Tech Review 2004

Published Date
01 - Dec - 2004
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2004
Tech Review 2004

A look at the year gone past, highlighting five of the biggest trends, the best technologies, the largest IT-shaking events, and the most influential people

TREND > Convergence Of Cell Phones, PDAs And Cameras

The All Conquering Cell Phone

The idea of a single electronic device which can handle sundry tasks is very attractive. The negatives of such a “convergent” device aside, the concept has taken roots and devices are sprouting left and right. The biggest showing is in the cell phone space. The past year has seen models which bring together the functionality of three separate devices: cell phones, cameras and PDAs. Successful devices from all major vendors were launched in 2004.

The PalmOne Treo 600, in particular is very well received hardware, intelligently integrating PDA and phone functionality in a “phone-like” form-factor, complete with a QWERTY thumbboard and built-in camera. (See our review of the Treo 600 on page 75)

The 600 is the augur of better devices. Take the Sony Ericsson S700i. Out in late 2004, the phone has a 1.3 MP CCD camera and a 2.3-inch, 18-bit TFT screen. The camera is the soul of this device, so much so that the S700i has been designed to look like a camera upon glance. Its 1.3 MP hardware is essentially a Sony CyberShot camera integrated into a phone—the CCD image sensor along with an 8X digital zoom snaps pictures of an excellent quality for a device which is “also a phone.” Add to that the tri-band phone capabilities, the HSCD and GPRS connectivity, Infrared and Bluetooth, an XHTML web browser, an FM radio, an MP3 player, and a video player. The math is simple—the S700i can perform ably as a camera, a phone and a PDA.

When a phone is designed to handle such multiple sources of data, storage becomes an essential element. Indeed, hard disk-based cell phones are trickling in. Samsung’s SPH-V5400 has a mega-pixel camera and a 1-inch, 1.5 GB hard disk drive. It was recently unveiled for the South Korean market. Also from Samsung is the SCH-S250, which offers a 5 MP CCD-based, digital camera-cum-camcorder, with a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second, a macro mode of 10 cm and 92 MB of internal storage.

The Treo 600 is amongst the most successful PDA-phone hybrids

Where does that leave the PDA and the camera as discrete devices? For an average user, a convergent device will suffice and indeed replace discrete units. Will such convergent devices proliferate though? Phone carries such as Airtel and Orange are known to subsidise their cost, so proliferation is solely in the hands of carriers, especially in price-sensitive markets such as India.

Thus, for the majority of us, a cell phone will eventually replace both the PDA and
the camera.

 TECHNOLOGY > Dual-core Processors

Gigahertz Is Dead
“By mid-decade, the Pentium PC may need the power of a nuclear reactor. By the end of the decade, you might as well be feeling a rocket nozzle than touching a chip. And soon after 2010, PC chips could feel like the bubbly hot surface of the sun itself,” straight from the mouth of Patrick Gelsinger, Intel’s Chief Technology Officer.

Technology hasn’t been too kind to the processor, the heart of a computer, this year past. Faster chips have been crammed into shrinking spaces, resulting in monsters which greedily consume electricity and belch out enormous heat. The problems were so dramatic, especially for Intel; that a complete rethinking was in order-the 4 GHz Prescott was scrapped and the “Gigahertz is God” mantra unceremoniously dropped. After all, nobody wants the Sun inside their PC cabinet.

After 2010, PC chips could feel like the bubbly hot surface of  the sun itself
Patrick Gelsinger
, Intel’s CTO

Thus, instead of making faster trucks to transport cargo, chipmakers will now offer a greater number of trucks which will move relatively sedately but in parallel, effectively performing the same work as their faster predecessors. This analogy translates to using multiple cores within a processor rather than using a single core running at 3 GHz speeds.

A dual-core solution will be the herald of this thinking to our desktops, come next year. Such a solution effectively gives you two, nearly independent processors. Each CPU will execute different parts of a program. While this may not always double the speed of a single task, it will definitely improve overall performance.
EVENT > Indian IT Companies Crossing The US $1   Billion Mark

The Billion Dollar Club
Last year saw the formation of the so-called Billion Dollar Club, then a collective of one, namely the privately-owned Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). This year witnessed the inculcation of two public companies—Infosys and Wipro Ltd. TCS’ revenues stand at US $1.2 billion, Infosys’ at US $1.08 billion and Wipro’s at US $1.35 billion.

 Why is this important? Firstly a billion dollar revenue is a good, healthy number, something a CEO of an IT company can proudly display on his visiting card, we imagine. More importantly, this three-member group, with billion dollar pockets each, will only seed and proliferate the Indian job market. TCS, for example has 24,000 employees working in 100 branches across 32 countries; while Infosys, as of mid-2004, employed 25,600 people.

TCS, Infosys and Wipro have all crossed US $1 billion in terms of revenue

While engineering and technology is taking away blue-collared jobs (the Indian automobile industry, for example recently underwent job cuts while simultaneously increasing production), the IT industry is hungry for more and is snapping up people faster than our colleges can churn them out. Recently, TCS, Infosys and Wipro jointly hired 14,000 new workers, almost as much as the entire workforce of Bajaj Auto and Maruti combined. IT sales are projected to rise between 30 and 35 per cent annually, which can only create more jobs.

There are other benefits—over 20 per cent of the employed workforce at Wipro, for example is comprised of women. IT is a good leveller.

Finally, if India has to put some money where its “IT superpower” mouth is, billion-dollar companies are an important milestone on the long road ahead.

 PEOPLE > Pradip Baijal, Chairman Of TRAI

Connecting People
Baijal Pradip, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had stepped into a mess. Wireless in Local Loop was the new kid on the block when he took charge and telecom rates mixing GSM/CDMA/WLL offerings required a degree in advanced math for understanding, along with the proliferation of tariff plans, a consumer was left bewildered.

Baijal did not wave a wand and make it all better. Nothing so romantic; he was a newcomer to this telecom regulation business, fresh from the Indian bureaucracy. He was, thankfully, not averse to looking for help, and thus he engaged outside consultants, often from foreign countries, to gain insights into global best practices—something none of his predecessors cared to do. Little by little, he fixed things.

First to be weeded were the tariff plans. TRAI put a cap on the number of plans that can be offered at any point of time by the access providers (25 was the magic number). Baijal opined that the reduction in tariffs would increase penetration, pointing out that there were 10 million mobile connections in 2002 a number that leaped to 30 million in 2003 as tariffs dropped.

Under Baijal, TRAI wants to connect every Indian together. Convergence of services is where TRAI is heading. As a milestone to that road, the idea of a unified license was given birth. This would allow conversion of all telecom licenses into unified licenses enabling any operator to offer any type of service.

With such a device in place, there would be only two types of services, fixed and mobile. Any mobile service; whether WLL or cellular would simply be recognised as “mobile service.” But this suggestion was not limited to phones: “Unified license implies that a customer can get all types of telecom services, from a unified license operator, technology permitting. These services would include telephony, Internet, broadband, cable TV, DTH, TV & radio broadcasting.” Baijal spoke of the recommendations: “…you’ll realise that we have created an enabling regulation. We have also taken into account future aspects like convergence. If things work out, a cable TV provider may be able to provide telecom services too (vice versa too would hold good) under the unified licensing regime.” What TRAI has proposed under Baijal is a proliferation of choice, and choice, as we all know can only be good for the consumer.

We salute Baijal and his associates at TRAI for ensuring that the power to choose remains with the consumer.

 TREND > Falling Hardware And Software Prices

Technology For Cheap
Cheap is in. In 2004, affordable laptops triggered a domino effect of cheap hardware across the PC spectrum. Afraid to lose market share to laptops, OEMs slashed prices of desktop computers. Today, you can buy a good desktop PC for less than Rs 20,000.

Software has also followed the trend. The Open Source movement has brought great software at the best price—free, to our desktops. for a great office suite, Firefox for a great Web browser, Thunderbird for a great e-mail client, and countless other small and eminently usable programs await your use.

The effects of this trend have been telling. Sun recently announced that Solaris 10, its latest cross-platform OS which cost them over US $500 million to develop will be distributed free. Sun is also committed to release the source code for Solaris 10 to the community. Microsoft has also been forced to be more sensitive to price. While Windows XP Starter Edition may be emasculated, it is a positive step towards lowering the price of Microsoft’s platform.

Cheap is indeed in.

TECHNOLOGY > Web Standards

Return Of The Standards
During the Browser Wars between Netscape and Microsoft, Web “standards” took a beating and the W3C was often rolled over.
Today, something strange is afoot in the Internet space. Bit by bit, the Web is reclaiming the standards and this time, no single company is influential enough to spoil the party.

It all boils down to the fact that there isn’t a single, widely used service on the Web. Take Web mail as an example: Hotmail, Yahoo! GMail, Outgun, Hotpop, Lycos, Netscape, Rediffmail, Indiatimes… you have choice. When there isn’t a dominant player to dictate its agenda, standards survive and thrive.

Today, creators are dictating the field. Why should a programmer, for instance, code for two different Web browsers just so his Web site is usable by the majority? Standards such as HTML, XHTML, CSS, Javascript, XML and PNG are thus enjoying wide-scale adoption by Web programmers and designers. Up and coming browsers: Firefox and Opera for the Windows platform, Safari for the Mac world are swearing by W3C compliance for the sake of the creators and their audience. These tools are in turn used by the creators for the compliance offered and the circle completes.

Even Microsoft, whose Web browser is arguably the least compliant, is embracing the idea. Its adoption of XML within the MS Office suite is a prelude to things to come; its C compiler is the most compliant of the lot. Rising Firefox installs (reportedly, Firefox 1.0 was downloaded more than 1 million times on the day of its release) is forcing the team behind Internet Explorer to sit up and defend their creation ( The next version of IE will need to be more compliant to standards or further lose market share.

Standards are coming.

EVENT > Sender ID And Domain Keys

Fighting Spam
A report, released May 2004, stated that 80 per cent of all e-mails in the United States were spam. The US, incidentally is the largest exporter of spam e-mail. A related article by the author of Faster, James Gleick threw some startling figues: 10 billion spam e-mails are sent every day; 30 billion are expected by 2005. You have been spammed; you know it isn’t pretty.

Bill literally receives four million pieces of e-mail per day, most of it spam
Steve Ballmer,
Microsoft Chief Executive on Bill Gates

Spam is largely driven by spoofed e-mail addresses. How many times have you received a spam from a friend’s or a colleague’s mail address? By spoofing an ID from your list of contacts, a modern-day spam bypasses filters you may employ—be it a blacklist, a whitelist or a combination. The idea then is to certify a user as genuine and his/her mail as authentic… which is where anti-spam identification systems step in.

Sender ID was one such system, spearheaded by Microsoft. It was however rejected by the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Apache group and AOL. The concern was over the fact that Microsoft held key patents on Sender ID and its licensing terms weren’t Open Source friendly. In the current climate of software IPs and SCO-style litigations, the industry felt it wise to step away from the proposal. Microsoft revised the same, narrowing the scope of the patents and offering backwards compatibility with existing systems. The revision has seen AOL sign-on to Sender ID, while Apache is still on the fence.

Yahoo! meanwhile has proposed a system based on a public/private key encryption system called Domain Keys, this system has at least one major backer—Google in addition to other e-mail service providers. The Web is thus fragmented on an effective anti-spam method. Meanwhile, the mails keep flooding in…

PEOPLE > Krishna Bharat, Principal Scientist,       Google Inc.

Father of Google News
Krishna Bharat is a Principal Scientist at Google Inc. 2004 saw him pack his bags and move to Bangalore as one of a triumvirate, heading a recently unveiled Google research and development centre there.

Krishna is of course the creator of Google News, the online news aggregator which has empowered people, ruffled the feathers of journalists and bagged a Webby Award. Google News is a content aggregator—Web spiders running on algorithm-powered legs, scour the Internet and some 4,500 news sources and gather relevant content. The magic lies behind the definition of “relevant”. As Bharat puts it, “As with Google’s Web ranking, relevance is determined by information retrieval techniques that look at the distribution of words in the article and surrounding pages on the Web. If the article matches the query well it is deemed relevant and gets a high score. Other factors include the importance of the source, timeliness of the article, and importance of the news story, relative to other stories in the news currently.”

He created Google News out of frustration; he says that the task of fishing for news amidst the Web’s endless flow of information was very tiring. The Bangalorean, who did his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Georgia Tech in 1996, says he wrote for his campus newspaper during his B.Tech days at IIT-Madras. Bharat is passionate about journalism, as a news junkie, he had also developed an interactive, newspaper powered by Java in 1994. The Krakatoa Chronicle, as he called it, was able to tailor content according to users taste: it would, for example note that you spend a lot of time reading on sports, the Chronicle would remember that, and the next day the newspaper would look different. “In a second life, I would like to be a journalist,” he has once been quoted.

The Google centre at Bangalore will mirror Google’s other offices. It will undertake projects in data mining, data warehousing, business intelligence and knowledge management.

TREND > Search Tools For The Desktop

Google On Your Desktop
What would your life be without a search engine? Google has become a verb, keywords your mantra.

Now think of how cool it would be to extend that power to information sitting on your own computer, or on your local network. That thesis you were working on? Can’t remember the name but it contained “plate tectonics” in the body… Wouldn’t it be great if you could type in a few words, press [Enter] and after an eternity that spans milliseconds, ta-da—your document right in front of you, like magic!

It would indeed be great and the technology is here: save from hiding under a rock, you know about Google Desktop, you have probably given it a whirl (you should!). It’s Google on your desktop, just like the name says but it is beta software, thus has a limited range of files which it can index. We will forgive it its growing pains and look elsewhere, for desktop search clients have mushrooomed: Copernic Desktop Search, Filehand, blinkx, dtSearch, dowser, and X1 to name the most popular. Some of these are free, others not (X1 will put you back US $99 while dtSearch demands US $199).

Filehand, dtSearch, Copernic and X1 are all little more than indexing services; Dowser is designed as a research tool which maintains a local database of online search queries. blinkx meanwhile, mixes it all up-it essentially spiders the Internet and your local disk and links relevant content to “keywords”. Received an e-mail with “Sachin Tendulkar” in the body? blinkx will provide relevant online links (complete with excerpts) plus head to your hard drive to find that essay you wrote on the maestro or that video clip of his trademark straight drive. Its “Smart Folder” feature is also worth mentioning-tag a folder with what kind of contents you want inside (say everything related to The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), keep it overnight and blinkx will spider both online and offline information on your topic and gather links to everything relevant inside the Smart Folder…
Data deluge is part for the tech course we are headed on. It is indeed nice to have a good search companion by your side to make sense of the chaos. Here’s to desktop search tools, may their tribe increase!

 TECHNOLOGY > Sub 1-inch Hard Disks

The Incredibly Shrinking Hard Disk
The proliferation of portable devices has triggered a demand for high-capacity storage in a small form-factor. Last year, Hitachi unveiled its Microdrive, 1-inch platters spinning at its heart. But the future is even smaller.

Toshiba and Matsushita, for example have hard disks based on 0.8-inch and 0.7-inch diameter platters-that’s about half the 1.8-inch drives currently inside the Apple iPod. So where is the demand coming from?

Mostly from consumer devices, and not just the traditional laptops and portable music players… as mentioned earlier, cameras are adopting hard disks. So will PDAs, in time. Similarly, there is a mini-boom in the handheld-PC market-products such as the OQO model 01, the FlipStart, the Sony U50, and U750P, the FlyBook, the Tiqit, the Antelope-these so-called “handtops” demand high-capacity storage in a handheld-friendly form-factor.

Handtops are smaller than laptops and run Microsoft Windows powered by a low-power processor such as a Transmeta. This new breed will consume miniature hard disks with ease. Industry estimates suggest that the consumer appliance segment of the hard drive market, could account for as much as half of the demand for storage media by 2007.

According to Seagate, within two years, storage prices will fall to levels indicated above

With moving video on cell phones, PDAs, and Portable Media Center devices, flash-based memory will no longer be cost effective-earlier last year; the price for a 1 GB Microdrive was around US $159, while the cheapest 1 GB CompactFlash card sold for about US $205. Indeed, the demand for small hard disks (mainly from the runaway success of the iPod) had prompted Toshiba to double production of its 1.8-inch hard disk drive to 600,000 units per month.

EVENT > Linux Shakes Things Up

Linux vs The Rest of The World
There is little doubt that Linux has arrived in the server space, what is interesting to note is that Linux is now synonymous with Red Hat in that market. This equation has traditional players in the server market worried. Sun, Microsoft and Novell to name the largest: alliances and take-overs were the order of 2004, then.

Novell got the ball rolling by first purchasing Ximian, makers of the “Microsoft Outlook-killer,” the Evolution e-mail client for GNU/Linux. Ximian’s Red Carpet distribution system was also a factor to the purchase. Novell then bought SuSE which makes a very compelling Linux distribution, especially with its set of YaST configuration tools. With the two under its belt, Novell is all set to integrate its own Netware solutions and offer—they hope—a comprehensive and attractive package for the server space.

Meanwhile, Sun and Microsoft have signed a togetherness pact, the impact of which will undoubtedly resonate beyond 2004. What brought them together were the trio of threats of IBM, Red Hat and that whole Open Source bag of trouble… Their alliance, as of now extends to covering each others backs as per software patents and a currently cloudy (in terms of execution, not goal) intention of aligning Sun’s offerings with Microsoft’s, with comprehensiveness once again being central to the plan.

There will be much competition past 2004-brought to you by IBM, Sun, Microsoft, Red Hat, and the wonder child of a million programmers-GNU/Linux.

PEOPLE > Srinidhi Varadarajan, Project Leader Of A Top 10 Supercomputer

Big Mac—35 Teraflops Served
MIT’s Technology Review magazine undertakes an annual ritual of creating lists. These are not of the “top 10 vacation spots for quantum physicists” variety but the more prosaic, albeit eminently more practical list of 100 Top Young Innovators of 2004 (young is relative, as MIT professors will tell you, here it means under the age of 35).

One such blip on their radar was made by Srinidhi Varadarajan. To learn of the why behind the wow, we take you back to 2003…

When you hear “supercomputer”, huge monolithic machines masked in black and towering formidably over all they survey, spring to mind. You don’t think shiny personal computers; you especially do not think Apple computers. Well, start thinking.

Late 2003 witnessed the birth of the then-third-fastest supercomputer, affectionately termed the Big Mac. The cluster-based supercomputer was birthed by a research team at Virginia Tech University, headed by Srinidhi Varadarajan—the Director of the Terascale Computing Facility at Virginia Tech and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science. Big Mac was strung together from 1,100 dual-processor Power Mac G5s, and was the first supercomputer with Mac inside. Big Mac was also affordable to digest, costing a relatively modest US $5.2 million. To compare: Japan’s Earth Simulator (then the second fastest supercomputer) cost an estimated US $350 million to US $400 million. While the Big Mac is capable of performing about 12 trillion operations a second (teraflops), the Earth Simulator operates at about 35 teraflops.

The budget supercomputer was declared the third-fastest, today it takes up the seventh position. Virginia Tech’s next bargain supercomputer, due sometime in 2006, is all set to aim at for 50 teraflops, if status quo is maintained; this would allow Virginia to reclaim the third spot.

TREND > The PC In Your Living Room

One PC To Entertain Them
As a general trend, technology is migrating from servers and desktops into our living rooms. We have all been amused by the idea of our refrigerators e-mailing a grocery list to our local store, or our cell phones wirelessly programming our microwave ovens; these are intriguing concepts but not solutions in themselves. What is more interesting is the concept of home entertainment and the trends in that space.

We are of course talking about PCs which masquerade as consumer devices in your living room. Take the HP z545 Digital Entertainment Center as an example. It looks like a stereo component and will be right at home in a rack-mounted setup, next to a TV set. Innocuous on the outside, but take a close look: fold-down panels on the front hide two USB 2.0 ports, a CF, an SD, and a Memory Stick slot, you will also find RCA inputs, S-Video in, a Firewire port, a dual-layer DVD-RW drive and an alpha-numeric display. Turn it around and the back of the unit is overwhelmed with output ports: full 7.1-channel audio out (RCA and optical), a VGA port, S-video out, DVI video out, S/PDIF, composite video out, Component video out, a FireWire port, and four USB 2.0 ports. The most interesting piece to the equipment is the “Personal Media” drive. Which is a 7,200 RPM USB 2.0 portable hard drive with a docking station build inside the z545-the portable disk will let you carry 160 GB of data to a friend’s or a relative’s. That data can be TV shows, movies, music or photos. This is adjunct to the 200 GB hard disk that lives inside the unit…

But a nifty black box does not home entertainment make. Also starring are TV sets in more flavours than ice cream: the LCD TV (the largest from Sharp stands at 65-inch), the Wi-Fi LCD TV such as Philips’ 23-inch Streamium 23PF9976i, which has built-in 802.11g for streaming video and audio files, the Plasma TV (which can be as large as 63-inch), the Projection TV which are lighter and use less power than a Plasma TV, also frequenting 63-inch. A supporting cast featuring a 4.1-, 5.1- or 7.1-channel speaker setup, projectors with in-built DVD and 2.1-channel audio support and a comfortable couch to sprawl on.

TECHNOLOGY > Internet Telephony

VoIP—Waiting For Voice Quality
There is little doubt that VoIP is good technology. In a nutshell it allows international voice calls to be made over the Internet. This in turn brings down the cost of the call borne by a user. VoIP is also a good thing for the telephony industry since usage of routers and cables which connect the Web together, reduces the monies needed to build the required infrastructure.

VoIP is making inroads-VoIP-enabled IP phones from ISPs are now more common, alongside the necessary services, while VoIP-enabled cell phones are expected soon. Consumer software such as Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger allow voice chat amongst contacts which is essentially VoIP. Perhaps the biggest success story of VoIP software has been that of Skype—a P2P telephony network founded by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, the creators of KaZaA. On October 20, 2004, 1 million Skype users were online at once. The software allows Skype users to talk to each other for free; it can also call a land line for a small fee. Available for all leading platforms including Pocket PC handhelds, Skype has been widely proclaimed as the herald of cheaper voice communication.

But VoIP has its share of problems, the largest being that of voice quality-mainly that it is nothing great. Noisy connections and dropped packets (hence delayed or missed conversation threads) are expected and encountered. A possible reason for this could be patents over Internet Protocol Telephony. Experts point out that the field is rife with patents which cover almost all possible compression algorithms.

It is only a matter of time though before VoIP becomes the de facto means of voice communication, after all, it makes perfect economic sense.

 EVENT > Sun Sued Over Java

Kodak vs Sun Microsystems
Three numbers 5,206,951, 5,421,012 and 5,226,161, caused quite a stir in the IT industry. These were patents which Kodak acquired from Wang Laboratories and subsequently used to sue Sun Microsystems. Kodak dragged Sun to court, alleging patent infringements and looking for US $1 billion in damages. The claim-Java, the programming language so vital to Sun’s financial health, was violating the aforementioned patents.

Listed by The Guinness Book of World Records as the “Lowest Paid Chief Executive Officer”, Steve Jobs is a man who has spawned multiple empires

Sun and Kodak, settled out of court for US $92 million this year, a far cry from damages sought but the real damage was already done-in the guise of seeding fear amongst Java users.

Most importantly, this event underscored the absurdity of the new patent regime. As analyst and IT advisor Jonathan Eunice stated in a report, “The patents reference specific concepts...that are clearly part of Java. But the patents seem to equally describe the execution environment of just about every modern programming language, operating system, (database) engine, messaging broker and application server.” He opined that “It is not much of an overstatement…to characterize Kodak’s patents as claiming the ownership of the entire concept of delegation.”

As Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz posted in his blog, “Was it worth having this suit hang over our heads, no. Absolutely not. That’s why we settled-not to validate Kodak, not to validate those patents, but to let our customers and employees and stockholders focus on market opportunity, not litigation.”

Will his be the future of the IT industry? Money exchanged over the knife-point of questionable patents?

 PEOPLE > Steve Jobs

The Man With The Midas Touch
The co-founder and CEO of Apple Computer, the founder of Pixar animation studio, Steve Jobs is well-respected as a practical visionary-one who sees inherent trends and benefits within systems and technologies which may not be readily apparent, and then uses his insights to amazing results. Born February 24, 1955 Jobs and his friend Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer in 1976 and gave the computing world the highly successful Apple II and Apple Macintosh. He left Apple in 1985 to found NeXT Computer, come 1986 he purchased Pixar from LucasFilm (George Lucas was more than happy over the US $10 million sale, seeing how Pixar was then bleeding money) and turned it into the highly successful animation studio that it is today. A floundering Apple Computer purchased NeXT for US $402 million in 1996 and got back Jobs to his roots. The next year, Steve became the interim CEO and spearheaded the revival of Apple.

Under Steve’s guidance, Apple enjoyed healthy sales of the iMac which was a design revolution, spawning an industry of translucent look-alikes and copy-cat product-names beginning with the letter “i”. Appealing design and branding became the hallmark of Apple Computer since, culminating into the hugely successful iPod-as of October 2004, the iPod has over 92 per cent of the market share for hard drive-based players and over 65 per cent of the market for portable music players in general. Today, iPods sell more than Apple desktops, laptops or servers; they are largely responsible for the financial good-health that Apple Computer is enjoying.

The iPod portable music player birthed the iTunes Music Store-an online music store dealing with all five major labels, viz., BMG Music, EMI, Sony Music, Universal and Warner Bros. The store offers singles for US $0.99 and albums for US $9.99. It sold about 2,75,000 tracks in its first 18 hours and more than 1,000,000 tracks in its first week. This runaway success, at a stroke silenced critics of online music distribution, and simultaneously legitimised the medium. Sony and Microsoft quickly followed with their own offerings but Apple remains the dominant player.

Design has been the strength of Apple under Steve Jobs. The simplicity of the iPod scroll wheel, the integration of the iTunes software and the online store, the elegance and usability of Mac OS X, the minimalist Apple hardware; all underline the importance of design. Steve Jobs is a man equally adored and hated but as the conductor of some of the most memorable products of our time, his visions deserve a healthy round of appreciation.

TREND > Intellectual Property and Software Patents

The Destructive Force Of Software Patents
 Meant to protect intellectual property, software patents, are increasingly seen as weapons in the arsenal of huge companies used to either slow down or halt the progress of rival technologies. So much so, that companies are bought and sold based solely on the number of software patents that own.

Consider a recent visit to Singapore by the CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer.

First, some background intel: Singapore’s Ministry of Defense, switched 20,000 personal computers to run on Open Source software. The Chinese government sees the made-in-USA Windows as a potential security threat and is allied with Japan and South Korea to develop a Linux-based OS. Asia, in particular is a huge supporter of GNU/Linux and the Open Source way.

During the visit, Steve warned Asian governments that they could face intellectual rights-infringement lawsuits for using Open Source operating platforms such as Linux. The ammo for the attack? Software patents- Ballmer said that Linux violated more than 228 of them. He did not provide any detail on the alleged violations, which the Linux community disputes. “Someday, for all countries that are entering the WTO, somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property,” he threatened.

Software patents have created an atmosphere of mistrust. So much so, that seemingly well-intended solutions, such as Microsoft’s Sender ID are experiencing friction to adoption due to the hovering storm clouds of associated patents.

These patents have been around for a long time, the ever-increasing trend is using them in questionable ways against competition. As Jonathan Schwartz, President of Sun Microsystems put it, “Companies that acquire (often questionable) patents and later wield them against new market participants unleash a destructive force that stifles innovation and prevents participation-the polar opposite of the purpose for which patents were created.”

I did, in fact, taste kangaroo meat at a luncheon… I enjoyed it
Jonathan Schwartz,
President of Sun Microsystems

 TECHNOLOGY > RSS Syndication

Tying The Web Together
RSS, Really Simple Syndication is making Really Big Waves. The concept is simple: the contents of a Web site are displayed to its audience in a timely and approachable manner. Powered by XML, RSS simply repackages a Web site as a list of data, such as the date of a post, a summary of the story and a link to it. RSS aggregators then take the package and display it on your computer. Every time the Web site is updated with new content, the aggregator can inform you of the same, saving you the trouble of revisiting it. An aggregator can take numerous avatars: it could be a plugin in your favourite e-mail client, it could be your e-mail client, could be your Web browser, an application sitting on your desktop, the form it takes is limited to the imagination of its creators.

Why is RSS such a big deal? Because it provides the backbone for two things: distribution of news and a means of instantaneous communication. Driven by both news-based Web sites and Web blogs, RSS is the only way to keep in touch with the diverse WWW.

EVENT > eBay Buys

Baazee For $50 million
The prehistoric e-commerce landscape of India showed signs of life, late 2004 when Mumbai-based Baazee was bought by eBay, the international, online bazaar where even parents are sold (never successfully though). The transaction happened for US $50 million which amounts to some Rs 230 crore. Before you get envious of the dynamic duo behind Baazee (Avnish Bajaj and Suvir Sujan), most of that cash will be used to buy out shareholders News Corp, ICICI Ventures, Bid or Buy, Global Bridge Ventures, E-Vision Partners and some angel investors in the US.

This is interesting because eBay means business; it is always looking to aggressively push its online market forward. That it bought Baazee could either mean that they know something about the Indian online market that we don’t or that they simply deemed it wise to purchase a company with presence, rather than start from scratch. Baazee haven’t broken even yet, although they claim to have conducted transactions worth Rs 100 crore. Interestingly, Baazee revised its initial claim of 2.6 million registered members to a figure of 1 million confirmed registered users, after the sale.

For the rest of us, this transaction translates to a wider audience to both buy and sell goods.

 PEOPLE > Jonathan Schwartz

Putting The Fire In Sun
Jonathan Schwartz is the President and Chief Operating Officer at Sun Microsystems. That fact does not make him particularly special. During his tenure at Sun he has been responsible for the introduction of the Java System, and for the launch of Java Desktop System (which has gained good traction within the industry), his day-to-day activities involve operations and execution of Sun’s business including Systems, Software, Global Sales Operations, worldwide manufacturing and purchasing, customer advocacy and worldwide marketing. So what? It is a job well paid for.

No, what makes Schwartz a personality in the IT sector, a voice heard, sometimes with derision, sometimes with respect, but always heard, is this little URL: Mr Schwartz, ladies and gents, is a blogger, and they don’t make bloggers more passionate than him.

Schwartz is the word evangelist given flesh. He gets up on his Web podium and thumps the virtues of Sun’s products to anyone and everyone who cares for a listen. His sometimes wry posts waste no time in bringing down his competitors—Red Hat or IBM—or in drumming up Sun’s associations with allies such as Microsoft and SAP.

His blogs offer an insight into the workings of an US $11 billion company. They sometimes inform, and sometimes amuse (they can be both genuinely funny and obviously a veiled press release), but they always make an interesting read.

On Intel’s CEO, Barrett’s insistence that gigahertz is dead: “Granted we had that viewpoint approximately three years ahead of Mr Barrett, but we’re glad we’re finally in agreement.” On open sourcing Solaris 10, a CIO told him that the last thing he needed was more source code: “No offence intended, but you’re not my target demographic. It’s your developers, and they’d love the ability to see/evolve the source.” On Open Source: “No matter what the cynics say, since its inception, Sun has been a believer in and contributor to Open Source communities-after all, we were built on an Open Source operating system. Open Source is in our blood, not just our press releases and billboards.” On kangaroo meat: “I would like to inform everyone that reads my blog that I did, in fact, taste kangaroo meat at a luncheon yesterday… And I know this will likely disqualify me from public office at some point, but I need also confess, I enjoyed it. It even paired well with a good shiraz [sic]. There, I said it. Secret’s out.”

Schwartz grants Sun a human face and for that alone, he must be applauded; the tech world needs a personality such as him., a blog worth reading, for the man at the keyboard


Ahmed ShaikhAhmed Shaikh