November 01, 2005

The Office of the future

I have been just checking out some of the AJAX stuff. Needless to say, the techie junkie that I am, I am pretty much blown away.

What is more impressive is not just that ability of the browser to act really like an application container than a markup display module. The movement of the web towards righer media looks more possible from the AJAX point of view rather than the world where everyone watches all their movies online. This is the rich media of the future. Simple applications, centrally maintained and accessible from everywhere.

Of course this means that you need to have connectivity everywhere. This may not be as tough as it seems. A mixture of wired and wireless access is already providing connectivity in most places - bar natural disasters. But, bandwidth is a problem that will not disappear - not overnight, not in a while. Simply put, it is not economically viable to provide high-bandwidth connectivity to everyone. Yes, a big chunk will have access to it, but not everyone.

The software world is going through its pangs of simplification. There is still a while before the dust settles and the winner is predicted. But what struck me was the relation to the hardware world. Take for example the office desktop. Even with the laptop, the desktop today is not truly mobile.

The next step is the integration of business communication with the laptop. All the elements are here already. Laptops are shrinking - they are small enough that any more shrinking can only affect productivity. VoIP is available. And most business users are already connected through adequately thick pipes. What is to prevent an integrated phone in the laptop - a tiny bluetooth enabled headset and an VoIP phone number that goes with the laptop.

That is the next generation of the business laptop. Intergrated communications - data and voice over the same channel through the same end device. You heard it speculated here first.

-- ravi

September 12, 2005

Article on Security

I hate to make this a blog where I drop in links from around the world and feel happy at having put something on it. I definitely wouldnt want to do that. Anyways, came across this link on email today.

If you are reading it, dont read it as the six dumbest ideas in Computer Security. Rather read it as the One reason why Computer Security is all screwed up. The first one. Most of the others are a form of the same idea. Read about the description of Default Permit strategy. Think about it.

That is probably one of the biggest things that is causing havoc with having to run an ever-losing race with vulnarabilities, hacks and other evil in the networked world.

And to think all one had to do was ask

-- ravi

September 11, 2005

The Brand Name

For those of us who have been bought up on a diet of management jargon or clothing catalogues, the word 'brand' invokes images of name labels, glitzy ramps and press conferences. We believe that branding is a third party activity, which we then use to show off to our friends.

Many of us miss the universal meaning of the word brand. A brand is the sum total of images and feelings that a word or image invokes in us. The reason a brand becomes powerful is that it associates a lot more information on this one word or image, than the image could possibly hold on its own. And many a times, such association is not necessarily logical - and this lack of reason is the source for the assymetrical power of the brand.

Take, for example, the branding that each and every one of us do everyday as we profile the people around us. "He is a libran - never decides". "She stay out late, god only knows what for". "He is fun and intelligent, must be gay". Profiling is one of the fundamental effects of branding that we constantly overlook in our daily lives. Such profiling was probably built over time, with constant reinforcement, giving these words, images and ideas such a hold over our though process, that we not only let them rule our actions, but we frequently fail to see through to the profiles we carry.

Take another example - probably the biggest brand on earth - God. No one has seen him. No one has interviewed him. But everyone knows everything that is to be known about it. No, dont get me wrong. I am not against theology - just that this entire study seems to be an massive exercise in brand building.

This post is not about theology, or a delve into the idea that make up god. Rather it is about some other brands that we carry along with us. The people that we meet.

I have been carrying around a brand, that recently came to the fore again. This man, was a professor of mine at a point in time. During the period, my interactions with him brought out ideas that I live by to this day. And a by-product of this was that I have this brand image of this person, his idea and his thought process. So when I found out that he had published a book, there wasnt even the slightest hesitation in my mind as I clicked through the steps online to get it delivered home. I knew it would be a while before I would return home to read it, but there was no hesitation is ordering the book on the spot. The power of the brand image.

The book reached home and my mom read it. And she loved it like she loved no other book till now. We spent an inordinate amout of time talking about it and reflecting on the book. I realised, that I was indeed talking about the book and the ideas therein without ever having seen the book. The power of the brand - the ideas that the brand carries along.

Make you take a pause and reflect - when you form such powerful impressions about others, wonder what your brand is talking about you. Of course, everyone wants to be known for their plusses - but the brand is a whole lot different. It is not just your features, it is the entire feeling that your recollection evokes in the person. What is it? A warm fuzzy feeling? A cold dread? Silent admiration? Masked disgust? What does your brand speak about you?

warm regards and heloo if you came here via the IIMC website

-- nrk
You might also want to take a dekko here.

April 22, 2005

Google: My Search

It is about time google put together this. Everything that Google produces has me responding in one of two ways - Can they really do that? or Damn! Why did they take so long to get this out.

And this is an example of the latter. Google already does our searches for us. It already has all the strings with it. All it has to do is dump them in a database of some sort and allow us poor mortals some intertface to browse through it. And bingo - an awesome addition to the Google arsenel.

And again, as with everything that Google does, some people are saying just one thing - What about my privacy? Which is the ridiculous statement that is the reason for this blog.

What privacy are you losing when Google is just showing you a copy of what you have already done on their website? There is no additional information that Google is collating together that they dont already know. Knowing Google, it is probably already a part of their servers and you are just getting to see and delete it now! You ought to be happy that you have access to delete a history of all your searches.

And finally it is an opt-in option. You are not signed up my default for you - you need to go in, sign yourself in and remain that way for this to work.

Go ahead - take a break. Have fun. And get some work done quickly for a change.

your refrigerator knows what you are storing inside it
dont use it
-- ravi

April 04, 2005


Have been trying to understand haiku and never really thought I would have haiku 'moments'. A couple of moments.

This came to me as I was watching my first snowfall

silent whispers
falling winter snow on me
wet cotton candy

Inspired by the modern Corporate workplace

spring winter summer
fall, carpet halls unnoticed
vacuum cleaners scream

February 25, 2005


The ability to share and enjoy music is inherent the music itself. No matter what the MPAAs and RIAAs of this world want us to believe, music is not just another merchandise. It is not like a scoop of ice-cream that you enjoy more if you have the whole thing yourself. Music is meant to be exchanged, loved, discussed and sometimes cherished.

Notwithstanding the lawsuits, the advertisements, and admonishments - music will be shared. It is not music piracy - that is something that has been shoved down our throats by the powers that be. Sharing music is natural, that is what humans do - we do not sit in our cubicles listening to music and slamming on the pause button everytime somebody comes within earshot. And humans are not thieves either. We do not live to cheat someone of their ability to earn a living. Each and every one of us understands that we need to earn a living and therefore we are willing to share a bit of what we have in order to allow someone else to live.

The mechanism that can work therefore has two primary requirements

  • The same mechanism should be used for buying and sharing music.
  • Music should be cheap, damn cheap - not 99 cents, but 5 cents a song.

Let's call this portal iMusic. Now iMusic is a p2p portal. It is probably built using the Gnutella protocol and also allow bit torrent to exchange files. Now, the network has two kinds of users - customers and authorized resellers. Authorized resellers are authorized outside the system, probably by the music agency themselves, and are allowed to "sell" music. Also underlying the the entire portal is a paying mechanism geared for small denomination high volume transactions - something like paypal. And unlike eBay that has a one way redirection, PayPay here talks back to iMusic too.

Now every user on iMusic has a "buy ratio". This is like the credit rating on iMusic. This is the ratio of the number of songs you bought to the number of songs you downloaded for free. The smaller this number is, you are a freeloader, while a 100 means you only buy music and dont download anything for free at all.

Your account 'knows' all songs that you bought/traded. Others only know your "buy ratio". You decide the buy ratio levels you want to trade with. This is something like the upload/download ratios that are currently in use on the varius p2p sites. However this tracks based on actual transactions - either a successful copy or a buy. The smaller this ratio is for you, the more difficult it is for you to find users who will want to trade with you for free. Ofcourse your Search will show you all the possibilities, making your trading process all the more tempting but difficult to complete.

Whenever you like a song, or know you will like a song and dont want to bother with Searching and downloading, you connect to one of the authorized resellers and buy a song from them. Of course, authorized resellers could be a lot more creative and sell you "plans" with them. A user can sign up with one or more "plans" or just go to any authorized reseller to buy a song. Of course why would you do that, because the more loyal you are, your reseller could positively impact your buy ratio by registering more "buys" on your behalf. Frequent flyer miles anyone?

The iMusic marketplace will thrive on the existence of opposing forces to prevent large scale piracy. Users want as high "buy ratios" as possible so that when they want to check out new songs, they do not have to go through too many "You do not have enough credit to access the song shared by this user!" messages. At the same time, a user's own threshold limit will determine his standing with other users.

iMusic will also spawn a reseller program and associated competition to drive down prices. The reseller program will be handled by a central "reseller clearing house" that in a way owns the entire iMusic mechanism. All artists are affiliated to this iMusic mechanism. Each successful sale entails a small payment from the iMusic clearing house to the artist and subsequent recovery from the resellers. Ofcourse the market between the artists themselves on the iMusic clearing house will result. If an artist prices a song too high, people will still listen to it, but will use their credit from other "buys" to download the song for free. And of course, too low means that unless the song is a phenominal hit with a high buy percentage, not enough money will be recovered.

Songs and their associated advertisement: Each copy of a song on the network is either introduced by the artist, or by users as rogue copies. Rogue copies will be abundant at first, but they will stand out in all seaches as "unknown source". All authenticated copies keep track of the number of times they were bought to the number of times they were traded, giving them a buy ratio as well. The buy ratio along with the trade count gives an indication of the top of the charts as well.

Of course, there will also be associated sites and ratings and chat sections and forums for discussion of the latest in everyone's own queer music tastes. There will be the inevitable "Save this band" promos, so on and so forth.

On the whole iMusic will be a full blown market place, allowing a direct interaction between the artist and the users with a secure, simple and small payment mechanism. It will allow sale and trade - and most importantly treat customers like customers are not thieves.

Bet you've heard this before!
-- ravi

February 16, 2005

Freedom to Share

The thing about thought process for me, is that it does not go forward unless there is a IO port attached to it. In other words, if I ever had to think a thread through, I need to either be talking or typing or wriggling toes in the language of the three toed sloth.

So, as it happenned, I knew deep down that I felt quite strongly about music, piracy, sharing etc. However, never got to put down ideas, and never realised how much it affected me.

So, we were walking down home after a particularly indifferent movie, and this topic came up. So the thought process ran. When you are faced with having to justify yourself to a particularly sharp and acid person, your brain wakes up cells that were never used to be awake, cleans up cobwebs and cranks up the storage devices. And the results are particularly consistent. Till, you plan on putting things on paper when you start to choke, under self doubt.

But, this is my blog, so what the hell.

Lets start with a question. When HBO tells you, "Say no to piracy" and be HIP and what not - what exactly are they telling you. Are they telling you to stop buying stuff you think is pirated off the vendor on the corner, or are they telling you to stop downloading stuff from the internet, or are they asking you not to watch a movie with your friend. HBO in its clips seems to say the first thing, MPAA in their lawsuits seem to say the second thing, and companies like Microsoft with their DRM ideas seem to say the third.

On the whole, they are pretty confused about it, but ask any one of them, and they will tell you to respect "Intellectual Rights". Granted, I want to respect intellectual rights - but will that mean they will stop treating me as a thief?

That is the crux of my problem with the entire anti-piracy thing. I have already been labelled a thief. Read the small print written by some lawyer on your CD you bought. You did not buy music, you bought some rights to do something with music - like listen to it. And whenever you do anything with the CD you bought, which has not been explicitly okayed by the small print, you are a thief. You go to a friends party and play it in his player loudly - you are a thief. You rip the CD to play in your HD player, flash player, car-mp3 player and a backup copy - you are a thief. And for a CD you supposedly bought, you dont own anything about the CD, not the songs, not the artwork, only the plastic. And unless proven otherwise you are a thief.

I would still consent to being labelled a thief, if music and movies were priced any cheaper. Technology has driven down the cost of music and movies. Songs can now be recorded and mixed at home on a laptop. You no longer need expensive recoding studios and their costly help in making music. But music is still priced the same. Artist costs and their profits are shrinking, but the end price is still the same. And who is getting an increasing slice of the pie - RIAA, MPAA and the rest of them.

One could have argued a decade ago, that these were very important and worth more than their share of cut in on the music prices. They helped artists get launched, the paid for recording up front, they help advertise, they promoted and most importantly they distributed. But today, it is no longer that crucial. The growth of the Internet has put a critical question mark on the reason for the existence of such associations. Downloading costs next to nothing, the Internet looks after advertising and it does a much better job than the RIAA ever could. The Internet breaks even faster, helps artist make money faster, reaches out to all kinds of audiences, does not differentiate between a super-hit or a hit or a moderate hit or a niche hit. It does not differentiate between rock or pop or hip hop or techno. It does not differentiate based on age, religion, region or sex. And the MPAA/RIAA are not happy.

Not only are they not happy, but they dont want to accept this change. Making costs are dropping, selling costs are dropping, shipping costs are dropping, advertising costs are dropping, reviewing costs are dropping, but the CDs are still priced the same. And all users are thieves.

This is why I dont care for their message against piracy. Of course I respect the artist's rights, of course I want to pay him. But I want to pay only the artist. I want to play a small and reasonable amount. I want to pay for songs I like, not entire albums. I want to share it with friends and when they like it, I want them to fully own the song by paying a similar small and reasonable amount. And most importantly, I dont like people calling me a thief.

Next post - mechanism for such a world.

etc etc long live robin hood
-- ravi

January 28, 2005

Books et al

I have kind of caught the reading bug again. Have been reading a bit recently. Well, nothing to the levels I used to as a kid, but decent neverthless. The current one is called In Search of Schrodinger's Cat by a guy called John Gribbin. I think I really want to read the book twice. If not anything it will be something I can talk to unsuspecting friends about quantum physics. <evil grin>

Also have been reading another landmark series - The Dune series written by Frank Herbert. I have read the six books of the main series. Additionally I have read three of the preludes written by Frank's son, Brian Herbert. One day I will sit down to put together a perspective on the books.

Remind me,
-- ravi

The Alternative Desktop

One of the biggest selling points for Open Source and/or Free software has been the alternative desktop -- an alternative to the Microsoft desktop. There has been a great gig and dance about how Open Source can replace Microsoft on the desktop. However it is something that has not materialized and might not in the near future too.

The problem with the statement "replacing the desktop" is that it is so vastly oversimplified. It is a statement that assumes the desktop to be a single monolithic entity, held hostage in a fortress, guarded by a dragon. But that is not the case, there is no single dragon that can be slain in order to own the desktop -- rather there are a variety of komodo dragons, dogs, falcons and lizards that guard different strong holds in the desktop. An understanding of the future of the desktop is in understanding the map of the desktop topology and the wars that are in the offing.

Office applications is the biggest fortress of all -- guarded by the fiercest of all dragons. Office applications - we are defining as text editor + spreadsheet + presentation. The second bastion is email + PIM client. The third biggest fortress is the browser -- and in particular the starting point of browsing, namely search. The next biggest war ground is the multimedia - this is less of a fortress and more of a live, action-filled battle ground. Then there are thousands of other forts, small and large, strewn all over the place.

For some reason Open source has decided to publicly attack the biggest and strongest of all fortresses - the Office applications. By choosing to replace word, maybe, FOSS has chewn more than it can swallow. The reason is simple. The fort is not only the best entrenched, but the dragon protecting it is desperate enough to do anything protect it. MS Office is very strongly entrenched with its users because of the hostages it carries - user data. There is a large amount of user data held inside the proprietary formats of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. People have written macros in Word and Excel that run business processes now. Everyone has their favourite powerpoint templates.

This fact is acknowledged by FOSS alternatives like Open Office and Star Office when they provide compatibility with Microsoft formats. However that is like dragging the donkey by its tail. Providing compatibility, allows existing users to afford continuing with their chosen FOSS option. It is not an incentive to get new users on board. And it is no reason to be an 'alternative'. A true alternative would have to be indistinguishable from MS Office with respect to file formats, macros etc. And any such option is no longer an "alternative" - it is the thing itself. The sheer gigantic wall of having to work with existing data makes FOSS options a non-starter in the Office applications part of the desktop.

Then we have email. Outlook, apart from its infamous record in security, has a major disadvantage working against it - SMTP. Outlook has to, whether it likes it or not, work with SMTP. And SMTP being an open protocol, alternatives are a lot more possible with Outlook. Further, with options like GMail, yahoo and hotmail it is possible to use email without even having a client. And data already existing with Outlook is also exportable and is only a one-time activity in almost all cases. The uniformity of existing data, medium dependency on tool, and an established existing open protocol makes email a good breeding ground for alternatives. Also given that corporates typically go for entereprise-wide implementations, any tool can be implemented across the organization, and provide the same rich set of functionality, without haveing to worry about breaking compatibility of those outside the organization. Inter-organizational data transfer happens using SMTP, which will continue uninterrupted.

The browser is the other major fortress, which is very vulnerable. By the very nature of the web, proprietary-ness is forced to marginalize itself. Formats are more or less open, accessible and available to user regardless of tool used. There is nothing other than the sheer laziness of users preventing a switch from existing browsers to a new browser and from there on to a third browser. The little data, such as bookmarks, that needs to be migrated is typically handled by the installables of the new tool that is replacing the old. The only barrier offered by the incumbent, IE, is the use of ActiveX. However given the stigma already attached to ActiveX, this is not completely insurmountable.

The next battleground is that of multimedia. The field here is data heavy. However this is also the land of the DRMs, restrictions, proprietary standards, incompatibility, RIAA and lawsuits. This is as yet undefined a field, with everyone desperate to corner a pie for themselves. There are fundamental questions about the existence of multimedia on the desktop that have not been answered.

That brief survey over, it is time to look at where the alternative is going to come from. The current Office-focussed FOSS methodology does not look very promising. They seem to be answering a question alright, but it is starting to look like it is the wrong question they are grappling with. The Google approach on the other hand is a lot more viable. Rather than take on the biggest bastion on the desktop, they are going for the rest of them. And rather than seek to replace any of them, they are building powerful allies, making friends, offering services and building a base that they can trigger at any time to provide a true "alternative" on the desktop.

Google is uniquely poised today. On the web, the majority of users start from its pages. It has acknowledged that search is something everyone wants - so it is searching for everyone - news, ecommerce, images and even user harddisks. They are quietly getting into corporations, with their ubiquitous search button. They are aligning themselves with all the new technologies on the web -- keyhole, blogger -- all with a view to providing users the ability to search on it. They are one of the biggest buzz words on the email scene with their touted GMail. They are browser independant and have quiet links with the challengers to IE. When multimedia wars settle into some semblance of order, Google will be there, searching away, pointing people to the multimedia they need. And most importantly, they have shown themselves to be quite unmoved by the existence of MS Office.

It is this wide footprint and their reluctance to touch the word processor that is uniquely equipping Google. In the coming years, Google will be all over the place, either directly or by buying companies out. And when it decides to, it will be in the perfect position to push for the "alternate desktop" -- a desktop that will enable users to do everything they want to do except perhaps create documents. How will this "desktop" look like -- I dont know. But knowing Google, they'll think up of something simply awesome.

Heres to the Googletop
-- ravi