by November 1, 2004 0 comments

XP Starter Edition: not for you and me 
When this product was first announced, reports suggested that it would drive down the price of a PC. The expectation was that a cheaper version of Windows would reduce the ‘total cost’ (pun intended) of buying a PC.

To that extent, the announcement of the Indian version has been something of a let down. For starters, it would be available only in Hindi. And then, other limitations would apply. For example, you would be able to open only three windows or applications at the same time, and networking would not be possible. Display resolution would be limited to 800×600, and it will be available only as an OEM product. The first feature (Hindi only), more than anything else, defines the objective of the product. Obviously, it is aimed at opening up a new market, than at reducing costs in existing ones. 

Direct Hit!
Applies to: All IT users
USP: Explains implications of technology changes

How big a new market can the new version open up? That will depend not on the OS itself, but on the applications that are available. If the Hindi version of Windows still runs the English version of Tally, then that is not much of a new market!

A parallel question is whether the Starter Edition would reduce the cost of a PC in these new markets and, if yes, how significantly. On this front, both Microsoft and its hardware partners ducked making a commitment at the press conference held to announce the product. This leads one to suspect that pricing may not be significantly lower than the existing lowest priced version of XP. Finally, the announcement and the press conference, as is the norm with Microsoft, is way ahead of the launch of the product, which is expected only sometime in 2005. 

In short, don’t expect the Windows Starter Edition to reduce what you have to shell out for a new PC. It is just not meant for you.

Desktop: the new search frontier
Even before the final winner has emerged in the Web search engine wars, a new front has been opened up in desktop search.

It is not as if PC hard-disk search is a new concept. Norton utilities, even in its floppy based days, used to have a good string search capability. Later on, products like Copernic provided excellent search capabilities for files on the local machine. Apple has spotlight, a search tool integrated into the latest versions of the MacOS. Better search and association capabilities were to be one of the cornerstones of Microsoft’s upcoming Longhorn, till it was dropped for lack of time (see Trends and Analyses, page 16, PCQuest October 2004).

So, desktop search products have been there for some time now. What has helped focus more attention on the segment is the launch of Google desktop search. A small download from Google, this one puts the familiar Google search interface on a browser to work on your local machine. Once installed, it creates an index of your hard disk in the background. As of now, search capabilities are limited to MS Office, AOL instant messages and Web caches.

Google desktop search can be integrated with a Web search

The big differentiator is its ability to integrate desktop searches and Web searches into one. For example, if you are searching for a keyword at Google, then the desktop search will run the same search on your local system and throw up the combined results on the browser, with the local results on top.

Many years ago, in its heyday, Netscape raised the slogan-the browser is the OS. And Microsoft went on to build a better browser (at that time) and won that war. The battlefront is turning to search and, for now at least, Google has the lead. AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, all are expected to join up soon. And what is there in it for you and me? If nothing else, in the short term we should see a plethora of search offerings, and also a dramatic improvement in search capabilities on the desktop.

Content sensitive ads
Various attempts at content-sensitive (or context-sensitive, as you may) advertisement have been around for quite some time now. Though tried out with limited success in print and on TV, content-sensitive advertising has been more extensively experimented with, on the Net. Experimented is the operative word, given that the technical and ethical questions are still not fully understood or answered.

Content (context) sensitive ad placement technology is still a hit and miss affair for many

We will concentrate on the technology part. The most famous of content-sensitive advertising is in the search engines, which position ‘relevant’ ads along with search results, and of course in Gmail. We have discussed the Gmail advertising before, and I continue to be amazed at the almost intuitive sense they have developed in placing ads.

Other efforts, though, continue to struggle with mixed results. I was recently searching for information on the Big Bang. One of the pages was at CNN, and it talked of stellar clusters colliding with each other. Now, CNN displays content-sensitive ads, based on the content match service from overture. Content match displays ads against keywords in articles and headers, based on bids from advertisers. Unfortunately for CNN and overture, all ads were about computer clusters and the like!
Obviously, not a good match.

To crosscheck, I copied the entire text and sent it to my Gmail account. Not a single ad there.

What does all this mean for you? First and obvious, content-sensitive technology still has way to go. This not only affects online advertising, but also applications such as speech recognition. Once the technology nears maturing, you would of course have to worry about whether you are reading unbiased edit or placed advertisement. And that is a different question altogether.

Krishna Kumar

Sun’s Utility Grid

Utility computing as a buzzword has been around for some time. But real examples have been difficult to pinpoint. Now, Sun is marrying that to the older idea of Application Service Providers and putting their money where their mouth is to provide a utility grid.

Basically, Sun will set up a farm of CPUs and storage and rent it out to users on an hourly charge. Starting rates are under a dollar per dual CPU node per hour. The service is primarily targeted at financial services, design automation, rendering farms and the like in the US.

While the concept has been around for some time, and the capabilities have existed, no one has so far been able to create a compelling solutions pitch so far. Sun is the first big name to try, and for that reason alone, if nothing else, it would be worth watching their progress.

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