Archive for the ‘My views on global developments’ Category

Mac OS X El Capitan installed today – What a breeze

October 1, 2015

I installed Mac OS X El Capitan today (released globally on September 30, 2015) October 1, 2015 (IST 8 PM)

It was such a breeze

The Spotlight feature and the San Francisco font are the ones tat strike me (First impressions)

More as I get to play around

Network 3.0

November 28, 2013

In the first two decades (50’s to 60’s) we were busy connecting components of a computer; there was clearly no network!

In the next two decades (70’s to 80’s) we were busy connecting  computers in the form of a Network (LAN & WAN), what I call Network 1.0

In the next two decades (90’s and the past decade) we were busy connecting computers and people through the connected computers (Internet, WWW and e-mail, in the beginning and Facebook & Twitter in the recent years), what I call Network 2.0

In the current decade and the next decade we will be busy connecting things with people through the network of computers, what I call Network 3.0

Let me elaborate

There is a lot of talk today about the Internet of Things, that talks of networking many sensors, devices (Glucose meters), vehicles (cars), equipment (elevator, washing machine) in the form of Sensor networks

To me networking the things alone is not interesting until the human beings are part of the network. Let me use some examples to illustrate

1 In the past few years Indian users are pleasantly surprised to get an SMS alert when a cheque that they sent for payment got encashed; no need for them to login to their account and check the transaction (which is better than going to Bank branch). Suddenly, they found that the Net is monitoring their activities without they having to monitor. Bank computerisation is not new, particularly in the International scene, but such SMS alerts are new! Similar is the case when a flight is delayed or your Wait-listed ticket on Indian Railways has moved to “Confirmed” status, if you book the tickets through an intermediary like MakeMytrip. Here the thing that talks to the users is a “cheque” or a “ticket” transaction.

2 With barcoded tags tracking luggage pieces in Airports, it is perfectly possible for users to get notified thru SMS when Inter-line (between two flights or two Airlines) transfer takes place, particularly in an inter-continental flight; the infrastructure is there, but the systems are not integrated enough to make it possible. Such networking of things “relieves” the users of constantly monitoring (some time leading to worrying) about things. Here the things are static objects like “luggage bags

3 A still more interesting situation that makes immense sense is for the “network of things” to include devices, equipment, complex machinery that are dynamic in nature. Take for example, the case of HP printer; for many years one has to know about “out of paper” or “paper jam” only the hard way; later printers got equipped with display one could get a “message display”; later, the printer status could be shown on PC screen. A more tricky situation is the “ink cartridge status”; suddenly on a day that one wants an urgent print out, the ink would have gone dry, causing sufficient inconvenience. Later, software to monitor the “Ink cartridge status” let users check once in a while (say every Sunday) the status; but these days the printers have become much smarter; they constantly monitor the ink status and “flash a message” and “alert” the user when the “ink level” is “20% or 10%”! In fact a similar service is available on “battery level” of wireless keyboard and mouse on Apple iMac. Extending the idea, one can have systems that monitor your car, elevator, plane, pacemaker etc. Using the notion of “geo-fencing” that lets one check the proximity of an object with a specific location, thanks to GPS equipped smartphone, one can track the location of a patient, visitor, object or a device. The applications are endless

What would mean for a country like India?

We misuse human beings to do very routine things like traffic control, surveillance, cleaning sewer pipes, meter reading etc. All these can be done much better and the human beings can be relieved to attend to work that can be more meaningful to them and to improve the quality of life for others. For example, automatic switching on and off electric poles would relieve the chore for several hundreds of corporation employees who can be deployed to take care of citizens needing care (children, elderly or physically challenged). That is where I see the potential of Network 3.o to transform India

 

China continues with No 1 position in Top 500 Supercomputers list

November 19, 2013

Announced twice a year – June in USA and November in Germany – from 1993 onwards, Super 500 List has a list of the 500 fastest computers in the world.

In the list announced on November 18, 2013, China’s Tianhe-2 with a peak performance of 33.9 Peta-flops is on the top

India had a couple of entries (with C-DAC setting the trend in 1991 and Tata Eka reaching up to 4th position in 2007), but lost out recently.

US has 252, while China has 66 entries of the total 500, while India has just 11 in the current list!

Google Chromebook – has the affordable laptop for the common man arrived?

October 1, 2013

The Personal Computer revolution started in August 1981 when IBM launched its original IBM PC. Over the 32 years PC has grown a lot; more than 350 million PC’s are sold year after year. The performance of the PC has grown thousand-fold; millions of applications have been written for this dominant platform. At least for the first and second world countries, Bill Gates vision of PC in every desktop has come true.

 

PC has morphed in shape and form too. Originally a desktop, it changed in form to a laptop and notebook (some time back Netbook too) form factor that made the PC mobile inside an office / home. With Internet connectivity through phone line (earlier landline and currently mobile phone), PC has become truly mobile.

 

Laptop computers became specially attractive for small business / rural India / common man for three reasons;

 

  • First, desktop took to much space (not many rural homes had a desk in the first place);
  • Second, desktop PC needed continuous supply of reasonable quality electricity, that is simply not available in most parts of rural India; in addition, desktop PC consumed much larger amounts of electricity 100+ watts of power for PC compared to 20+ watts of power for a laptop.
  • Third, PC usage at home and office would necessitate double investment for hardware, and more importantly software for small businesses; in turn, even with marginal higher cost of laptop compared to a desktop PC of similar configuration, laptop was a clear winner.

 

That explains the reason why laptop sales have been increasing in India over the past several years. Yet, laptops were not easily affordable for the common man; Windows OS cost alone pushed the cost of laptop by a couple of thousands of rupees; laptop display of reasonable quality cost lots of money too.

 

Over the last decade laptop manufacturers have focused on reducing the weight and improving battery life. Unfortunately, the weight reduction has not been dramatic; nor has the battery life improvement; weights in the range of a couple of pounds and battery life of 8+ hours alone will be a game changer.

 

During the year 2007 there was a promise that Netbooks attempted. They were slightly less powerful Laptops, but they could not achieve substantial weight reduction; and, they had only 3-4 hours of battery life; Asus and Acer pioneered such Netbooks; unfortunately, interest in Netbooks receded by year 2010.

 

Starting in 2010, Ultra-books (promoted by Intel) started to show up and they started maturing by 2012. They could bring down the weight and increase the battery life considerably; unfortunately, they are still pricey (in the $ 1,000 range) unlike Laptops and Netbooks in the $ 300-600 range.

Apple MacBook Air used SSD dramatically to reduce the weight (1.5 kg) and increase battery like to 10+ hours; unfortunately, the price point $ 1,000+ makes it unavailable for the common man.

Chromebook from Google represent a new “avatar” for laptop computers. They run completely on Chrome browser that takes the role of could based operating system. With GMail for messaging, Google Docs for personal productivity (word processing and spread-sheet), GDrive as a File store, YouTube for entertainment, Google Calendar and Contacts for Personal Information Management, Google Hangout for Video Conferencing and Google Chat for Instant communications, all running on Chrome browser, Google Chromebook represent yet another viable alternative to traditional PC.

 

Launched in USA in 2011, the first generation was unavailable in India. Google launched in October 2013, a new generation of Chromebook including Acer C 720. Costing just Rs 20,000, Acer C720 represents a new hope for small businesses, individual professionals, students, faculty and senior citizens looking for an affordable Laptop.

 

The combination of Laptop form factor, reduced weight, Instant On, 10+ hours of battery life, excellent screen, full keyboard, cloud-based applications at no extra cost and an attractive price appears to be the “killer combination” that appears to favour Acer C 70 Chromebook as the “winner” for users looking for affordable and useful laptop. Of course, time alone can tell the real success story.

 

 

 

Powered by Intel processors optimized for power consumption, Acer Chromebook C 720 has 4 GB of RAM and 16 GB of SSD (solid State Device) storage that ensures “instant on”; its 11.6” display with 1366×768 resolution ensures you get excellent display for web-browsing, e-books reading, watching slideshows of photographs or full length movies and videos. Weighing 2.42 pounds with just 0.7” thick, it is convenient to hold too. With HDMI port, DS card, USB 3.0 port and 3.5 mm headphone jack multimedia is well supported by Acer C 720 Chromebook. Connecting to the Internet using Wi-Fi (that is widely available, thanks to BSNL Internet pack that addresses the “bottom of the pyramid” users), Chromebook is a full featured Laptop with a good screen, a large Keyboard and Touchpad (for “mouse” functionality), good multimedia support (audio speakers, video rendering) and USB port for additional storage, connectivity. Thanks to Google tools most users can do get most of their work done that includes personal productivity – word processing, spread-sheet, presentation using Google Docs, personal information management using Google Calendar and Contacts, communication (email using Gmail, Chat / Instant messaging and Video conferencing) using Google Hangout, Social networking using Google+, entertainment using YouTube and a whole range of Apps that run on Chrome browser. Google offers 100GB of Storage on Google cloud. Google Play store too is available on Chromebook. Google provides “offline access” for many of the tools including Google Docs and GMail.

 

In my trial over a week I found using Acer C720 Chromebook absolute breeze. It connected to my router the minute it was switched on and with my Google Account I could be productive in minutes. Mail access and browsing was fast; even YouTube videos rendered fast including some online News channels. My Google Calendar, Contacts were loaded instantly; so are my Google+ that one could get on to Google Hangout instantly. My documents, spread-sheets and pictures were all there on my GDrive. More importantly, after a week of usage in just a few seconds I could “powerwash” so that I was sure that there is no trace of my data left behind on the “demo machine” supplied by Acer India!

 

There are Windows-based Laptops in this price range but they make far too many compromises in the screen, weight, battery life, operating system, storage and applications. In addition, there a whole range of Tablets – “post PC” devices – including Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Google Nexus Tablets that are great “consuming devices” that do not serves the PC needs of the common man; Tablets with reasonable power, are far more expensive too.

 

 

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at s.sadagopan@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

The real contribution of Apple – mainstreaming a technology year after year – iPhone 5S mainstreams fingerprint authentication

September 22, 2013

A lot has been written about Apple introducing two new phones iPhone 5C and 5S on Sep 20, 2013. Long queue of Apple fans surprise Android fans as to why such an “inferior” and “expensive” phone is attracting attention. It is likely that Apple would have sold more than 5 million new iPhones, something that Apple achieved earlier too.

For many techies like me, who have been looking at technology for decades, the real contribution of Apple in the mobile phone and tablet category is the mainstreaming of a particular technology.

In the last week’s launch of iPhone 5S Apple has mainstreamed “finger print authentication” of a smart phone.

Mainstreaming means three important things –

  1. Integration of a technology into all aspects of a product
  2. Making it affordable
  3. Making the user-interface intuitive enough, that you do not need a thick “user manual”

Compaq laptops had USB-based “finger print” scanners to let only the “owner” access the laptop for more than a decade. It was an external device, costing about $ 30, and had the only purpose of a “gatekeeper” – nothing else. Several laptop manufacturers had such a solution; but, iPhone 5S brings fingerprint solution integrated into the “Main button”, at no extra cost and as intuitive as pressing the button! Also such a “personal authentication” is useable by all applications. Apple has a set of API that allows third party application developers to integrate “fingerprint” authentication in an intuitive way!

In 2007 launch of iPhone, Apple mainstreamed “touch” technology. In the past six years billions of user take “pinch” and “drag” for granted to “zoom out” and “zoom in” web pages and photographs. It was mainstreamed by Apple. Microsoft had Windows Tablet Edition that attempted to use “touch”; many “touch screen” monitors have been around for ages, but none of them integrated “touch” across the product and many first-generation “touch screens” were expensive!

In 2008 launch of iPhone 3G Apple mainstreamed 3G, particularly in USA and many other countries outside Europe. Through an exclusive arrangement with AT&T, Apple introduced users to a “consistent” broadband and data access that made voice, data and video seamless across “roaming” and across all applications. By integrating voice, eMail and browsing with the added convenience of roaming across the 3G network, Apple mainstreamed “mobile computing” (much beyond mobile E-Mail that was the real contribution of Blackberry).

In 2008/2009 launch of AppStore Apple mainstreamed Apps and delivering Apps through AppStore as a new way of delivering consumer applications. Suddenly the “barrier to entry” for application development got lowered and a huge “cottage industry” got developed which is estimated to be about $ 50 billion today! There were third party AppStores before. Palm, Microsoft Windows and Blackberry had App Stores, but none offered the scale, tools and a ready market that Apple offered.

In 2010 launch of iPad Apple mainstreamed “tablet” as a new category of computing devices, what Steve Jobs called “post PC devices”. By mainstreaming “Flash RAM”, iPad was convenient, instant on, battery good enough for couple of days use and an amazingly good display that made iPad compelling as eBook Reader, watching slide shows and videos (many from Google YouTube!) at a price that was affordable

In 2010/2011 launch of iPhone 4 Apple mainstreamed Retina display  with 326 dpi resolution; with 300 dpi said to match the resolution of human eye, this is what Steve Jobs called “the limits of what human eyes can see”. It did create enough controversy among the scientific community. What is important is the integration of superior display technology across the device – for better display of photographs and videos, better rendering of books, newspapers and magazines, better rendering of Web-pages, and of course, better capturing of photos and videos with dramatic improvements in camera technology. Once again Apple’s main contribution is “main streaming”; Amazon and Samsung had better display; Nokia had better camera, but none could match iPhone 4’s holistic experience.

In 2012 launch of iPad Mini Apple embraced “Phablet” as a category that combined phone and tablet functions. While Samsung and others (Google has been experimenting with Chrome laptops and 7″ NexusTablets for a while) had equal success with sale of phablets, the huge apps base particularly in the education segment made iPad Mini a category by itself, particularly for the budget-conscious and one-hand use that characterised student use.

In 2013 launch of iPhone 5S Apple is only continuing the trend of mainstreaming one more technology – namely, fingerprint authentication. Apple May or may not be selling the largest number of phones and tablets (that may go to Android). But what should not be forgotten is the fact that year after year Apple has been mainstreaming a technology – that is taken for granted by EVERY user – both the users using Apple products and those using non-Apple products. That is the real contribution of Apple. That partially explains the Apple fan club enthusiasm year after year, even two years after Steve Jobs is gone!

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Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at s.sadagopan@gmail.com

Obama Health Plan becomes a reality

March 25, 2010

On March 23, 2010 President Obama signed the Heath Plan proposal into a law

On the face of it what I like most is the increased coverage from 80+ percent to 94 percent by the year 2014!

It will be interesting to watch the Law unfolding itself against stiff opposition from the powerful Insurance lobby in USA

I hope India will learn the right lessons from this development

Forbes list of Billionaires

March 11, 2010

Forbes list of Billionaires was out on March 10, 2010

What is interesting this time?

Bill Gates moves to No 2 making way for Carlos Slim of Mexico (Telecom tycoon)

Larry Ellison of Oracle (6th), Google founders Sergey Brin & Larry Page (24th), Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (43rd). Apple founder Steve Jobs (136th) and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (212th) are the IT guys who make it to the list

Two Indians make it to the “Top 10” – Mukesh Ambani (4th) and Lakshmi Mittal (5th)

Asia, South America and Eastern Europe are slowly entering this list dominated by USA and Western Europe!

USA (22), Swede (3), Germany (3), France (2), Spain (1), Canada (1), Italy (1), Hong Kong (2) and Saudi (1) represent the “old rich“; India (6), Russia (4), Brazil (2), Malaysia (1) and Mexico (1) represent the “Neo Rich” among the “Top 50

In the “Top 5″ India has 2!

Mukesh Ambani (4th), Lakshmi Mittal (5th), Premji (28th), Anil Ambani (36th), Ruias (40th) and Jindal (44th) are the Indians in “Top 50”

Interesting times indeed!

Mobile World Congress 2010 @ Barcelona, Spain Day 1 highlights

February 16, 2010

Day 1 (February 15, 2010)

1 Microsoft Windows Phone 7 (seems very interesting departure from PC centric Windows Mobile)

2 Samsung Beam phone with built-in projector

3. 40 leading telcos (including Airtel & China Telecom) talking of global appstore architecture

4. Voice over LTE (delivered using IMS) getting traction

5. Intel & Nokia agreeing to merge their Mobile OS platforms (MobiLin & MeMo) into MeeGo platform

Interesting days ahead

US continues to bag a major share of Nobel prizes

October 31, 2009

October is the month for Nobel prize announcements. Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economics Nobel prizes announced one after another had 11 out of 13 winners from USA. Isreal in Chemistry Nobel and Germany in Literature Nobel were the only countries outside USA. Of course one of the Chemistry Nobel prize winner (Venky Ramakrishnan) is of Indian origin (in fact from my part of the country!). The surprise this time surely was the Peace Nobel for President Obama when he has not even completed nine full months in his office!

40 years of Moon landing

July 20, 2009

July 21 (IST) we celebrate the 40th year of the the unusual milestone in scientific endeavor – landing on the Moon surface by human being. As part of the Apollo 11 project of NASA, two American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin set their foot on the lunar surface on this day in 1969.

For many of us it is also a special day; we all remember vividly as college students hearing the extra-ordinary Radio broadcast of the famous statement “One small step for man; a giant leap for mankind” live from the Moon that is quarter million kilometers away; at our age when I was just 17, that moment made deep impressions on us.

I went to Purdue University in 1976; Neil Armstrong is an alumnus of Purdue University; more interestingly, I was at the School of Industrial Engineering that was physically located in Grissom Hall (along with Aeronautical Engineering School) – named after another astronaut Grissom!

I joined IIT Kanpur in 1979; I was pleasantly surprised to find a sample of Moon soil carefully kept and displayed in the IIT Kanpur Library (as part of Indo US scientific exchange)