2B IT budget, only $30M is allocated for new software licenses.
Mike Kinkead, serial software entrepreneur and one of the founders of the Massachusetts Software Council recently moderated a strategy session for the council to figure out the way forward, and his conclusion was that the traditional enterprise software business is dying. That doesn't mean that the software business as a whole is dying, but it has shifted permanently to new revenue models. He asked : "What big software company came out of the Internet boom? Netscape is dead." He pointed out that the big winners, like Google and eBay, are users of software, not vendors. We still buy a lot of software, embedded in devices and services, but we don't buy it as licenses.
Enterprises still need software, and lots of it, to run their operations, but they are buying few new licenses. Part of the story is that the market is mature and buyers have enough software already. Part of the story is that offshore outsourcing makes it cheaper to build your own.Erik Keller was perhaps the first to talk about the return of the build.I believe that traditional enterprise software companies still can deliver a lot of value.However, we need to figure out new packaging and revenue models for them. The new-license business is hardly paying its cost of sales, so a lot of people are spinning their wheels on long sales cycles, rather than innovating and delivering.
Paul Kedrosky feels that it isn't so much that people aren't using software, or even new operating systems.They are.It's just that such things are now buried in services that insulate us from the messy old 1990s business of enterprise software. He ay be closer to truth. We are seeing a trend where enteprises want to extend on existing software systems with new module rollouts or build components as add-ons.

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The Changing RFID Landscape

(Via RFID weblog) The RFID industry like other emerging industries shall see more opportunities and dollars not in the hardware side, but,rather,in services. The IDTECHEX view is the emergence of an ecosystem - that shall see hardware companies, system integrators & niche industry players aligning themselves in this fast growing but importantly emerging but rapidly changing ecosystem. The RFID value chain – in left, the chipmakers and material suppliers sell their goods to all comers. The chipmakers generally sell integrated circuits for many purposes and their RFID chips are only a small part of their business. The economics of chip factories and the very similar nature of RFID and non RFID chips dictates this. On the right, the systems providers, integrators and operators and so on specialise in certain applicational sectors such as Savi Technology in military, Trenstar in beer kegs and TransCore in non-stop road tolling. In between, few companies feel their way in this immature business and trying various combinations of hardware, software and other options, neither fully positioned vertically nor horizontally. The big RFID orders have always been in system provision, integration and/or facilities management.

For enterprises and service providers, Barcodes and other disposable artefacts, making the artefact or interrogatory hardware are not a good end point. The big money is in system supply, integration and management. Companies in RFID are adding skills near the end of the value chain- where the big money lies, and companies outside RFID are entering thereabouts too. In the RFID world, nothing is forever, RFID tags with no silicon chip have been the exception – exactly the opposite of the situation with the antitheft tags. That will change, because to achieve the “tag everything” scenario in eg supermarkets calls for tags costing one cent or less and that may be impossible to achieve stably with silicon chip tags – ie with enduring profit for all in the tag supply chain. That means chipless tags such as organic Thin Film Transistor Circuits TFTCs will move to centre stage though the infrastructure will remain largely the same. It means history will be repeated where the large, profitable label market, created for barcodes, largely vanished when barcodes were printed as part of normal graphics on packaging and products. The full paper is available here.

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Smart People & Defending Bad Ideas!!

(Via Werner Vogels).Scott Berkun raises the questions - We all know someone that’s intelligent, but who occasionally defends obviously bad ideas. Why does this happen? How can smart people take up positions that defy any reasonable logic? And tries to answer these. The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable. Until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect their logic, and resilient enough to endure the thinly veiled intellectual abuse they dish out during debate (e.g. “You don’t really think that do you?” or “Well if you knew the rule/law/corollary you wouldn’t say such things”), they’re never forced to question their ability to defend bad ideas. Opportunities for this are rare: a new boss, a new co-worker, a new spouse.
That said, the more homogeneous a group of people are in their thinking, the narrower the range of ideas that the group will openly consider. The more open minded, creative, and courageous, a group is, the wider the pool of ideas they’ll be capable of exploring. Some teams of people look to focus groups, consultancies, and research methods to bring in outside ideas, but this rarely improves the quality of thinking in the group itself. Those outside ideas, however bold or original, are at the mercy of the diversity of thought within the group itself. If the group, as a collective, is only capable of approving B level work, it doesn’t matter how many A level ideas you bring to it. Focus groups or other outside sources of information can not give a team, or its leaders, a soul. A bland homogeneous team of people has no real opinions, because it consists of people with same backgrounds, outlooks, and experiences who will only feel comfortable discussing the safe ideas that fit into those constraints. If you want your smart people to be as smart as possible, seek a diversity of ideas. Find people with different experiences, opinions, backgrounds, weights, heights, races, facial hair styles, colors, past-times, favorite items of clothing, philosophies, and beliefs. Unify them around the results you want, not the means or approaches they are expected to use. It’s the only way to guarantee that the best ideas from your smartest people will be received openly by the people around them. On your own, avoid homogenous books, films, music, food, sex, media and people. Until recently in human history, life was much less predictable and we were forced to encounter things not always of our own choosing. We are capable of more interesting and creative lives than our modern cultures often provide for us.

- Smart people can follow stupid leaders (seeking praise or promotion)
- Smart people may follow their anger into stupid places
- They may be trained or educated into stupidity
- Smart people can inherit bad ideas from their parents under the guise of tradition

The reason for this is simple. Smart people, or at least those whose brains have good first gears, use their speed in thought to overpower others. They’ll jump between assumptions quickly, throwing out jargon, bits of logic, or rules of thumb at a rate of fire fast enough to cause most people to become rattled, and give in. When that doesn’t work, the arrogant or the pompous will throw in some belittlement and use whatever snide or manipulative tactics they have at their disposal to further.


New Dimensions In Fostering Innovation

HBSWK reviews the well written book by Eric Von Hipple titled Democratising Innovation. Excerpts:

The seeds of innovation are changing today.Thanks to ever more powerful technology, users are increasingly modifying, improving upon, and developing on top of the products they buy—everything from windsurfing boards to custom chips.Democratizing Innovation looks at which users are likely to innovate, why they decide to build it themselves rather than buy an improvement, the tradition of user-innovators who freely reveal their innovations, and how manufacturers can tap into this creativity. "Users’ ability to innovate is improving radically and rapidly as a result of the steadily improving quality of computer software and hardware, improved access to easy-to-use tools and components for innovation, and access to a steadily richer innovation commons," says the author.
As a result, manufacturers must change their mindset from "Let’s find a need and fill it" to "Let’s find and commercialize innovations that our users have developed." Writes von Hippel: "A variety of manufacturers have found it profitable to shift the tasks of custom product design to their customers along with appropriate toolkits for innovation."
Exaples of products benefitting out of such user-centered innovation : The customer-centric products 3M has worked on include a new approach to preventing infections from surgery; a pioneering use of audio, video, and remote data access in electronic test and communication equipment; a novel approach to applying commercial graphics films such as those that provide advertising wrapped around buses; and more effective and environmentally safe packing materials.

Todd. S highlights some pieces from the book:
- Minor innovations are cumulatively responsible for much or most technical progress. Hollander (1965) found that about 80 percent of unit cost reduction in Rayon manufacture were the cumulative result of minor technical changes.
- One major business of Nestle FoodServices where chefs interested in using the Nestle toolkit to prototype a novel Mexican sauce( speaking different languages) would receive a set of 20-30 ingredients, each in a separate plastic pouch. They would also be given instructions for the proper use of these ingredients. Toolkit users would then find that each component differs slightly from the fresh components he or she is used to. But such differences are discovered immediately through direct experience. The chef can then adjust ingredients and proportions to move to the desired final taste and texture desired. When a recipe based on toolkit components is finished, it can be immediately and precisely reproduced by Nestle factories...[R]esearchers showed that by adding the error=free translation feature to toolkit-based design by users reduced the time of custom food development from 26 weeks to 3 weeks by eliminating repeated redesign and refinement interactions between Nestle and purchasers of its custom food products. This is highlighted as innovation to beat the language barriers. An interesting book to read.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

The Net & The Future Of Magazines

(Via OJR) The magazine world has seen the future of print - and it's still print. While Newsweek magazine has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons - the magazine should be praised on a much larger scale for reinventing itself. The scope of Newsweek.com,the online home to Newsweek that has included everything from daily breaking news to video blogs from correspondents across the world to podcasts of the Newsweek On Air online radio show.The transformation of Newsweek is timely, as the major U.S. newsweeklies are experiencing a decline in print readership similar to that of major newspapers. According to numbers collected by the State of the News Media 2005,the big three newsweeklies - Time, Newsweek and U.S. News - have lost 1 million readers in combined circulation over the past 16 years. But the magazine business as a whole remains relatively healthy because of the rise of so many niche publications and the staying power of glossy entertainment news. In fact, magazines were pioneers in niche content before cable TV and the Internet came along and usurped them with the flashy video of the former and the interactive communities of the latter.
"TV has managed to segment audiences into the same demographic/psychographic buckets that once were the sole purchase of magazine land," says John Battelle and adds,"PVRs [personal video recorders] only accelerate this trend, adding the convenience of search and storage to the magazine rack concept.Few experts would predict that print magazines will become dinosaurs anytime soon.The spate of early online-only magazines has largely subsided, with Salon and Slate still standing as survivors but not as the vanguard to what comes next. Innovation in long-form magazine journalism online is coming from the edges, in the shape of thoughtful audio podcasts, on-the-scene video blogs and in the plethora of thoughtful essays on Weblogs maintained in academic and professional realms. The "power of many" means that in-depth magazine pieces that once took a reporter months to amass might one day be accomplished by an online community that has a strong interest in the subject - with a reporter or editor prodding them on.


Microsoft Knowledge Base As RSS Feeds

Several People pointed this : Scobeleizer, Jeff Nolan, Globelogger - Microsoft turns on hundreds of knowledge base RSS feeds.

Terrific - this moves takes support to a different level – this shall in due course become the standard that would be emulated by majors in the industry. Tech support service levels shall get redefined with this sweeping move by Microsoft. The cost for publishing and searching also comes down significantly.From a technical and business perspective – there are potential benefits that can be visualized : relationships & patterns among navigation between related posts – potential for simultaneous updates across related posts(Microsft has done a cool planning by pubslishing that updates shall happen once in 24 hours) – updating information becomes lot more easier and to state the obvious – huge jumps in ease of support and tracing for end users.. Gosh why is this being done this late – as for others – am sure we shall see similar announcements shortly formal tech majors atleast.

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IBM & SaaS

(Via WSJ) IBM recently has invested heavily in developing the software-services market, which offers an avenue for the company to sell bundles of programs, including its own middleware and database software, as well as hosting services. IBM's move is part of a trend in the software industry as it diversifies away from the traditional model of selling software as a product. The service model allows customers to pay for usage and is seen as reducing the risk and costs of owning and maintaining software for information-technology buyers. IBM believes that the portfolio approach will be absolutely critical.
IBM,with the recent acquisition of Corio Inc is stepping up its efforts to help software makers make a transition into the business of "software as a service." IBM launched a program offering tools and support to help software makers roll out the new business strategy, a move away from the industry's traditional licensing model. With software as a service, one company hosts the software application, such as for payroll management or accounting, and provides those capabilities remotely for client companies. IBM is hoping to expand its network of 70 software-as-a-service applications partners in a bid to provide a more flexible alternative to offerings from competitors such as SAP AG, Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp.'s Great Plains unit.IBM’s hodgepodge of partners, which include small vendors such as Intacct Corp. and Digital Union, is still far from offering a legitimate threat to SAP and Oracle.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Changing Landscape Of The Software VC

I wrote a small note on Sandhill on the changing landscape of the software VC. Am publishing a brief abstract here:
Five years now on, half the venture capital firms in business today would cease to exist,and there may be just half as many companies getting created;the next five years shall also see a new look software industry landscape substantially altered from what we see today.An infectious greed powered by”irrational exuberance” characterized the recent past in the VC community calendar. The key themes noticed by few VC’s who instituted new management investment strategies, which a majority of VC’s failed to notice include:
- Not recognizing that the relationship between emerging technology vendors and established multi-product line vendors , failure to recognize that the ecosystem of tech users, buyers and vendors had become far more complex and assumed a unique pattern,and a flawed due diligence approach.

Several long-term trends have been quietly at work in the VC industry for the past two decades or so: an increasing concentration of power and profits among a handful of firms; a widening gap between the returns of top-tier firms and everybody else; and the emergence of branded firms/partners that set the direction of the industry. In time, we may see a smaller, more exclusive, and more stable industry, one in which the bulk of profits and power are concentrated in as few as fifty firms with some more playing the role of supporting players. With all the experience gained thus far it is increasingly clear that the venture capital industry will go back to the basics: long-term plays, focus on value creation, develop long lasting markets & stay away from hype or anything resembling a bubble. Value-added funds which specialize in few focused arenas would win, creating a competitive advantage in a crowded middle market - sector focus and creating specialized interconnected networking shall be counted as truly value adding Paradoxically, the maturing VC industry doesn’t mean it is becoming more ‘efficient,’ in the classic sense of the word. Understanding the ecosystem – sometimes well thought out, sometimes fostering vested cross holding interests and taking appropriate decision is the key to success. Providing leadership vision to the industry, enabling capable leaders across the world ( Asia – increasingly the tech center of research and large user has seen limited support- that ought to change), fostering creativity and innovation, and creating enduring enterprises are the key challenges to the VC industry as it successfully transforms itself and marches on. Read the full piece here.

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The Mobile Phone As The Next Computer

(Via Newsweek) 20 percent of all phones in Tokyo link to the fastest mobile networks in the world. Tokyoites use their phones to watch TV, read books and magazines and play games. Technology revolutions come in two flavors: jarringly fast and imperceptibly slow. The fast kind, like the sudden ubiquity of iPods or the proliferation of music-sharing sites on the Net, seem to instantly reshape the cultural landscape. The slower upheavals grind away over the course of decades, subtly transforming the way we live and work. The emergence of mobile phones around the world has been slow but overwhelmingly momentous. Sales of mobile phones dwarf the sales of televisions, stereos, personal computers. There are 1.5 billion cell phones in the world today, more than three times the number of PCs. Mobile phones are so integral to our lives that it's difficult to remember how the heck we ever got on without them. As our phones get smarter, smaller and faster and enable users to connect at high speeds to the Internet, an obvious question arises: is the mobile handset turning into the next computer? In one sense, it already has. Today's most sophisticated phones have the processing power of a mid-1990s PC while consuming 100 times less electricity. And more and more of today's phones have computerlike features, allowing their owners to send e-mail, browse the Web and even take photos; 84 million phones with digital cameras were shipped last year. Will mobile phones will ever eclipse, or replace, the PC, and the issue suddenly becomes controversial. PC proponents say phones are too small and connect too sluggishly to the Internet to become effective at tasks now performed on the luxuriously large screens and keyboards of today's computers. Fans of the phone respond: just wait. Coming innovations will solve the limitations of the phone. "One day, 2 or 3 billion people will have cell phones, and they are all not going to have PCs," says Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot and the chief technology officer of PalmOne. "The mobile phone will become their digital life."
The smart-phone market constitutes only a slender 5 percent of overall mobile-phone sales today, but the figure has been doubling each year, according to the Gartner research firm. In the United States, it's the business crowd that's primarily buying these souped-up handsets. In May Samsung announced it would launch a phone that receives 40 satellite TV stations. In the near future, at least, new phones won't look anything like PCs. "The industry is figuring out that a wireless handheld is a different beast," says Mark Guibert, marketing director of RIM. Mobile-phone watchers say that handsets in the next few years will pack a gigabyte or more of flash memory, turning the phone into a huge photo album or music player and giving stand-alone iPods a run for their money. For several years the industry has also talked about "location-based services," built around a phone's ability to detect its exact location anywhere in the world. With this capability, phones will soon be able to provide precise driving directions. The inventor of the Palm Pilot and the Treo predicts, all phones will become mobile phones, all networks will be capable of receiving voice and Internet signals at broadband speeds, and all mobile bills will shrink to only a few dollars as the phone companies pay off their investments in the new networks. "You are going to have the equivalent of a persistent [fast] T1 line in your pocket. It's going to happen," Hawkins predicts. The computer won't go away, he says, but it might fade to the background, since people prefer portability and devices that turn on instantly instead of having to boot up.
Defenders of the PC react with religious outrage to this kind of prophecy. Laptops allow another kind of mobile computing, they point out, particularly with the emergence of thousands of Wi-Fi networks around the world over the past four years. By the end of this year half of all laptops shipped will be Wi-Fi-equipped, allowing laptop owners to set up temporary offices in the local cafe or public park. Then there's the matter of simple practicality: mobile phones are small and getting smaller. Humans are not

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The Open Source - Where’s The Business Model?

Several occassions in the recent past, we had covered in this blog the serious issues with open source - some of these are titled Open Source costly & litigatious,Backlash against opensource, Open Source - A Reality Check. Forbes has an interesting coverage on Open Source centered on Larry Mcvoy's views on opensource. Excerpts with heavy edits :

Larry McVoy, a close ally in the past to Linus Torvalds, creator of the open source Linux operating system, also an industry veteran has developed operating system software at Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Google believes that the open source business model, which is all the rage these days cannot generate enough money to support the development of truly innovative software programs.Some key concerns of Mcvoy:
- Building new software requires lots of trial and error, which means investing lots of money. Software companies won't make those investments unless they can earn a return by selling programs rather than giving them away.

- It is simply not possible for an innovative software company to sustain itself using an open source business model. Mcvoy says bitkeeper believes if the product is open sourced ,we would be out of business in six months .To build a financially sound company needs well-trained staff, who need to be paid well. If everything is free, how can I make enough money to keep building that product for you and supporting you?"

- The services model doesn't generate enough revenue to support the creation of the next generation of innovative products. Red Hat has been around for a long time-for a decade now. There is no one significant innovative product that has come out of Red Hat.A few open source companies are successfully generating revenue and even (possibly) profits. But none of them generates enough money to do anything really innovative.

- Open source as a business model,in isolation,is pretty much unsustainable.You have to have a business model that will let you recoup those costs. These arguments are exceedingly unpopular. Everyone wants everything to be free. No one can show how to build a software-development house and fund it off open source revenue. It can not be done !

- The open source guys can scrape together enough resources to reverse engineer stuff. That's easy. It's way cheaper to reverse engineer something than to create something new. But if the world goes to 100% open source, innovation goes to zero.

- Open source software is like handing you a doctor's bag and the architectural plans for a hospital and saying, "if you have a heart attack, here are all the tools you need- and it's free," McVoy says. "I'd rather pay someone to take care of me."

- Open source phenomenon may appear to be sustainable but actually is being propped
up by hardware makers who view open source code as a loss leader - something that will entice customers to buy their boxes. Most of the money funding open source development, maybe 80% to 90%, is coming from companies that are not open source companies themselves.
What happens when these sponsors go away and there is not enough money floating around? Where is innovation going to come from?

- Linux would suffer if hardware makers stopped their sugar-daddy support for its development-putting their own programmers to work on Linux. "If hardware companies stopped funding development, I think it would dramatically damage the pace at which Linux is being developed. It would be pretty darn close to a nuclear bomb going off," says McVoy.

- McVoy says he believes the software industry will reach some kind of balance between open source and traditional software companies. Open source companies will make commodity knockoffs and eke out tiny profits, while traditional "closed source" companies will develop innovative products and earn fatter profits. Certainly thoughts that call for serious reflection and analysis.

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Incumbents & Top Down Disruptions

Nicholas Carr writes, about the winning ways of top down disrupters and options for incumbents to stand the competition. excerpts with edits and comments added:
Clayton Christensen draws an important distinction between innovations that sustain the competitive status quo of a market (by enhancing existing products according to the traditional measures of performance known to be valued by customers) and those that upset the status quo (by fundamentally altering the way customers think about product performance). Whereas sustaining innovations are often pioneered by established companies, disruptive ones usually come from newcomers - and thus can pose a mortal threat to even the most dominant of industry leaders. Christensen argues that, when initially introduced, a disruptive product or service generally “underperform[s] established products in mainstream markets,” “almost always takes root in a very undemanding application,” and “sells for less money” than current offerings. It tends to be ignored by the majority of buyers, who view it as falling short of their needs, and shunned by traditional suppliers, who see little to gain by selling a cheap product to a niche market. Because of these characteristics, the innovation initially gains a foothold in the lower reaches of the market, among less discriminating customers. Then, as its performance steadily improves, it rises to redefine the entire market, displacing industry incumbents in the process.

A good example, is the triumph of steel minimills over integrated producers during the 1970s and 1980s.In stark contrast to the bottom-up variety, top-down disruptive innovations actually outperform existing products when they’re introduced, and they sell for a premium price rather than at a discount. They’re initially purchased by the most discriminating and least price-sensitive buyers, and then they move steadily downward, into the mainstream, to recast the entire market in their own image. A top-down disruption is as revolutionary as a bottom-up one. But the good news for incumbents is that they have a much better chance of surviving, or even spearheading, the former than the latter.
The traditional radio industry, for instance, is facing a major threat from the top-down disruption of satellite radio.
- First, there are no commercials.
- Second, there’s a much broader menu of programming choices, from punk to bluegrass to swing.
- Third, anywhere lisening to the same station — no faded signals with distance.
- Fourth, the quality of the digital audio is higher than that of airwaves.
As is typical with top-down innovations, satellite radio costs customers.
Another recent top-down disruptive innovation - Apple Computer’s iPod - has shaken up the market for portable music players, until recently dominated by Sony. In the past,most popular portable devices held a limited number of songs and sold for fairly low prices as was seen with sony's walkman, portable CD players and the first wave of flash-memory-based MP3 players. The iPod was not an immediate mass-market hit.But Apple steadily introduced attractive new features while also driving the iPod’s price down with new models, such as the $249 iPod mini and the $99 flash-memory iPod shuffle. Such moves have enabled the company to expand its reach steadily into less demanding and more frugal market segments. Now both fashionable and more affordable, the iPod has captured the lion’s share of the market for portable music players — and fundamentally changed the way customers think about the products.
Clearly, entrepreneurs and other new entrants have advantages in instigating top-down disruptions. With less baggage and fewer internal conflicts, they can often act more quickly, more creatively, and with greater focus. The playing field, in short, is much more level for top-down disruptions than for bottom-up ones. Simply by recognizing that disruptive innovations can take two very different forms, managers will expand their options, both defensive and offensive. As a result, they’ll be more likely to lead their companies successfully through tumultuous times. Way to protect yourself incumbents : look both up and down - it is not easy to ignore either and hope to be successful.

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The Microosft Media Juggernaut : Unstoppable

We recently covered the viewpoint its game over for microsoft competitors in the consumer electronics space. On the topic of covering microsoft's impressive advances in the media space, David Berlind writes Microsoft is well entrenched into the global infrastructure (computers, other devices, telecommunications networks, content providers, etc.) Windows Media already is a dominant leader, and with the Philips announcement, and the Magneto news — there is no doubt that Microsoft is not only poised to repeat its successful Windows formula, but that that success will, over the long run, actually dwarf the company’s success with Windows. The impressive list of media deals closed by Microsoft are a case in point, signifying microsft's desire to doinate the space.
A PlaysForSure-certified content source assures end users of the sort of seemless integration between the service and Windows Media Player 10 that customers of Apple’s Music Store get with iTunes, including application of Digital Rights Management (which in turn provides certain assurances to artists and other content producers)]. No single company has circled its technology wagons around the digital media universe the way Microsoft has. Magneto — aka Windows Mobile 5.0 — will go out the door fully enabled with PlaysForSure technology. In addition, in support of its media ambitions, the operating system is much better equipped to support hard drives. Translation: An operating system that’s optimized to support a device that has both a hard drive and a wide area network connection (ie: something that can connect to a 3G EDGE or EV-DO network like those from T-Mobile, Cingular, Verizon Wireless, or Sprint) built into it. In other words, a device with gobs of storage that can connect to the Net for voice, streaming or downloaded audio, and streaming or downloaded video. Windows Media. Unlike the others, the question in the back of the mind will always be "How can I go right?," the question with Windows Media (if you’re a content producer looking to hit the biggest target) is "How can I go wrong?"Microsoft's advance in the consumer electronics space is indeed amazing!!

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Venture Capital : Its Not Your Father's World Anymore!!

(Via Bill Burnham)"Deal flow" has been long regarded as the lifeblood of venture capital and the primary point of competitive differentiation between venture firms. Changes in the venture industry are making deal flow far less important and rapidly making deal flow-centric business models unsustainable for all but a few venture firms. The approach is premised on a passive plane to venture investing that essentially subscribes to a "build it and they will come" theory of venture investing. To grossly, but not inaccurately, simplify this view: all it takes to have a successful venture firm is to open an office on Sand Hill Road, stock the office with well known/connected former operators/financiers, wait for the entrepreneurs to come flocking to your door and then simply invest in the best teams with the best ideas. In this model VCs are seen as capable of doing a communications equipment deal one day and an alternative energy deal the next. They have no need to be experts in specific industries but instead pass judgment on the quality and pedigree of start-up teams with the belief that their connections and experience can help get any company off the ground.
This flow-centric business model made a tremendous amount of sense when the venture industry was relatively small and immature. Venture capital in 1980 was a true "buyer’s market" with more demand for capital than supply. The investable landscape for venture capital, particularly technology venture capital, was both "thin" ( as in few sectors) and “shallow”( each sector was small).In this context, a passive deal flow-oriented business model made a tremendous amount of sense.
The world has changed dramatically. There are now over 3,300 venture firms managing an average of $280M each with a total of $265BN in capital under management. The investable venture landscape is vastly larger and more intricate; it is now both wide and deep. For all but a few firms, the dramatic increase in the scope, complexity and competitive intensity of the venture business makes a deal flow-based business model, no matter how good one’s networks or connections, unsustainable as the risk of adverse selection has become so great and in those rare circumstances that a good deal actually makes it into the public domain, intense competition is likely to drive pricing up to a point where the good deal becomes bad because it's just too expensive. Net, net the cold reality is that the venture business is now clearly and permanently a seller’s market.

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Nokia & Open Source

Came across this interesting piece - how much of opensource work, Nokia says it is involved in :
Nokia currently hosts, contributes to and sponsors several of open source software projects and initiatives. Nokia developers are directly involved in open source projects creating, refining, testing, using, and supporting open source software. Some key opensource projects that Nokia has been involved in either by directly contributing code or by sponsoring the work of open source developers.
Linux Kernel : Kernel enhancements related to general OMAP support, OMAP/DSP gateway, Bluetooth, journaling flash file systems, power management, 2D graphics support of fbdev-subsystem on OMAP (omapfb), and USB (Unversal Serial Bus). Also sponsored C++ and thread support for the uClibc C-library for developing embedded Linux systems.
Connectivity : Affix , a Bluetooth Protocol Stack for Linux developed by Nokia Research Center and released under GPL. Nokia has contributed extensions to the BlueZ and OpenObex libraries. The overall goal of BlueZ is to make an implementation of the Bluetooth wireless standards specifications for Linux. OpenObex is working on making an open source implementation of the Object Exchange (OBEX) protocol.
Application Middleware : GnomeVFS is a file system abstraction library allowing applications plugable transparent access to a variety of "real" file systems. Nokia has contributed the GnomeVFS OBEX module, which allows using the GnomeVFS API for file operations on remote devices connected over Bluetooth and OBEX, besides sponsoring the development of GnomeVFS using D-BUS.
Graphical User Interface : Involved in feature enhancements to the Matchbox window manager and user environment including Pango support (for localizing to non-western languages), X composite extension support (support for translucent windows and window shadows), a test suite, and performance and memory optimizations (for example, specific support for 16-bit graphics). GPE is a a Free Software GUI environment for palmtop/handheld computers running the GNU/Linux operating system. Nokia has sponsored the 1.0 release of GPE and the port of GPE to GTK 2.0 by KernelConcepts.
Applications : GTK+ Webcore is a Linux/GTK+ port of Apple Computer Inc.'s WebCore KHTML html rendering engine. The project has developed a KJS javascript interpreter, a KHTML rendering engine, a Qt porting layer, a WebKit API for embedding and a reference browser for demonstrating the functionality of the other components. Nokia has sponsored the Minimo (Mini Mozilla) project, which focuses on porting the Mozilla browser to small consumer devices and optimizing code-size and footprint for such devices.
Development Tools : Nokia has sponsored the development of the Scratchbox cross-compilation toolkit for embedded Linux application development.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Time For iCellphones !!

Bill Gates recently said,"Time's almost up" saying that the success of the iPod can’t continue in the long term, however good Apple may be & adding that "Apple was once extremely strong with its Macintosh and graphic user interface, like with the iPod today, and then lost its position."
WSJ writes, the trendy pick with the potential to dislodge iPod is cellphones,steadily gaining capabilities and possibilities as Moore's Law delivers more functions and memory for less money. Handset makers and wireless carriers think they have one big advantage in competing with Apple's hit digital-music player: Cellphones are already in most pockets and purses. Moreover, companies have successfully added functions to cellphones as in the camera phone. Could a built-in MP3 player become the next gotta-have-it feature?
It may be too early to write off iPod- it has a number of advantages that may prove more formidable than its challengers imagine.
- Brand : Satisfying an image-conscious kid with another digital-music player shall prove to be difficult. Whereas cellphones command little brand loyalty, with users switching willy-nilly as service agreements end and phones die.
- Design : IPods are superb examples of design - navigating between thousands of songs is only easy. Designwise, many cellphones are a lot like icebergs: one function obvious, the rest submerged and navigable only by the brave. It's a big leap of faith to think handset makers can approach the iPod's ease of use with a jack-of-all-trades device
- Transfer Mechanisms : Mechanisms of transfer to an iPod are straightforward. How it would work with a cellphone. Could you transfer music to a PC? Back it up on a CD-ROM? If phone is lost – can it be reclaimed to the new phone.
- And can a service provider match Apple's price of $1 a song? Ringtones command a premium - up to $4 in some cases - but the only connection between ringtones and songs is musical. Ringtones are made for public consumption; songs remain basically private listening experiences.
Given all these questions,users may decide cellphones' musical capabilities are cool but not particularly useful. After all,the iPod is pretty small already. If the standalone device is significantly easier to use than the combination, why not just carry both? But since gadgets keep getting evolved – chances are better for iCellphones to emerge rather than other way around

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tracking Supermarket Shopper Patterns

(Via Knowledge@wharton) Wharton marketing professor Peter S. Fader sees the drawing of shopping cart paths - seemingly random lines represent a new dataset showing the paths taken by individual shoppers in an actual grocery store. The mechanism to collect this unique shopping data is called PathTracker. These RFID tags were placed on the bottom of every grocery cart in a supermarket in the western U.S. The signals are used to chart the position of the grocery cart and record its route through the entire store. This data is translated into the computerized, Etch-a-Sketch-like drawings of shopping cart paths. The data charted for the first time by RFID tags located on consumers' shopping carts, has the potential to change the way retailers in general think about customers and their shopping patterns.
Eric T. Bradlow & Jeffrey S. Larson analyze this RFID-captured grocery store data, focusing exclusively on travel patterns without regard to purchase behavior or merchandising tactics. The results, they conclude, challenge many long-standing perceptions of shopper travel behavior within a supermarket, including ideas related to aisle traffic, special promotional displays, and perimeter shopping patterns.
Using a new "multivariate clustering algorithm," they identified 14 distinct grocery store travel paths during short, medium and long shopping trips
. Based on this information, the authors conclude that:
Grocery shoppers don't weave up and down all aisles - a pattern commonly thought to dominate store travel. Instead, most shoppers "tend only to travel select aisles, and rarely in the systematic up and down patterns most tend to consider the dominant travel pattern."
Once they enter an aisle, shoppers rarely make it to the other end. Instead, they "travel by short excursions into and out of the aisle rather than traversing its entire length."
Shoppers prefer a counter-clockwise shopping experience. They tend to shop more quickly as they approach the checkout counters. Shoppers' behavior is driven more by their location in the store than the merchandise in front of them.
The perimeter of the store - often called the "racetrack" - is actually the shopper's home base, not just the space covered between aisles.
Findings such as these will have important implications for store layouts, product placement, end-cap displays, and relationships between aisles and perimeter spaces - not to mention a better understanding of how consumers shop and how retailers and suppliers can respond to these patterns. "There is a tremendous amount of research available on why people buy what they buy, but until now there was really no research on tracking the actual buying decision," said Fader.
Tagging Grocery Carts - The ability to track 'click-to-click' browsing patterns on the Internet allowed researchers, for the first time, to look at visiting patterns along with purchasing. PathTracker provided the same kind of luxury for ordinary retail stores. Fader likes to call this junction between the traditional retail environment and new kind of tracking technology a "golden spike" - not unlike the joining of the East Coast and West Coast railroad systems in the 19th century. Eventually, continued analyses could show shopping "hot and cold" spots in supermarkets, and predict movements and purchasing patterns that could lead to significant retail adjustments.
Next Logical Step : - A study of the "linkage between travel and purchase behavior - Linking specific travel patterns to individual purchase decisions may lead to an improved understanding of consumer motivations for purchasing certain items, and can shed light on the complementarity and substitutability of goods in ways that a more traditional 'market basket' analysis cannot capture. Further exploration of travel behavior, independent of purchase, also seems another promising route for future research." Amazing are the ways technologies advance and find place in real life business scenarios. The full paper is available here.

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The Mobile Industry - Shifting Gears

With most people in the Western world having mobile phones, the cellular industry is turning its attention to machines. While machine-to-machine mobile communications, or M2M, has been available for long,these narrowband radio networks provide highly secure, reliable communications for things like bank machines, security systems, vehicle tracking and messaging. But the spread of GPRS, the most common data standard used in Europe, has broadened the opportunity for M2M. The market is set to take off for several reasons. GPRS equipment prices have dropped sharply. GPRS networks, are ubiquitous, reliable and relatively inex pensive to use. Analysts pointed to several sectors where mobile machine-to-machine communications are changing the way companies do business.

- In fleet management: the tracking of large numbers of trucks, rental cars, taxis or anything else that moves - mobile communications systems are already a big presence, saving time and money and increasing security by allowing companies to know what vehicles are where and in what condition.

- With home and office security systems : companies are experimenting with systems that take advantage of the higher speeds of GPRS to provide more information - including images - faster.

- Companies in several industries were beginning to realize that machine-to-machine communications gives them the ability to "attack their markets with a new business model." Orange was working with another company on wearable, GPRS-based systems for patients at risk of heart attack that can detect abnormal heart rhythms and send data to a hospital, where a doctor would call a patient in if cardiac arrest seemed imminent. With wireless technology, a lot can be done in health monitoring and pharmaceutical trials.

- In a pilot program, Beacon Wireless is providing a satellite tracking service with the ability to receive documents in the cab via GPRS. "The company can watch the truck approach the nation border and e-mail a PDF file when he approaches it and the base unit can file-transfer it to the unit in the truck, which has printer attached. The bill of lading is then printed out in the cab with a preapproved U.S. Customs bar code, so all the driver has to do is hand over the document to be scanned and drive through.

- By 2009, the number of mobile-network connections used for small alarm systems and surveillance cameras in Europe could top seven million, says, Tobias Ryberg, an analyst with Berg Insight, Sweden.

- A European Union initiative under discussion would require automakers to include systems that can send location information to emergency services. The so-called e-safety initiative would require such a system in every personal car sold in the EU beginning in 2009. This would create a market for 50 million per year.
Equipment manufacturers would benefit most from a surge in machine-to-machine connections. The network operators would gain a lot of connections, but they would typically carry very little data.

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The Cameraphone As A Social Medium!!

Howard Rheingold writes, the cameraphone exists at this moment in that ephemeral, potent and confusing phase of its adoption cycle where people are still deciding what kind of social medium it is. This happened to previous generations with the camera, the phone and the Internet. If recent observations from Keio University researcher Daisuke Okabe can be used to forecast future trends, we will find that the social role of the cameraphone is distinctly different from both the camera and the phone. And although these devices transmit images through the Internet, they are also turning out, rather unexpectedly, to be face-to-face media. It looks like this newly ubiquitous device could be more about flows of moments than stocks of images, more about sharing presence than transporting messages, and ultimately, more about personal narrative than factual communication.

Observations of Japanese mobile phone users led to adopt a conceptual framework of "technosocial situations" in which people "assemble social situations as a hybrid of virtual and physically co-present relations and encounters." The "heightened sense of visual awareness" that Okabe detects in her subjects' mundane communications might well be the early indicators of a new dimension to social sensibility, the kind of media-enabled sensory shift, the kind that changes not only the way we make small talk with friends, but the very fabric of social relations, in ways that are not possible to predict when they first surface. Perhaps we can't predict. But research like Okabe's and Ito's can sensitize us to what people are really doing with their latest doodads.


Oracle & Mozilla : Silent Partnership

The Mozilla Foundation and Oracle are working together on Mozilla Lightning. The project, aiming to integrate Mozilla's calendar application, Sunbird, with its e-mail application,Thunderbird, is believed to be key to cracking the market dominance of Microsoft Outlook. Cnet.com spculateswhether Oracle plans to to release an open-source collaboration product through this working arrangeent. Oracle's main motivation in working with Mozilla on the Lightning project is likely to be creating a competitor to Microsoft Outlook-and ultimately take market share away from Exchange. In real terms, the Exchange monopoly is based on the Outlook monopoly. People pay shed-loads of cash for Exchange. The thinking is that if Oracle can provide an alternative to Outlook, it will make Microsoft worried.

Oracle's work with Mozilla could help it achieve a long-term goal of success in the collaboration software market. Oracle has been trying hard to entrench itself in the collaboration space for a long time. Collaboration and communications area is critical as it is seen as a control point in the enterprise. Microsoft's success is predicated on Outlook to a significant degree. Forrester earlier recommended that Oracle take the opensource route to compete with Microsoft and IBM, as these two players are well entrenched in the collaboration space. It is possible that due to the risks of releasing the source code of its current product, Oracle is instead planning on offering support for both proprietary and open-source collaboration tools. Oracle has made substantial investments in moving the database platform to the Linux operating system and it is imperative that it has a messaging platform running in Linux platform as an important element in the stack.Interesting development to watch.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Mobile OS Players - Growth Approach

In the backdrop of high incidence of CEO turnover in the mobile OS space – Mike Masnick writes, The smartphone market seems to have suffered from delusions of grandeur too early in the process. "The next big thing" is often crowned well before the market is actually developed. This leads to companies making decisions as if their new offering was already widely accepted, rather than recognizing the need to cultivate and build a new market. Mike prescribes that there are a few things that a CEO should be doing.
- Recognising that the market is unsure – growth would come out educating customers about smartphone capabilities vis-à-vis the regular mobile phones. In essence move smartphones for the hype zone to the reality zone.
- As operators do the marketing , the mobile OS providers are handicapped – but they need to learn from Intel to drive end-user demand on a "component" of an overall system with smart end-user focused marketing.
- Mobile operators need to be pushed to support the mobile ecosystem as is being done by the recording industry.
The trick, the new CEO’s need to note though, is to focus on building the market from below, rather than waiting for the marketing to come to them. That means doing away with the hype, but focusing in on ways to really develop and sell the really useful features of new smartphones.I agree - Mobile OS players need to have the mindshare with end customers and force operators to align more closely with them. The balance of influence between handset makers, OS players and mobile service operators seem to be skewed in favour of mobile service providers - this may need to change to accomodate more equitable arrangement to help in advancement of the mobile industry and facilitate the growth of the mobile ecosystem.

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America & Clean Energy

After inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison was asked where he drew inspiration from. "I find out what the world needs," Edison replied, "then I proceed to invent." Jeff writes,”Today the United States needs to do the same” - only now our primary objective must be to revolutionize the way we produce and consume energy. Diminishing oil and natural gas reserves, continued reliance on foreign and sometimes unstable energy sources, and global climate concerns demand nothing less. Fundamental change will require three things: the brainpower to develop new technology, a market that makes clean technologies profitable and a strong dose of American will.
First: the intellectual strength. Dramatic innovation in developing the cleanest possible energy technologies are noticed. The Edisons of today, in labs around the world, are generating breakthroughs in energy production technologies. We are developing a mix of improved technologies to meet energy and environmental needs in the future, tapping resources as diverse as wind, solar, nuclear and natural gas. The key is higher efficiency, lower cost and fewer emissions.
The second requirement for change is the market: we have reached the point where solving energy and environmental problems is not only the right thing to do but a profitable one as well. Green technologies are moving into the black, and the returns will improve further as economies of scale emerge.
This changing reality can be seen at major corporations such as Johnson and Johnson, Citigroup and General Electric. GE recently committed to double its annual investment in clean energy technology research and development - to $1.5 billion - and looks to double revenue from energy-efficient products by 2010. Together these three and others have also joined with the World Resources Institute to implement aggressive new plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions
.More of this is required across the board - all over the world.


Goldman Rates Positive On Enterprise Software Leaders

Goldman Sachs on Monday upgraded its coverage view for the software group to "attractive" from "neutral," citing the emergence of a new technology that uses the Internet to centralize all software applications.
Goldman said primary beneficiaries will be leading software vendors, including Microsoft ,Oracle Corp. SAP AG and testing software provider Mercury Interactive Corp Growth in the technology sector has slowed dramatically(not sure about this data) over the past several years in the absence of a compelling new technology, Goldman said. The movement to Web services base standards will enable more flexible and adaptable computer systems to accommodate changes, driving new corporate demand, according to the brokerage firm. Goldman's software analyst Rick Sherlund is not convinced that "the next big thing" is finally on the horizon. Enterprises need to embrace and get soaked in web services architecture to begin benefiting when this movement gains currency in the next few years.
My Take: True that enterprise software companies may gain by embracing web services in a big way – but the advent of web services would also disproportionately influence adoption of small software vendors (who are prepared well for the opportunity) – with enterprises showing promise to buy and use such products atleast in niche and highly specialized/customizable areas. This way, theenterprise software leaders and their ecosystem would grow further and gain strength and momentum. Anycase web services getting into centerstage though later than estimated is a good thing for the industry and business as well.

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Search : Next Frontier For BitTorrent

(Via Wired) BitTorrent speeds internet file transfers by shifting the bandwidth burden off the publisher, and distributing it among users downloading the file: Everyone downloading a file over BitTorrent is unobtrusively uploading it to other users at the same time so that large, popular files actually move at a faster rate than obscure ones. BitTorrent is in the final stage of launching an advertising-supported search engine dedicated to cataloging and indexing the thousands of movies, music tracks, software programs and other files for download over the popular BitTorrent protocol. The free search tool will be the first large-scale commercial offering from BitTorrent, that so far has drawn most of its revenue from T-shirt sales and PayPal donations. Although BitTorrent has become associated with online piracy thanks to its role in distributing copyright movies and television shows, the company is eager to highlight its utility as a completely lawful program for furthering free speech.
The ranked search results will be accompanied by sponsored links provided through a partnership with Ask Jeeves, says Ashwin Navin, BitTorrent's chief operating officer. BitTorrent will make money from each clickthrough. "Ask Jeeves syndicates advertising products to many different sites, and BitTorrent will be one of them. The search engine is expected to go live within two weeks and it will live on BitTorrent,from where the open-source software is distributed. The new search engine takes that dynamic into account. It resembles Google in operation, with a simple interface and results ranked by an automated process. But unlike a general web search, the BitTorrent web crawler interacts with each torrent behind the scenes to determine the number of nodes downloading and uploading through it. That lets the search engine order its results by the throughput of each torrent.

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The Future Of Television

(Via Newsweek) Steven Levy writes, The television has transformed a lot - From monochrome to color to pay TV to more channels, remote controls & VCRs. The future holds more promise -our 2005 experience is only half vast. The ethos of New TV can be captured in a single sweeping mantra: anything you want to see, any time, on any device. Excerpts with edits and comments:

The future TV is already here - characterized by choice, personalization and empowerment. In the living room, the standard is a big-screen monitor that delivers high-definition quality. Another transition well underway is time-shifting, the ability to rearrange the schedule to watch programs at your convenience, not the networks. Though videocassette recorders have enabled this for decades, those devices were always too hard to use and too dumb to really shape our habits. A digital video recorder (DVR) can easily grab your favorite shows even if you don't know they're on and allows you to freeze-frame fast action and jump commercials. Video-on-demand provides another way to bypass what programmers offer at a given moment. VOD libraries will inevitably expand to the equivalent of the mammoth music boxes of iTunes and Rhapsody.
With space shifting - from TiVo, it's only logical to take it with you on your laptop, hand-held viewer or PSP game player. A company called Sling Media sells a device that allows you to watch the program playing in your living room on your computer, anywhere in the world. Other schemes are designed to beam programming directly to gadgets not normally regarded as TV devices. All these elements come together in what may be the most significant development of all - the movement of the television platform to the Internet. IPTV hopes to merge the lay-back culture of the living room with the bustling activity of the lean-forward Net. "This is the future," gushes Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who has a $400 million deal with telecom giant SBC to implement it.
The Net, can host billions of Web pages without a sweat—has room for everything. You can stack as many shows on the screen as your eyes can handle. Since the Internet is open to any digital content, your television will merge with other activities allowing users to multitask among TV facilities. TV programs can reach the mass audience without going through a gatekeeper, be it a telecom, cable provider or satellite service. Video would be served directly, like everything else on the Web. "Most flat-panel TV sets will have Internet connections in their future," says Steve Shannon, founder of Akimbo. "Already there is more data downloaded for video over the Internet than there is for music," says Mike Ramsay, cofounder of TiVo. "What happens when a 14-year-old creates a BitTorrent browser that's easy to use and plugs right into your TV? You go from 500 channels to 50 million channels." Amazing transformation ahead.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Operating Systems - Recent History, Immediate Future

Dan Gillmor writes,The Tiger OS release and Microsoft hypefest were only the latest engagements in a never-ending campaign for the hearts, minds and wallets of computer users. Excerpts with edits and coments:
Microsoft,now holds a nearly unassailable monopoly on the desktop. However, innovation keeps coming from a variety of quarters. The OS landscape looks similar and different than looked a decade ago. The most serious operating system competition for Microsoft in 1995 came from IBM’s OS/2, which was clearly superior to Windows 95 in many ways. IBM’s biggest problem was itself, as it was betrayed by an astonishing inability to sell a better product either to computer makers - who, to be fair, were being bludgeoned by Microsoft - or to independent software developers, without the support of whom no operating system can be successful in today’s world.
One of the Mac’s biggest advantages in the new century has been the almost total absence of viruses and spyware on the platform in an era when the plague of malware has become a clear danger. At the same time, Mac users, especially in corporate settings, often find themselves marginalised by software vendors and support personnel. Linux may appear to be coming along at a surprisingly fast pace. The open source software community has ardently improved the free operating systems to the point that it’s acceptable on the desktop for at least some uses. It’s not yet up to the proprietary competition for use by average folks, especially home users who want to do anything beyond basic computing applications. The move to the web assumes significance - To the extent that the web is a computing platform in its own right, the system running the individual device loses importance. The trend is real but we are quiet a distance away from total independence of this kind. Personal computers are cheaper than ever, but they remain too unreliable and difficult to use. Only competition - from commercial and non-commercial sources alike - can make a difference. Read all the entries in the comments section to read different perspectives about the Linux readiness or otherwise for the desktop user.

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