Report: eBay is building a Frankenskype

eBay wants to spin off telephony service Skype into a separate publicly traded company, but something's standing in the way: Skype's founders are threatening to take back some of the technology in the midst of a licensing dispute.
The auction giant's solution, according to a Bloomberg report on Thursday: Build a new one.
This was revealed in a 10-Q regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission; eBay is not commenting beyond the filing. You can decide whether "Frankenskype" or "Skypenstein" is a better name for the hypothetical creation.
Skype's founders have established a company called Joltid Ltd., which still owns the rights to some of Skype's technology. Joltid has made the accusation that eBay doesn't have the right to do everything it wants with all of Skype's code as a result; eBay is suing Joltid to get that technology back. But the catch is that the trial isn't scheduled until next June, which could put a big roadblock in the way of eBay's plans for a Skype IPO.
So that's why eBay is working on a total rebuild of Skype's software.
There is, however, this little issue. "The new software will be expensive and might not work," Bloomberg's article summarized. "The company said it might have to shut down Skype if the dispute with the founders isn't resolved."
eBay purchased Skype in 2005 for US$2.6 billion, but it hasn't proven to be the best fit for the company. Rumors circulated that it was looking to sell Skype, possibly to Google, but then opted to take the company public instead.
READ MORE - Report: eBay is building a Frankenskype

Storage in the cloud: Availability and SLAs

Storage and the associated planning process are critical for an organization to consider any cloud technology. An expert outlines one solution that may be attractive for availability.

I will admit that cloud technologies are a buzzword.
Primarily because there are many different types of clouds and how one organization perceives cloud technology can be fundamentally different than another. In my last post on cloud storage, I mentioned how the Amazon Web Services (AWS) storage offerings are provided.
For the Simple Storage Service (S3) cloud, availability is described on their Web site as being 99.99 percent available. Comparatively the Elastic Block Store (EBS) cloud is advertised as highly available-–yet without a percentage like the S3 cloud.
The EBS service offers an automatic replication feature, which is different than the S3 cloud. This automatic replication replicates allocated EBS volumes to the same zone.
That is all fair and well until either you fall into the .01 percent of the time that it is unavailable or a zone of the EBS cloud is not accessible. That is where an interesting technology was made available to me on highly available cloud storage.
Recently, I attended a CloudCamp event that was a great resource to see what people are doing and to understand the technologies in play. Sure, there are plenty of sales opportunities at these events. What I found more interesting was access to how these technologies work as well as what organizations are already there.
One offering that caught my eye was the Nirvanix Storage Delivery Network (SDN). The SDN can provide a 100 percent service license agreement (SLA) for certain configurations and data sizes. This would be a scenario where you have 5 TB of data or more in the SDN cloud and are selecting a data replication policy that covers three nodes (different data centers in the Nirvanix namespace).
The underlying prerequisite, of course, is that the customer can access the data. So, strategies of WAN failover or forcing all workers to telecommute can come into play.
Availability in the cloud is a contentious topic, as the TechRepublic community demonstrates. I am providing cloud resources so we can understand the technologies-–I'm not necessarily saying we should go there. I am a bit of a "server-hugger", I will admit that. But I see cloud as the single biggest threat to internal IT infrastructure on the radar right now.
READ MORE - Storage in the cloud: Availability and SLAs

IT risk high up on banks' agendas

Banks are putting IT risk high on their agendas, and are paying more attention to assessing vendor risk as a part of overall operational risk, according to a consultant at IDC.
Michael Araneta, senior consulting and research manager, IDC Financial Insights Asia-Pacific, said in the firm's latest report: "Banks have recognized that technology failures, including the failure of technology vendors to deliver, can have dire implications for business continuity and their institution's reputation."
The impetus to examine IT risk has come from both the banks' own initiatives as well as part of their Basel II compliance programs. They are also "forced by the current economic crisis", which has raised concern around the sustainability of some vendors' businesses.
"Banks are going beyond the cursory evaluation of annual reports, but are also looking more closely at other financial and performance metrics. Evaluation of the vendor's corporate governance structure is also being taken more seriously," he said.
Furthermore, with vendors pushed to be more mindful of "fee structures and engagement margins", banks have to watch that service levels are being maintained amid vendors cutting staff and resources.
Other factors named for the increased attention paid to IT risk were mergers among the vendors, and more stringent vendor selection guidelines imposed.
While some vendors have improved their standards of corporate governance and transparency, "it remains to be seen, whether changes are for the long-term or just coterminous with the weak economic climate", added Araneta.

READ MORE - IT risk high up on banks' agendas

Open source evangelists lock horns with Nasscom

Proponents of the open source and proprietary software sectors have clashed over a proposal to support multiple standards for the country's e-government projects.
Last year, the Indian Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MCIT) released a draft policy, mandating the adoption of freely available standards in the deployment of the country's e-government projects--estimated to be valued at over US$4 billion.
The draft policy was established to guide the procurement of IT software and hardware across government departments and ensure interoperability among disparate IT systems. It aims to adopt single royalty-free standards for awarding e-government projects.
However, Nasscom and Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT) wrote to the government earlier this month with suggestions that the policy should support multiple standards to ensure interoperability at zero cost. Nasscom is the trade body for India's IT-BPO industry, while MAIT is an industry body representing the country's hardware, IT training and R&D sectors.
A Nasscom official was quoted in a newspaper report, saying: "Making everything patent-free may not be a commercial proposition as there might not be good standards available. On the other hand, adopting a single standard may constrict the country to adopt an old standard, if a new and better standard emerges in future."
The trade body supports the inclusion of standards under Reasonable and Non Discriminatory (RAND) terms, and also the usage of multiple standards in the same domain.
Multiple standards favor proprietary
The Nasscom-MAIT proposal has miffed India's open source community.
Fosscomm, a consortium of organizations promoting the use of free and open source software (FOSS) in India, has launched a campaign seeking to ensure the government does not dilute the policy by allowing multiple and proprietary standards.
The industry group said multiple standards would introduce duplicity and reduce seamless interoperability between competing products.
"Whereas a single open standard would remove entry barriers and encourage innovation by small local firms, multiple standards would favor Microsoft and Indian software services majors that make money by servicing it," said an industry source from an OSS company, who declined to be named. "That's the reason why big Indian IT companies, like Infosys, Wipro and TCS, are not coming out in the open to oppose the Nasscom-MAIT recommendations."
Gurumurthy Kasinathan, director and founding member of non-profit organization IT for Change, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview: "In order to protect India's digital sovereignty, we must ensure national data is stored in formats that are open and free of all encumbrances like royalties, patent claims, and so on."
Fosscomm said in a statement on the directive: "Two central features of the draft policy are--single and royalty-free standards. However, we understand that there is a lot of pressure from vested interested [parties] to dilute these key aspects of the policy, by sneaking in provisions for 'multiple standards' as also possibilities of allowing revenue streams from some 'proprietary' standards."
Kasinathan said it is unlikely the government will accept Nasscom-MAIT's suggestions, noting that the Indian government last year rejected Microsoft's Office Open XML format bid.
OSS makes headway
Meanwhile, the open source movement is making headway across India, with rising adoption in telecom, banking and government sectors.
Concerned over licensing issues pertaining to proprietary software, Chennai-based Electrotek International switched to Linux operating system and FOSS for its office terminals almost a year ago. The company supplies R&D equipment in geophysics and oceanography.
"I thought we should set aside six weeks to learn Linux but as we began using it, we found it very user-friendly and we didn't need much training," Electrotek CEO P. Sivasubramanian said in a phone interview.
According to Asheesh Raina, Gartner's principal research analyst, open source adoption in India has "increased by leaps and bounds", driven by several factors such as cost and the maturing platform.
"With the recession, IT service providers are under increased pressure to reduce costs," Raina told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview, adding that enterprises can make substantial cost savings by switching to OSS.
India has also emerged over the last six to seven years, as the country with the largest number of Red Hat Certified Engineers. "There are over 15,000 Red Hat Certified Engineers and around 300 Red Hat training centers in the country," Venkatesh Hariharan, the company's corporate affairs director, said in a phone interview.
He added that while there are no numbers to indicate the increasing use of OSS, there are over 100 mailing lists for Linux and open source users where they can network, discuss and collaborate on the latest open source technologies. Large IT companies have also established internal Linux mailing lists for employees, he added.
Andreu Bartoli, global channel director for OpenBravo, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview: "Recession has definitely helped us. Today, companies are questioning the rationale for installing proprietary ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications. It's a movement." OpenBravo is a developer of Web-based open source ERP and point of sale (POS) software.
No longer just for geeks
George Karimundackal, CEO of Redstart Solutions, also noted growing awareness that open source tools are "good in terms of quality, performance and pricing". The Bengaluru-based company builds and implements e-commerce tools based on open source. Karimundackal said the perception that OSS is mainly for geeks, and not for the mainstream user community, is fast changing.
According to Hariharan, OSS adoption is significantly higher--and particularly important to Red Hat--in three sectors: government, banking and financial services (BFSI), and telecommunications.
He noted that over 70 e-government projects currently run on open source, while financial services companies such as Life Insurance Corporation, New India Assurance, Axis Bank, Central Bank, IDBI and the National Stock Exchange are also using OSS.
Gartner's Raina added that large service providers such as Capgemini, ITC Infotech, TCS and Infosys, today have dedicated teams that look into implementations of open source technologies.
READ MORE - Open source evangelists lock horns with Nasscom

Social attitude key to today's connected world

I'm a huge fan of The Sims games franchise, but I don't consider myself a serious gamer. Fans of Razer, on the other hand, are probably gamers who don't take their art lightly.

Razer manufactures games peripherals, including mice, keyboards and built-for-gamers mouse pads. Its high-end mouse Mamba, sports seven independently programmable buttons, 3.5G laser sensor capable of 5,600 dpi and 1,000MHz polling rate--which, I think, means the mouse is able to relay to the computer 1 million instructions per second.

I've known Razer's Singaporean CEO for several years now, and would describe him as young, brash, highly ambitious and goal-oriented. Once he identifies his targets, he knows what needs to be done to achieve them and does what it takes to attain them.

These are necessary qualities particularly for a company like Razer, which products cater largely to a young crowd and which customer base is more likely open to new ideas. The CEO often relates excitedly about how the Razer brand is gaining momentum as a "cult", with followers who would gladly brand themselves with a tattoo inked with the company's logo.


So when I asked if Razer would like to take a guest spot on Tech Podium, he was keen to have his marketing guy, Ryan, discuss the company's use of new media tools to extend the company's brand and reach.

Razer's marketing strategy is probably not going to be suitable for every company--I doubt if every business in Asia would want their customers to get a tattoo of the company's logo or would challenge their clients to a virtual duel.

But, Ryan dishes out several relevant points about what it takes to create a corporate brand, how new media tools can be properly utilized to extend a company's reach, and why engaging the customer is also about "attitude".

It's worth a read so do check it out. FTW!

What do tattoos and cakes have in common? Nothing much to be honest, and to bring it all in a mix and say it improves sales online to your boss, would be quite a kind of a pitch that would get you packing your belongings into a brown box at your office door.

But, what makes it so interesting at Razer is that it works like gangbusters. Period.

Online sales of our products have seen a 140 percent increase over the past year due to our social marketing campaigns that have reached out to engage customers, and by spreading the word via online forums, instant messengers and on Twitter. With close to 50,000 fans and an additional 100,000 fans by end of the year on our Facebook page (btw, here's a shameless plug to check out Razer's Facebook profile), we're in a great position to share that we do have something interesting going on there.

Building a cult
Twitter, Facebook and the latest fandangled new generation "social media" tools can be all the rage (and there's even more on the horizon). However, they still just remain simple tools and platforms if your company doesn't utilize it as a true communication platform to bridge the gap between just having a browsing visitor, customer and a converted brand addict.

If we look deeper into cult brands that get fans all emotionally riled up each time there's a new product release, it's clear to see the customer has more than just a relationship with a specific product, or the company itself.

So first, what makes Razer so different from other corporate companies out there? We speak to our customers differently. We know who they are, what they want, and what they're into. We don't speak the "corporate" or use cringingly bad "marketing" talk, or hide behind corporate policies or structure our words carefully to prevent customer backlash. Our community managers are also not afraid to use words and games-only phrases (e.g. FTW!) that most other HR directors would greatly frown upon or wouldn't understand in the first place.

Have an attitude
We are not afraid to single out a customer, one-on-one, on our Twitter page and challenge him to an online duel just to see who wins in the next frag map in QuakeLive.

It's much more than just the "engagement" factor, it's also the attitude that you portray to your customers that determines whether you are truly understand them, or whether you're just trying to keep them entertained so that you can market a new product to them. It's a clear distinct difference between the two, and your customers can smell it a mile away.

March to a different beat against your competitors and you'll find that by engaging your market in a tone that is in tune with them, and your brand equity will resonate deeply much more than any marketing tagline or campaign can. And yes, there's absolutely no need to try too hard to be different.

Promote your social channels everywhere to get your fans to join in the fray. There's no use hiding a link deep down in a submenu simply because doing otherwise would drive Web visitors away. At the end of the day, it's for a greater good if it allows you to directly info-educate your customers on their own turfs and personal profiles. Share your company's profile on every channel you possibly can, and keep your users constantly updated with what's going on, inside and outside of your business.

Take the bad with the good
Run contests and giveaways to get them to take notice, sign up and join in the conversation. And yes, you will get tough questions and even unhappy customers from time to time--it comes with the territory. However, you can use that to your advantage by showing others you actually care about their experience with the company by listening to them and resolving the issue immediately.

Using your personal voice to talk constantly about current trends and related industry information works just as well, even if you're not talking about your products or services--just don't talk incessantly about your family pet or mum-in-law. You can leave that out.

Always recognize and reward the contributors and brand ambassadors to your company (and it doesn't have to be about money or free products). A common example is that for every fan that sends us a set of photos with a Razer tattoo on his or her body, we immediately announce and broadcast it globally to all of our fans and tell everyone around us.

It's really not hard to tell we are extremely proud of our fans and not afraid to show them off. Heck, even more recently two of our fans even made Razer-themed cakes for us and we posted that news through our six-figure e-mail database of customers as well as on our corporate blog.

Did people unsubscribe from our list? Sure. But, hey, no biggie. We have always rewarded and encouraged our customers to have a voice, and we're always surprised to find that our fans respond in kind, ten-fold.

Don't hesitate to determine your own social attitude, brand ethos and start converting your customers into fans today.
READ MORE - Social attitude key to today's connected world

Extending the job hunt to Web world

Over the past month, I've been scouring resumes of job applicants and have yet to come across one that points me to a social network for more information on the candidate.

Perhaps it's still too early for this generation of applicants, mostly in their late-20s and early-30s, to seriously consider Facebook or LinkedIn as a recruitment platform. But, perhaps it's time to do so.

Back in my uni days, graduating students were encouraged to seek out career counselors for advice and attend job recruitment workshops, one of which touched on resume writing. The trainer would point out the best way to structure a resume, which information to include and what skills to highlight.

The discussion would even touch on pointers such as the recommended number of pages (no more than two for fresh grads or three for more experienced job seekers), and presenting the data in point-form and in a table format. The objective is to make it as easy as possible for recruiters to quickly pick out key information about the job candidate, hence, increasing her chances of being called in for an interview.

In the stack of resumes that come through, I would inevitably receive several that are overly laden with text and so badly formatted that it's tough to sieve out the information I need to decide if they were suitable candidates. A couple had proven so difficult to read that I didn't even get past the first page before skipping the resume entirely--that would have been a pity if the candidate actually had good credentials.

It's also terribly time-consuming to have to open document after document just to read through writing samples and portfolios that candidates sometimes send through as reference.

All these issues can be resolved via social networks because most Net-savvy HR personnel would likely already be familiar with the site's interface, especially of more popular ones like Facebook and LinkedIn. This makes it easier for them to quickly pick out relevant information, and for recruiters like me, viewing a candidate's writing samples will just be a convenient hyperlink away.

Jobseekers with the right skills and aptitude, but not in resume-writing, will simply need to input their information in the standard fields outlined in the social networking site.

I look forward to the day when, rather than .doc or PDF files, I'll receive resumes that contain only one link pointing to the candidate's profile on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Until then, jobseekers might want to first clean up their online profile and pick up some tips on how to boost their employment chances using social media.
READ MORE - Extending the job hunt to Web world

Indian outsourcers using slump to get bigger

Take a walk through the sprawling Infosys Technologies campus on the far edge of Bangalore, and you'd never think the outsourcing industry is in a funk. At all hours, buses disgorge hundreds of software engineers too young to buy a beer, the sidewalks are filled with twenty-somethings carrying backpacks bulging with laptops, and the 24-hour caf├ęs are jammed.
Yet there is no shortage of bad news in Bangalore. The value of new outsourcing contracts fell 22 percent globally in the first half, to about US$19 billion--the lowest level since 2001--and the second half looks grim, too, according to TPI, an advisory firm in Houston that tracks deals. That means many of India's 2,000 smaller info tech companies may shut down, while the industry's giants expect sales barely to budge this year.
"We have to prepare ourselves for unknowns," said Infosys CEO Kris Gopalkrishnan.
Some companies, though, see the hard times as an opportunity to boost productivity and prepare for the next big uptick in the US$800 billion global IT business. Top players such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro, and HCL Technologies remain profitable and are loaded with cash; Infosys has US$2.2 billion, and the others have US$1 billion-plus.
So even as the industry suffered, the five biggest companies added a total of some 80,000 employees in the 12 months through March--a third less than the previous year but still sizable. And the outsourcers are all cozying up to customers, reinventing how they price and sell their services, and investing millions in training and research to help them take on more complex jobs.
"I believe the industry will emerge much stronger," predicted Wipro Chairman Azim Premji. "We certainly will as a company."
Savvier engineers
In effect, Bangalore is trying to emulate big Western rivals. India's outsourcers live almost entirely hand-to-mouth, with short-term projects providing about 90 percent of their revenues. Now they want to win more of the massive, multiyear deals that provide predictable work.
Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chief operating officer of Tata Consultancy Services, said: "We will increasingly do what IBM and Accenture do."
That means weaning themselves off of a reliance on relatively simple jobs carried out by legions of fresh college grads. Among its 90,000 or so workers in India, IBM has far more PhDs and experienced engineers than the domestic players do. These people can handle more sophisticated projects, which helps IBM earn three times as much revenue per employee as Indian leader Wipro. The U.S. company has used its muscle to grab such lucrative deals as a five-year, US$800 million contract to provide billing and other IT services for Vodafone Group's fast-growing network in India.
So far the Indians have struggled to win complex consulting jobs. Infosys, Tata, and others acknowledge that less than 5% of their revenue comes from the highest-level work, while analysts say it's about half at the Western giants. Kapil Dev Singh, India chief for researcher IDC, noted: "To sustain the kind of growth they had in the past, they cannot just play around in plain vanilla services."
One way to make the shift is to hire outside India. That would help the outsourcers acquire the expertise and close-to-the-client presence that advanced IT consulting requires. Wipro paid US$600 million two years ago for New York's Infocrossing, with 1,000 workers managing data for United States companies. Infosys said it is interested in doing something similar, and all of the companies are stepping up hiring overseas.
More Consultants
Customer relations is key, too. HCL, for instance, is willing to risk losses on some contracts to cement ties with clients. In its most advanced deals, HCL helps corporations rethink the way they do business. While this often requires a substantial investment of time to understand a company and suggest ways to transform its operations, HCL will now throw extra consultants at problems such as tracking a retailer's products or keeping its Web site operating 24/7.
HCL can gain by helping the client boost efficiency, which cuts HCL's own costs when it takes over managing the customer's IT systems. But HCL stands to lose money if it cannot deliver the expected savings.
The approach seems to appeal to clients. In the past nine months HCL has won US$1.5 billion worth of such contracts from the likes of Reader's Digest, Nokia, and Viacom, which all want to come up with new efficiencies in the recession. At Reader's Digest, HCL is helping to improve distribution, marketing, and digital publishing.
Mary Berner, Reader's Digest's chief executive, said the financial deal offered by HCL was attractive, but she was also impressed with the company's track record at taking over and running corporations' computing operations.
Wipro, meanwhile, now assigns dedicated managers to each of its 75 top customers. These executives act like mini-CEOs, running teams of consultants and software architects as if they were separate companies. But these teams share development work with each other, allowing Wipro to take the new ideas it dreams up, tweak them, and sell them to other clients. That has helped boost annual productivity from US$38,000 per employee in 2008 to US$44,000 now.
Problem is all of these initiatives are expensive. If the global economy does not bounce back in a year or so, India's outsourcers could find themselves saddled with legions of employees who have little to do. Infosys offered jobs to 18,000 college graduates last year and plans to hire more this year. But with scant work to give them, the company is doubling the length of their training to six months and assigning them mock projects to hone their skills.
Though that's not cheap, Infosys said it is worth the investment. "Our margins will go down," said Vibin Balakrishnan, Infosys' chief financial officer. "But when the economy picks up, I would rather have the problem of too many people than too few."
Another worry is that adding foreign workers or hiring more-experienced Indians dilutes Bangalore's cost advantage. So the Indian companies may have to say goodbye to the 25 percent to 30 percent margins they've grown accustomed to, said Sid Pai, a TPI analyst.
"They can continue to be the best offshore operator and accept that there will eventually be some atrophy in growth," Pai added. "Or they can say, 'I am going to be a global player.' That means changing the way they do business and hiring lots of expensive talent."
READ MORE - Indian outsourcers using slump to get bigger

Microsoft offers EU 'browser ballot' compromise

In a reversal, Microsoft last week said it is now open to allowing users in Europe to select competing browsers in Windows 7.
Essentially, Microsoft is offering to put into Windows a way for consumers to easily install a rival to Internet Explorer. PC makers, as they can today, could still install a rival browser and could also disable Internet Explorer, if they choose.
"Under our new proposal, among other things, European consumers who buy a new Windows PC with Internet Explorer set as their default browser would be shown a 'ballot screen' from which they could, if they wished, easily install competing browsers from the Web," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a statement.
As first reported earlier this month by ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET News, Microsoft had hoped to comply with Europe's objections to the inclusion of a browser in Windows simply by removing the browser entirely from Windows 7. However, the European Union indicated that such a move might not satisfy its concerns.
"Under the proposal, Windows 7 would include Internet Explorer, but the proposal recognizes the principle that consumers should be given a free and effective choice of Web browser, and sets out a means--the ballot screen--by which Microsoft believes that can be achieved," the commission said in a statement. "In addition, (computer makers) would be able to install competing Web browsers, set those as default and disable Internet Explorer should they so wish. The Commission welcomes this proposal, and will now investigate its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice."
For now--and until the European Union accepts Microsoft's proposal--the software maker said it will continue to ship only the browserless "E" version in Europe.
Opera votes for the ballot
Hakon Wium Lie, who as CEO of Opera Software has been outspoken about the IE antitrust issue, was delighted with the proposal.
"It's a happy day for us," Lie said. "We certainly think the ballot is good news and think it will give users a genuine choice."
What's not yet clear is what browsers will appear on the ballot list. Naturally, Lie is concerned about that matter.
"The rules for getting onto the ballot will be something the EU will watch closely," Lie said. It wouldn't be a good idea "to limit it to only one or two, but exactly how many is a good question."
Mozilla, which oversees development of the open-source Firefox browser, was more cautious.
"We're interested in seeing the specifics of the proposal that Microsoft is making and until that point it's hard to have a definitive reaction," said Chief Executive John Lilly in a statement. "It is, of course, a good development that Microsoft will make changes to allow users to choose their own default Web browser, as today's browser mediates so much of our online experience."
Mozilla also had questions about criteria to be selected for the ballot, what terms Microsoft might impose to be part of it, and whether Microsoft will update versions of Windows already running with the ballot.
User headaches
The planned browserless version would create a number of headaches for users, including forcing them to try to download a competing browser without having Internet Explorer to do so, as well as making it more difficult to upgrade to Windows 7 than it would otherwise be. For example, moving from Vista to Windows 7 "E" would require a new installation of the operating system, while users elsewhere can just upgrade their existing Windows installation.
"While the Commission solicits public comment and considers this proposal, we are committed to ensuring that we are in full compliance with European law and our obligations under the 2007 Court of First Instance ruling," Smith said. "PCs manufacturers building machines for the European market will continue to be required to ship 'E' versions of Windows 7 until such time that the Commission fully reviews our proposals and determines whether they satisfy our obligations under European law.
Microsoft is also committing to "a public undertaking designed to promote interoperability between third party products and a number of Microsoft products, including Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint."
The software maker faces a separate complaint over Office.
"Like the Internet Explorer proposal, the interoperability measures we are offering involve significant change by Microsoft," Smith said. "They build on the Interoperability Principles announced by Microsoft in February 2008, which were also based on extensive discussions with the Commission, and they include new steps including enforceable warranty commitments."
READ MORE - Microsoft offers EU 'browser ballot' compromise

S'pore developers create open source buzz

SINGAPORE--Local developers are helping to drum up market buzz to boost interest and expertise in open source technology across the country.
Development in the mobile arena is particularly hot at the moment, among both individuals and software houses, according to Linux user groups in Singapore.
Eugene Teo, honorary member of the Linux Users' Group Singapore (LUGS), said in an interview with ZDNet Asia, that interest among local developers have been moving toward mobile, Web and cloud computing platforms. Companies, too, have been drawn to mobile development, specifically, on Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platforms, Teo said in an e-mail.
Ruiwen Chua, founder of the National University of Singapore's linuxNUS group, said he is seeing a growing number of full-time developers in the island-state. "People are beginning to see the possibilities that they can create on their own by being a developer," Chua said.
And the buzz created by the user group community is helping to nurture developers' skill sets, he said in an e-mail interview.
"Being part of a community of technically-oriented people helps steer new members toward a more technical path," he added.
Chua Zi Yong, who runs CodeAndroid in Singapore, said the group is focused on introducing Google's open source mobile platform to developers. An upcoming user group meeting will introduce concepts of the Android framework to new developers, in addition to bringing in advanced topics such as bluetooth for advanced coders, Chua explained in an e-mail.
Through CodeAndroid, for example, several developers have come together to pool their varied skills and write a games application on Android, he said.
"Real" recognition needed
However, developers need industry validation before they will come onboard in a big way.
Chua noted: "Developer momentum...has to be led by the industry, with real projects, real money, real implementation." He said industry support helped establish the Android platform commercially, which has attracted manufacturers the likes of HTC, Samsung and Motorola.
"What makes most economic sense wins, in terms of cost and marketability," he said.
According to Teo of LUGS, the rise of more specific, technology-focused groups signals growing sophistication among Singapore's developer groups.
"While LUGS was one of the first--and only--Linux user groups in Singapore, today, we see the establishment of [more specialized] Python, PHP, and interoperability groups, to name some, he said.
Enterprise adoption lagging
Despite the bustling developer scene, Singapore's enterprise adoption of open source technology trails behind other countries in the region, such as Indonesia, China, India and Thailand.
Ridhi Sawhney, IDC's Asia-Pacific market analyst for software research, said 7.7 percent of respondents polled in the research firm's recent survey indicated plans to deploy open source storage and security software in their organization. Some 10 percent said they would deploy open source operating systems, and 16.7 percent said they would implement an open source SCM (supply chain management) application.
"However, none of the respondents plan to use new or additional open source ERM (enterprise resource management), CRM (customer relationship management), database management system and middleware software in the next 18 months," Sawhney noted in an e-mail.
Beyond the infrastructure layer, where Linux is "considered secure", there are "very few instances of implementation" higher up at the database, middleware and application layers, the IDC analyst said.
"As far as open source adoption is concerned, one of the chief fears of end-user organizations has to do with the perceived lack of internal and even external skills to support the shift toward the use of an open source strategy," he said.
linuxNUS' Chua noted: "In terms of official support, perhaps Singapore is a little lacking.
"While it seems that many governments around the world have given open source technology their support, we have yet to see that from Singapore in words nor in action, [with the exception of] the Ministry of Defence' use of," he said.
This does not offer many opportunities for mainstream users to come in contact with open source technology, he added.
However, pockets of interest groups have risen in the education sector, to explore the use of open source software in their syllabus.
Co-founder of linuxNUS, Luther Goh, pointed to the example of Republic Polytechnic's open source lab, used to teach Python. Final-year students have used the facility to create various projects using Python and Blender, Goh said.
Last year, Red Hat launched a tie-up with several tertiary institutes in Singapore to teach students Linux and open source skill sets.
Chua said: "While there certainly could be more done, the level of activity and support we see in schools today exceeds what they were a few years back."
READ MORE - S'pore developers create open source buzz

Agile project management: Estimating the unknown

Rick Freedman explains why estimation in an agile environment is not as mysterious as many project managers think.

Experienced project managers know the first question clients ask on any new project is "How much?" followed closely by "How soon?"
Whenever the subject of agile project management is discussed, it's inevitable that one question will be asked: "How do you provide the client or sponsors with an estimate when you have no complete requirements document, no signed-off specification, and no ratified schedule?"
Opponents of agile methods, deeply committed to the structured and predictive techniques championed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University, point to this difficulty as the nail in the coffin of agile methodologies.
Even organizations that are eager to try agile methods often raise this question with trepidation. Whenever I write a column about agile methods, this question of estimation pops up in the comments without fail.
Before we explore estimation techniques in an agile environment, let's remember a fundamental fact: Even in highly predictive, mature project environments like those recommended by PMI and SEI, estimating is a serious challenge, and estimates developed (even with thorough requirements and multiple user signoffs) are frequently wrong. I note this so we don't begin our discussion of agile estimating under a misapprehension.
The questions often asked about agile estimating are just as valid when asked about predictive methods. We may have gathered and documented binders full of user requirements and gotten sponsors and stakeholders to sign them in blood, but users will still reserve the right to say "No, that's not it" when we show them our first prototype.
The fact that we've got a 300-step project plan with activities scheduled to the hour doesn't mean that the work will occur as predicted. In short, when we challenge agile proponents to prove that iterative, incremental development methods can be estimated, we shouldn't be surprised if they turn right around and demand to see the spotlessly accurate estimates we've created in our predictive projects.
This is not to deny that there are benefits to crafting a complete specification and project plan up front and using that as a basis for estimating. Especially in projects that are similar to ones we've delivered previously, history can be a meaningful guide and can enable us to derive relatively accurate estimates based on tasks we've done before.
As noted in my previous column, agile methods are most appropriate in innovative projects, which lack this historical record. It's in these inventive projects (without analogies of previous efforts to lean on) that the real challenge of estimation in agile programs emerges. Estimation is a challenge in any project effort, but in these never-before-seen initiatives, it can seem impossible.
In fact, it's not. Some simple concepts can make agile estimating much less intimidating than it seems. The first general principle, which is valid in both agile and predictive project environments, is "don't estimate further than you can see". When we apply an incremental development approach, projects are divided into a series of iterations; each iteration results in the delivery of a working prototype that the client can evaluate and then be modified or expanded.
Most agile techniques call for each iteration to be both time bound and feature bound. Ahead of the development of each iterative prototype, the team and sponsor agree on how much time they'll take to deliver that iteration and which features will be delivered. Under that method, it becomes pretty obvious how to estimate the time required to deliver that iteration; it's the "time-box" (to use the common agile language) that's been established by mutual consent. That time-box is usually established by listing the features expected to be delivered in the iteration at hand and estimating how long it will take to deliver those features.
As an agile project begins, the set of features to be delivered initially is often confined to the most fundamental features required to validate the project concept, with the "bells and whistles" and the more advanced capabilities deferred until later iterations. So, from the long list of features documented as elements of the ultimate product, we select those features for the initial iterations that will demonstrate that the underlying concept is feasible, and that will allow the client to begin the "more of this, less of that" conversation that inevitably occurs when we expose the prototype to the sponsor community.
By limiting the early iterations to this reduced feature set, we make it easier to agree on a time-box for those features. We're only estimating the iteration at hand, with the estimation of future iterations deferred until we've got a clearer idea of how closely our developed prototype matches the customer's vision and expectations. Then we repeat this process, iteration by iteration.
This doesn't answer the dilemma of budgeting for the entire project, which is often what sponsors expect. After all, the purpose of an estimate in the corporate world is to enable the sponsor to set aside a budget for the entire initiative, not just the current iteration.
This estimating task is also not that baffling, either. As iterations are time-bound, entire projects are both time-bound and cost-bound. When a homebuyer asks a construction company to build a house, the obvious first question is, "How much are you willing to spend?" The next question is usually, "When do you expect to move in?" after which the development of plans and features can begin. The client sets the budget that regulates the features that will be included in the new home, from the most humble pre-fabricated trailer to the most luxurious mansion.
This analogy also applies in the agile world. Rather than specifying every feature that the sponsor dreams of and then (often imperfectly) estimating the entire cost from ground-breaking to move-in, the agile developer, like the home developer, starts with the sponsor's available budget and then determines what can be delivered within that budget, and the time-box that the budget implies.
In agile projects, as in projects delivered in a predictive methodology, the developers must set reasonable expectations for the sponsor so they're not expecting the Taj Mahal on a bungalow budget. As TechRepublic member PMP'sicle noted on my last piece, the question in agile development is not "how much will it cost for all these features?" but instead "how many of these features can you include within this budget and time-box?"
Estimating IT development projects will always be a fraught activity; since the technology is complex, users frequently change their minds, and things often don't work out as planned. This is true whether the approach is agile or predictive. In agile engagements, we estimate incrementally just as we develop incrementally, and we do all this development and estimation within the bounds of an agreed budget and time-box that's established in collaboration with the client at the beginning of the effort.
Note: For a thorough investigation of agile estimating, see Mike Cohn's classic book Agile Estimating and Planning.
READ MORE - Agile project management: Estimating the unknown

HP to acquire Ibrix

Hewlett-Packard last week picked up IBrix, a file serving software company, in the latest round of merger and acquisition activity. Terms of HP's acquisition were not disclosed.
IBrix provides enterprise-class file serving software designed for data protection, high availability and cloud computing environments.
The deal comes as EMC won Data Domain for US$2.1 billion. EMC outbid NetApp for the company.
In a nutshell, storage giants are gobbling up smaller companies to round out their portfolios and get ahead of trends. These hardware players are also chasing growth—storage is one of the few bright spots in a declining market.
In a statement, HP said the IBrix deal is designed to position the company better in the cloud storage market. IBrix, an HP partner for the last three years, has 53 employees and 175 enterprise customers in multiple verticals.
READ MORE - HP to acquire Ibrix

Top execs making new contacts via Twitter

For some business leaders, using social networking tools online has become as important to their jobs as face-to-face meetings, although direct interaction remains the choice for in-depth discussions.
Following a recent study of top executives using social networking sites, 81 percent of the Fortune 100 chiefs do not have a personal Facebook page, and only 13 CEOs had listings on LinkedIn.
Public relations firm, Blue Trumpet Group, which conducted the study, said its results gave the "impression that the 'old boys' network' is clearly the preferred method" of communication for these business leaders.
Social networking tools make interactions convenient and if it's convenient, human nature is to gravitate toward it.
Padmasree Warrior, Cisco CTO
Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco has a Twitter following of 755,339. She told ZDNet Asia in an interview, her online interactions "rank right up at the top alongside face-to-face meetings and e-mail".
"Business is still about people and rapport. Social networking tools make interactions convenient and if it's convenient, human nature is to gravitate toward it."
She said communicating online allows her to reach out to people more effectively than with traditional methods.
"As leaders, we need to set the example and break out of our molds. Instead of doing things the way they've always been done, change the rules for the better," said Warrior.
On the other hand, Mozilla CEO John Lilly, sees Twitter as a secondary "ambient" source of information, and relies on face-to-face meetings or phone conversations for deeper interactions.
Lilly, who keeps a personal blog and Twitter account told ZDNet Asia his online activities help to keep personal contacts up-to-date with his life, too.
He said: "A personal network will never go away. But the people who I've known for a long time now usually do have a better sense of what's going on in my life and work during the times when we don't get to see each other."
Both executives said they check Twitter several times a day, and have made new connections through the site. "I've met some people I didn't know before [and] I've been able to connect with people as I travel, [which are] some very useful connections here in my work life," said Lilly.
Warrior said Twitter gives her an "instant community" to go to when she is working through ideas. She said a recent presentation she made was strengthened by responses from the Twitter community as she prepared it.
On making a "personal" connection online, she added: "It's important to be authentic and genuine online. I do all my own tweets. I feel that is the only reason people would want to follow anyone.
"It's important to reveal the person behind the executive."
READ MORE - Top execs making new contacts via Twitter

S'pore govt to further adopt cloud, green IT

SINGAPORE--Driven by the country's stimulus spending, the nation's public sector will increasingly adopt cloud computing and green IT in the near future, said Springboard Research.
In a report released Thursday, the research organization noted that many Asian governments are committing to economic stimulus spending, while their citizens are demanding for more responsive public services. These two factors have laid the ground for countries in the region to transform themselves into digitized cloud nations.
Dane Anderson, CEO and executive vice president of research at Springboard, said in the report, as governments grapple with the challenges of how to prioritize needs and seize opportunities, they must focus on ICT as a key component of their strategic economic recovery plan.
"Singapore is among the most advanced and progressive public sectors in the world in terms of ICT investments and vision, and the government is continuing to invest in IT to further transform the public sector," he added.
Springboard said US$14 billion had been earmarked by Singapore as governmental stimulus spending to spur the use of IT in the public sector so as to transform the nation's healthcare and transportation sectors as well as improve broadband connectivity.
It also noted that in 2008, the public sector spent an estimated 22 percent of the country's total IT spending of US$4.4 billion. Education was the largest vertical for public-sector IT spending, followed by defense and public safety, and healthcare.
As part of the country's green efforts, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) funds a number of schemes, including the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Documentation Grant announced in 2008, that companies can tap onto for consultancy services relating to energy efficiency or fuel switching projects.
The agency has also earmarked S$22 million (US$15.13 million) to help companies defray the cost of purchasing energy efficient technologies and equipment under the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies (Greet). The NEA will co-fund up to 50 percent of the qualifying costs of energy efficient equipment or technologies, or up to S$2 million (US$1.37 million) per project, whichever is lower.
READ MORE - S'pore govt to further adopt cloud, green IT

Can RIM get mojo back with BlackBerry Tour?

The summer of the smartphone is heating up as Research In Motion is set to introduce this weekend its latest BlackBerry device, called the Tour. But will it be enough to keep RIM king of the smartphone market?
The BlackBerry Tour is hitting U.S. store shelves at an important time for RIM, which has been reportedly taking a sales hit as carriers promote exclusive phones, such as the Palm Pre on Sprint Nextel's network and the Apple iPhone 3GS on AT&T's network, according to Michael Walkley of Piper Jaffray.
Walkley said in a research note published this week that BlackBerry sales declined in June at AT&T and Sprint as these carriers focused marketing dollars and sales attention on iPhone and Pre over older BlackBerry handsets. Sales of BlackBerry devices remained solid at T-Mobile USA, but they were slightly down at Verizon Wireless, after the carrier ended its "buy one, get one" promotion, Walkley also reported.
But now it looks like RIM has a new device to excite its base of business users and consumers, especially those looking for a smartphone they can take overseas.
Unlike its smartphone competitors, the BlackBerry Tour is not offered exclusively on a single carrier network. Instead it will be available on two carrier networks: Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless. Each carrier is set to launch the device on Sunday in the United States.
Making its phone available on multiple carrier networks is not unusual for RIM, which sells its products on all four major carrier networks. But typically carriers don't make the devices available on the same day.
In some ways, the non-exclusive arrangement could help RIM sell more devices because it greatly increases the potential sales base. But it might also hurt, if carriers focus more marketing attention and budget on promoting their exclusive phones.
It's yet to be seen how popular the new BlackBerry Tour will be. But at this point any new device from BlackBerry is likely better than none.
"Sales of the Tour are key in our opinion, as our checks indicated RIM may need strong July and August sales to meet its guidance," Walkley said in his research note.
The new phone, which sports Bluetooth, GPS, a 3.2-megapixel camera, a full QWERTY keypad, and a high-resolution screen offers everything that BlackBerry lovers have come to expect. And it also comes equipped with a Quad-band radio that allows the phone to be used internationally on both CDMA and GSM networks. The addition of the 800MHz and 1900MHz radio for CDMA is particularly important for users traveling to Latin America and parts of Asia where CDMA is available on these frequencies.
The device is likely to appeal mostly to business customers, particularly those who travel, and existing BlackBerry users. While Sprint Nextel also plans to market the phone to consumers, the carrier plans to target these customers first.
"Clearly there is already a strong base of BlackBerry customers, and many of them are business users," said Tim Donahue, vice president of business marketing for Sprint. "And we want to make sure they have access to the latest and greatest BlackBerry device out there."
Targeting BlackBerry base
Going after the business or enterprise customer is a smart move for Sprint. Business customers account for about half the subscribers on the Sprint network. But Sprint has also been pushing the Palm Pre as a business-friendly device. Donahue explained that there is room for multiple products to address the same market.
"There is no silver bullet when it comes to devices in this industry," he said. "It's more of a cadence and it's about building a portfolio."
For Verizon Wireless, the Tour is its major smartphone launch of the summer. The company hasn't made much noise about the Windows Mobile smartphones it has recently launched. And its last big smarpthone campaign was the exclusive deal for the BlackBerry Storm, RIM's only touch-screen phone.
The BlackBerry Curve and the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition phones have been big sellers for Verizon. But the BlackBerry Bold, which is only available on AT&T's network in the United States, is considered by many BlackBerry aficionados to be RIM's most desirable BlackBerry. The Bold, which gets its name from its screen, has a high-resolution screen that has been described as eye-popping by CNET reviewer Bonnie Cha.
The BlackBerry Storm uses similar screen technology. But now with the BlackBerry Tour, Verizon is able to offer a device with a high resolution screen and a QWERTY keypad.
"If you take the keyboard and international reach of the BlackBerry 8830 and the screen quality of the Storm and combine them, you have the Tour," said Dan Mock, director of marketing for Verizon Wireless.
Walkley believes that the pent up demand for a BlackBerry Bold-like experience on Verizon's network will help make this a popular device for existing Verizon customers.
"We expect the Tour will sell very well to Verizon's installed BlackBerry subscriber base, as this is Verizon's first product that is competitive with the Bold at AT&T," he said in his note.
While the device will certainly be an important cornerstone of Verizon's smartphone line up, it's not an exclusive deal. So it's unlikely that the device will attract many new customers to Verizon. But Mock said that doesn't matter.
"It's never been our stance to go out and base our business on one iconic device," he said. "It's always been about the network for us. Still, I'd say we also have a strong portfolio of smartphones and mobile devices on our network."
For RIM the real question is whether the Tour can get enough momentum in the market to boost sales in July and August to reach its sales targets. The launch of so many other hot smartphones at one time presents a challenge for the company as it tries to push the Tour to the forefront of customers' minds.
And the pressure could continue to intensify as T-Mobile USA still launches its next Google Android phone, the MyTouch, in early August. T-Mobile has made the MyTouch its flagship smartphone, and the company is throwing a lot of money and marketing muscle behind the device.
And even though carriers, such as AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile all claim that their sales reps are just as happy to sell a BlackBerry as they are any of these exclusive devices, it's hard to argue that these big marketing campaigns do not have an effect on sales of other devices, such as RIM's BlackBerrys.
READ MORE - Can RIM get mojo back with BlackBerry Tour?

Microsoft aims for Silverlight at end of the tunnel

SAN FRANCISCO--By next year, half of all devices connected to the Internet will have Silverlight, says Microsoft's Walid Abu-Hadba.
That will still be just a fraction of the number of phones and computers that have a version of Adobe's Flash, but Abu-Hadba said that it will be enough to really start changing the mindset of those who create content for the Web.
"It's a totally different game," said, Abu-Hadba, who leads Microsoft's developer and platform evangelism efforts. Abu-Hadba noted that Microsoft now has a set of features that can appeal to both those streaming large-scale Web video content, as well as software developers aiming to create programs that run inside of businesses.
His comments came following Microsoft's launch Friday of Silverlight 3, the latest version of its technology for rich media applications. The new version allows for programs that work in and out of the browser, supports up to 1080p streaming, and lets users pause and rewind a live video stream.
One of the areas where Microsoft still has work to do is on the phone side. Microsoft has long talked about offering Silverlight on phones, even hoping to bring it to Apple's iPhone, but today it is not commercially available for any phone.
"It's taken a little bit longer than we would have wanted, absolutely," said Abu-Hadba.
However, Abu-Hadba and fellow developer unit executive Scott Guthrie say that Microsoft has also taken the approach that it wants the Silverlight experience on the phone to match that offered on the PC, as opposed to having different versions as Adobe does with Flash. Also, Guthrie said, the landscape for the phone has changed dramatically, with more phones adding the kind of graphics chips necessary to do hardware-based acceleration.
"We want to make sure people have a 'wow' experience," Guthrie said.
Microsoft is beta testing its phone software for both Android and Windows Mobile and announcements are expected at this fall's Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles.
"You are going to hear a lot more details about it later this year," Guthrie said. (For more on Guthrie's take on Silverlight 3, check out the video embedded below.)
For his part, Abu-Hadba said he doesn't wonder if Silverlight will be around 10 years from now, but rather whether his rival will. He said that Adobe has committed itself to moving from a design-oriented company to one that aims to offer a general purpose Web platform, something he said the company doesn't have the resources or experiences to make happen.
"I don't believe they have the assets or the organizational structure," he said. "That's what we do for a living at Microsoft."
Abu-Hadba said Adobe would be better off picking a specialty and sticking to it.
"I don't think they will exist in 10 years in the form they are today," he said. It's a bold statement, he agreed, but added how unthinkable it would have been to predict in 2000 that Sun Microsystems would go away.
READ MORE - Microsoft aims for Silverlight at end of the tunnel

Gartner finds lukewarm response to SaaS

Businesses are showing a lukewarm response to SaaS, despite an economic climate that would seem to encourage take-up of the technology, according to a new survey by Gartner.
The survey of 333 enterprises in the United Kingdom and the United States found that organizations were, on average, "somewhat satisfied" with SaaS (software-as-as-service), while only about one-third of those surveyed planned to expand their usage of SaaS, Gartner found. The survey was carried out in December 2008 and published on Wednesday.
Gartner researchers said they were surprised at the results of the survey, given that many — including Gartner itself — have been predicting a greater uptake of such services as a result of the current tough economic conditions.
"At a time when SaaS is becoming more of a consideration for more enterprises, the results of this survey will be somewhat disquieting for SaaS vendors," said Gartner principal research analyst Twiggy Lo, in a statement.
On average, respondents ranked their experience with SaaS at 4.74 on a seven-point scale, with all 16 aspects of SaaS receiving scores in this range, Gartner said. The aspects studied included, in order of highest to lowest satisfaction: functionality for business users, provider responsiveness, reliability of performance to technical specifications, service reliability and support compliance and risk management.
Respondents who had considered using SaaS, but decided not to, said they made this choice due to high cost of service (42 percent), difficulty with integration (38 percent) and technical shortcomings (33 percent), Gartner said.
"These findings contradict the general impression that SaaS could help alleviate costs and also that it does not require much integration and technical requirements," Gartner stated.
Fifty-eight percent of organizations said they would maintain current levels of SaaS over the next two years, while 32 percent said they would expand, five percent would discontinue and five percent would decrease levels.
Untangle the hype and the promise, the good and the bad, the risks and the benefits of cloud computing
Gartner said SaaS providers must find ways of delivering deployments that require less technical support, and must come up with integration strategies that work better with customers' heterogeneous IT environments. "Vendors must reaffirm the fundamentals of the SaaS model--that SaaS solutions are lighter, simpler, more intuitive, more agile and more modest," Gartner stated.
The results are not completely unexpected, and are due in part to shortcomings with billing and provisioning, according to Soeren von Varchmin, vice president for SaaS at visualization company Parallels.
Current billing and provisioning systems used by SaaS providers create unneeded complexity for customers when they make adjustments to their services, von Varchmin said.
"End users must have 'self-service' SaaS, meaning they are free to administer their own services instead of constantly having to contact the vendor to purchase or remove applications," he said in a statement. "Without automation, SaaS is not only unprofitable for vendors but unattractive for end users, as it's difficult to realize the cost benefits."
Last month, Gartner recommended service providers to invest in SaaS as a delivery technology, as a way of cutting costs.
READ MORE - Gartner finds lukewarm response to SaaS

Netbooks get boost with telco deals

The recent spate of netbook and mobile broadband bundles have had a positive impact on netbook sales, but until more netbooks come with mobile broadband capabilities integrated, these promotions may not do much to increase 3G subscriptions, an IDC analyst said.
In Singapore, all three telcos have been running promotions this year giving away netbooks to new mobile broadband sign-ups.
Reuben Tan, senior research manager, personal systems research, IDC Asia-Pacific, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview, the promotions have helped boost the volume of netbook shipments in the country, as well as raised public interest in the device category.
"Netbooks are a new form factor, not many people have one yet," said Tan. More people have desktops and laptop PCs, so netbooks' emphasis on mobility helps fill a void in the market, he said.
On the flip side, however, the netbook bundles may not have had a great impact on mobile broadband subscriptions.
Telcos have for years been running such deals offering laptops. Replacing the devices with netbooks is no different, from a subscription point of view, said Tan.
According to IDC figures, only 10 percent of netbooks sold in the first quarter of 2009 featured integrated 3G capabilities. "That figure needs to grow, in order for mobile broadband to take off in the mainstream," noted the analyst.
Telcos should emphasize the advantages of mobile broadband over traditional Wi-Fi connectivity, added Tan. "People think Wi-Fi is good enough, but with 3G you get the benefit of being always-connected--useful when you're downloading a file.
"Telcos did not push this [message] in the past."
Consumer awareness of netbooks on the rise
The telcos and device makers ZDNet Asia spoke to said the promotions have been well-received.
M1's debut netbook promotion was in December 2007 with the Fujitsu U1010 device. This year, it offered four netbook models from LG, Fujitsu and Dell.
A spokesperson said the "high level of customer interest" and expected release of new models will see M1 continue to offer such bundles.
LG said its promotion with the telco increased sales volumes of its bundled model by 5 percent, and provided good publicity for its netbooks.
Asus, too said its SingTel promotion helped increase awareness of its netbooks. While its Eee PC 901 device was exclusive to SingTel during the promotional period, mainstream sales remained "satisfactory" after it was subsequently released to the market.
IDC's Tan said Singapore registered 45,000 units of netbooks in the first quarter of this year. During the same period last year, it was only 6,000 with the Asus Eee PC as the only model offered then.
As of the last quarter of 2008, 36,000 units were shipped.
READ MORE - Netbooks get boost with telco deals

'Disintegrated' IT didn't help financial crisis

Financial institutions looking to ramp up their risk management capabilities through technology must ensure their IT implementations take on a holistic approach. Doing so could also have prevented the financial crisis from erupting.
Despite having access to IT tools such as analytic applications to flag incident exceptions, the financial industry and its regulators were challenged by various technical and other issues during the crisis, experts told ZDNet Asia.
Irving Low, head of internal audit, risk and compliance services at KPMG in Singapore, said in an e-mail interview that "disintegrated IT systems" were the reason technology faltered in the face of the economic downturn.
Financial organizations that did not properly integrate their IT systems across their various businesses, and had risk management applications running on different systems, received information that was incomplete for effective risk monitoring and decision-making, Low explained.
Neil Katkov, senior vice president of Celent, a research firm specializing in the financial sector, said such systems failed to look at multiple scenarios--in particular, the crash of the credit default swap (CDS) market that occurred around the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States.
"Each system tended to look at one area. They did not tend to look at a pileup of multiple issues," said Tokyo-based Katkov in a phone interview.
It is essential to implement multiple products and lines of business into the systems, and have these systems collect relevant information across the organization, he said. "Firms that don't have that yet should get that done," he urged.
Intervention of humans
Another reason for the current financial crunch, Katkov said, involved the "human decision" factor.
"Simply put, you can have all the technology and models in place, but if the company [still] decides that [a risky undertaking] is a business it wants to be in, it will determine that this is acceptable and continue to do that business," he said.
Low described this as a lack of balance between risk appetite and risk control.
"The thresholds set for the red flags may not necessarily reflect the actual risk appetite, and as such, decision-making or escalation of a 'red flag' incident is often delayed," he explained. "High-risk behavior may then be allowed to proceed unhindered."
Katkov noted that before the crisis erupted, there was a boom in the financial markets, during which "people do not tend to put on the brakes, [choosing instead to] go along with the good times".
According to Low, when financial institutions implement their IT strategy for risk management, they should also consider a more holistic and integrated approach. For example, they could leverage existing IT functionalities to integrate fragmented governance, risk and compliance programs.
"In the process, they would be strengthening their internal control structures," he said.
He suggested that financial organizations also embed controls into their day-to-day financial, operational and regulatory processes, using available governance, risk and compliance systems.
"This enables the continuous monitoring of risk using alerts generated from pre-determined business rules," Low said.
With IT playing a greater part in risk management, IT professionals should also demonstrate an understanding of the peculiarities and unique needs of their companies and the industry. This way, they can better advise business users how to optimize existing IT risk management capabilities, Low said.
"They should show an appreciation for the underlying business policies, rules and risk management and business frameworks, such as how Basel II can be supported by IT."
But while Katkov agreed a conceptual understanding of what is needed in risk management would go a long way for IT to support financial risk management, he noted that risk modeling is a very "deep and technical field".
"So it would be unreasonable to expect IT professionals to know the ins-and-outs of everything," he said.
Instead, he noted that since the IT department will be responsible for implementing an enterprise-wide system, a business analyst can work with IT to provide insights into the business requirements for the IT systems.
"It needs to start with a risk management division that realigns its risk management approach, including which products to monitor and what type of risk models to adopt," Katkov said. "That will then have implications for the types of systems or data integration that needs to be in place."
READ MORE - 'Disintegrated' IT didn't help financial crisis

Keep project scope small for success

Negativity can kill a project, but the opposite is also true: You can stuff a project with so many features that it's crushed by its own weight.

A common objection to a project plan is that it doesn't do enough--it doesn't have all the features that users will inevitably request, or it doesn't take certain situations into account.
Or as TechRepublic member biancaluna recently put it, it "does not solve world hunger nor does it wash my car or bake a pecan pie". But in my experience, those omissions argue for it rather than against it. Certainly, you don't want to preclude features that will be needed in the future, but if you try to anticipate all of those features in the initial design, you'll never complete that phase.
Rather than designing in everything from the top, start small but make your design modular and extensible.
In my response to biancaluna's comment I said: "In the future, whenever someone tries to shoot down an idea because it doesn't do enough, I'll say 'DNSWH'." Does Not Solve World Hunger. It's also a good response when someone is trying to pile on the features.
A company I used to work for had a long history of cowboy coding--that is, "we need feature X, so just go code it up." Naturally, after several years, this resulted in an unmaintainable mess; they got design religion and began requiring a lengthy design process before any code could be written.
To insure that nothing important was ever left out, they held daily design meetings involving a dozen or more people--each of whom was trying to impress everyone else with how many nits they could pick. Only a handful of projects ever emerged from this phase after months of bickering, and those projects went on to become bloated applications with so much feature noise that they were almost unusable.
What's even worse is that the projects didn't solve the original problem, which was to keep existing customers happy and to draw new customers in; instead, they focused on solving world hunger.
A number of times in my consulting career I've had clients want to ditch their product and start over from scratch. Perhaps the UI looks "old" and needs to be redone; or the code is so mangled that they think it is beyond hope; or they've hired someone who thinks that a certain language or framework is the philosopher's stone that will magically turn their applications to gold. These projects almost never succeed.
Why? Because they're too big. Yes, you can certainly recreate that application in Ruby on Rails in a fraction of the time spent on it to date, but do you realize how much time has actually gone into it? Chances are it's in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of hours. Even if you can develop ten times faster than the original, do you have several years to do this?
Sometimes it's easy to mistake how big these projects really are because their requirements aren't fully known. The projects have evolved over many years, and features are sometimes added without being documented; yet users rely on that behavior, and if you take it away, you're going to end up pasting it back in. Do that enough times, and your new, pristine version will end up being the same mix of baling wire and bubblegum that comprised the original.
It's almost always a better idea to make incremental improvements instead. That requires long-term vision of where you want to get someday, without trying to do it all at once. Lay out a general plan for the future, and then create a specific project to do just the first step. That helps to minimize the risk of failure and keep the project scope manageable.
It's easier to agree on the design for something that does only one thing well--and it's easier to tell when it doesn't. More importantly, you can get user feedback before you proceed to the next stage.
Trying to do too many things at once multiplies your chances of project failure. One company I worked for back in the 80s provided turnkey solutions--that is, they wheeled the system in, and all the user had to do was turn the key. The vendor provided the hardware, the operating system, and the software.
One bright day, the vendor decided to upgrade their database architecture. To do so, they needed a new version of the programming language and its runtime environment. That version was only supported on certain operating systems, so an OS upgrade would also be required for most users. The applications (mostly accounting) still needed regulatory changes, and they felt that they couldn't go a whole year without adding some enhancements as well.
To keep things "simple", they decided to do all this at once--to more than 1,300 supported users. It would be great--what could possibly go wrong?
The OS upgrades ran into hardware support issues. The language runtime was still pretty green on some platforms and introduced a massive number of failures--none of which showed up in QA, of course. But certainly a redesign of the database architecture should have been a simple task, right? No. Application bugs abounded due to touching just about every module.
The support lines were overwhelmed. Extra people manned the phones, including all the programmers. As a result, it took a long time to fix the issues. Meanwhile, we'd go home at night only after we attempted to call back every customer who had logged a call, but by then it was so late that they had given up on us--this added up to more than 700 users every night for months.
Did we keep all of our customers? No. Did we add any new ones? No, we tried to solve world hunger instead.
In retrospect, we should have taken on only one thing at a time. Upgrade the language runtime on one platform only where we already had users who wouldn't need an OS upgrade. Don't touch the database or the code until that's stable. Continue one platform at a time until the new runtime version is gold. Then look at changing the database--but only a portion of an application at a time.
Taking this sort of measured approach, we would have been able to slip in regulatory changes and even some small enhancements along the way, without breaking the customer's back.
For us consultants, limited scope is one of the key benefits of short-term contracts. In, done, out. But we can apply the same principle to long-term engagements as well by dividing each project into bite-sized chunks.
When a project looms massively before you, ask how you can cut it up so you won't choke on it. Identify the optional features and move those to the end, where they can be lopped off if you run short. Don't try to solve world hunger--feed one user need at a time.
READ MORE - Keep project scope small for success

S'pore Nissan facility goes RFID

SINGAPORE--A new Nissan hub is tapping radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to help cut time for identification and retrieval of new cars, from an average of 24 hours to two hours.
Located in the Western part of Singapore, the new TC Nissan Hub operated by Tan Chong International is believed to be the first RFID-enabled automotive facility in the country. Tan Chong International is the exclusive local distributor of Nissan vehicles.
Tan Chong's project was awarded a grant of S$120,000 (US$82,632) from Singapore's National RFID Centre (NRC) earlier this year, under the NRC's S$4.5 million (US$3.1 million) RFID Innovation Platform initiative. To date, the Centre has funded 11 projects to the tune of S$1.25 million (US$860,750), an NRC spokesperson told ZDNet Asia.
Boon Swan Foo, chairman of NRC steering committee and executive chairman of Exploit Technologies, said the RFID application projects do not necessarily have to be on a gigantic scale such as Wal-Mart's.
"The possibilities for new applications are left up to the creativity of the beholder [and] TC Nissan Hub is an excellent example of how such creativity can be exercised by innovative RFID players to benefit both the consumers and the company," Boon said Monday at the hub's official opening here.
Singapore's Acting Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew, lauded the project as "a good demonstration of local RFID technology capability". The systems integrator, applications developer and device manufacturer were Singapore companies, he noted.
"Newer", faster cars in one-stop facility
Samuel Lee, director of Tan Chong Realty, the company's real-estate arm, said the company had invested S$40 million (US$27.5 million) into the new site, which integrates storage, pre-delivery inspection, parts warehouse and delivery facilities.
RFID tagging system in TC Nissan Hub
Source: Tan Chong International
Prior to the setting up of the hub, new vehicles would have to be manually located in storage locations, sent for installations at a separate venue--after which they would be returned to the storage site--and subsequently delivered to the showroom for customer pick-ups. The point-to-point transportation, identification and retrieval of these vehicles can "easily clock" some 24 hours to complete, Lee explained, in an interview with ZDNet Asia.
With the proximity of various Nissan facilities, as well as the RFID-enabled car inventory management system, vehicle identification and retrieval can be shortened to two hours, he said. Mileage is also reduced by 90 percent, from an average of 50 kilometer (km) to less than 5km.
The use of a Japanese modular parking system also allows cars to not only be retrieved quickly, but also helps minimize--if not eliminate--scratches and dents.
At the hub, each new car is tagged with an RFID chip, which captures information such as the year the car was manufactured, its engine serial number, color and type, and the name of the customer who made the booking. There are also corresponding active readers on each parking lot known as "lot tags". The hub has 10 wireless readers used to track vehicles, including cars that need to undergo installations for additional features such as sports rims and alarm systems.
RFID technology is not a new proponent in Nissan's operations. According to the RFID Journal, Nissan North America announced in 2006 it would employ RFID in its Canton, Miss. factory to track auto parts and facilitate new vehicles rolling off the assembly line. The automaker also participated in a trial to improve the safety of Japanese schoolchildren in Yokohama, Japan.
READ MORE - S'pore Nissan facility goes RFID

Cisco CEO: 'Video is the killer app'

READ MORE - Cisco CEO: 'Video is the killer app'

Cisco guns for Microsoft in collaboration market

As Cisco Systems adds more functionality to its online WebEx conferencing service, it's ratcheting up the competitive pressure against partner and rival, Microsoft.
Cisco held a press event on Tuesday to discuss how it plans to add more to its WebEx service. As the company includes more software into the conferencing service, it is competing more intensively and directly with one of its major partners, Microsoft.
"As Cisco expands this business, the co-opetition between Cisco and Microsoft will only increase," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group. "Microsoft is strong on the desktop and Cisco is taking a lot of these software functions into the cloud.
WebEx is a leading Web conferencing service that Cisco bought in 2007. This was Cisco's first foray into offering a service. And the product has been very successful. As a result, the company has used the service as the foundation for its emerging big business collaboration tools. Cisco has also recently bought two other companies that it plans to feed into the service.
Primarily, Cisco is adding more unified communications functionality to the service it calls WebEx Connect. This is an extension of the Web-based video conferencing service that also includes instant messaging and presence. Using technology from Jabber Cisco will add even more presence functionality. And through the acquisition of PostPath, it will add e-mail into the mix.
Cisco already competes with Microsoft in the unified communications market. In fact, the two companies are strong rivals here. But Microsoft has had an advantage over Cisco with its strong presence on the desktop.
Now Cisco is taking these services into the "cloud", where the company can leverage its existing expertise with WebEx to provide a virtual solution for its corporate customers.
But Cisco isn't just stopping with unified communications. The company is also in the early stages of offering document, spread sheet, and presentation creation and sharing as part of WebEx. These are very clearly areas where Microsoft has a strong foothold and a very strong business. The company's Office suite, which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, is part of its business productivity portfolio. And Microsoft makes a lot of money from this software, about US$60 billion of its sales during last fiscal year came from these products.
But Alex Hadden-Boyd, director of marketing for the collaboration software group at Cisco says that Cisco has no intention of going after Microsoft's core Office business. Instead, she said that Cisco is more interested in providing collaboration tools online that groups can use to create and share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
"If you look at WebEx Connect today, we already have the beginnings of this," she said. "We have team spaces with shared files and wikis. So we are already well on our way down that road. But we are not focusing on productivity applications or individuals such as re-creating Excel or PowerPoint."
"We are using our existing resources and we have no intention of creating the next Word application for individuals," she added. "We simply are trying to make it easier for work groups to share documents in a team space."
Yankee Group's Kerravala agrees that it doesn't make much sense for Cisco to try to compete against Microsoft's Office products at the desktop level.
"Cisco is not going to take on Microsoft head-to-head on the desktop," he said. "And the reason is simple. They know they'd lose. But Cisco has invested in the cloud and service technology that allows them to approach it differently."
That said, Hadden-Boyd said she does see competition increasing between Cisco and Microsoft in the overall collaboration market. She said the two companies will continue to compete aggressively in collaboration software such as IM and conferencing. Microsoft already offers IM and conferencing and is working on Web-enabling its Office applications.
But Cisco could some day compete head-to-head with Microsoft's email Exchange platform with its new e-mail service from PostPath.
"We could see that as a possibility," Hadden-Boyd said. "We could see businesses using PostPath for e-mail instead of Exchange."
As for the online collaboration market, Cisco and Microsoft aren't the only ones developing solutions. Google also offers document creation and sharing online. But so far those services haven't gotten much appeal outside of the individual consumer market. And it has yet to take shape in the enterprise market.
"Google is the wild card here," Kerravala said. "People are expecting Google to get into the enterprise market. And I see it possibly taking off with a younger kind of worker. But Google has never monetized anything outside its advertising revenue. So it will be interesting to see."
READ MORE - Cisco guns for Microsoft in collaboration market

Recession dividing LTE and WiMax

The global economic situation may widen the rift between LTE (long term evolution) and mobile WiMax adoption between mature and emerging markets, according to Ovum.
The analyst firm said in its latest report, the recession is expected to slow revenue growth for operators in the short term, although the volume of connections will keep rising. This will lead to lower ARPU (average revenue per user), in turn driving the uptake of LTE in mature markets, as telcos look to upgrade to next-generation networks to capture data revenues, said Ovum.
The number of connections are expected to grow 59 percent from 2008 to 2014, while revenues grow by 33 percent, according to the report.
Ovum adds that the mobile WiMax industry would get increasingly marginalized by 2014 as a result of LTE's growth--mobile WiMax is expected to hit 55 million connections while LTE will grow to nearly twice that at 109 million worldwide, by then. Growing operator and ecosystem support for LTE would continue to edge out mobile WiMax, it added.
LTE and WiMax are seen by some as competing technologies--LTE is an upgrade of existing 3G cellular-based broadband, and WiMax a wireless broadband standard meant to extend connectivity to regions without sufficient cable infrastructure.
As a result, WiMax has been said to be more appropriate to provide last-mile access for emerging markets, and LTE for mature markets with an existing cellular base.
Some have also said WiMax may be the broadband technology of choice for emerging regions because it is ready for deployment to satisfy their latent hunger for connectivity, while LTE has yet to be finalized.
Amid the growth of data revenues, however, voice will still be mobile's "killer app", noted Ovum. With operator service venues expected to hit US$1.1 billion in 2014, voice will account for 69 percent of revenues globally, and no less than 60 percent in any region.
"Operators must not ignore this fact in the race for data revenues," it said.
Due to the recession, Ovum has also revised its previous estimates on operator service revenues. It had earlier predicted global mobile services revenues would break the US$1 trillion mark in 2010, but moved this target a year to 2011, due to the current economic situation.
"The greatest impact of recessionary forces is seen in the short term," said the report.
READ MORE - Recession dividing LTE and WiMax