Monday, December 03, 2007

Direct to Home TV sweeping India

When I landed in Bangalore in November after a span of 10 months, the first thing that struck me was the advent of new plastic dishes atop roof tops across Bangalore. Direct To Home (DTH) technology had finally made its presence felt in Bengalooru.

As I dumped my luggage on the door steps of my cousin's home, I saw one dainty dish adorning his home's roof too. The first question that escaped my lips was not "How are you?" when he opened the door. Rather it was, "How is the new DTH service?". "See for yourself", he said and switched on the TV.

With close to 110 channels on offer in crispy clear digital mode, the Tata Sky DTH service really took my breath away. I was most impressed by the cool browsable categorised menu of channels. Another laudable feature was the language facility that enable a channel like National Geographic to be viewed in either English or Hindi.

With three DTH business namely Dish TV (by Zee Group), Tata Sky (by Star TV and Tata group), and DD (by state owned Prasar Bharti) making waves and more players like Blue Magic (by Reliance), Sun Direct (by Sun TV) and Bharti joining the race, the customer can expect a slew of sleek offers along the way

What does the customer have in DTH that he does not already have with the local cable man's offering?
  1. Freedom to choose the bouquet of channels one prefers
  2. Freeedom from being charged a flat fee for the 50 odd channels being offered by the local cablewallah
  3. Crispier Digital Signals
  4. On Demand programs available : The chief strength of DTH is the ability to cater to individual tastes. Pay per view and On demand broadcasting will be the next big wave sweeping India.
  5. Pay the same rates as the cablewallah charges for 3 times as many channels.
Today's news also features educational houses like 24x7 Guru tying up with DTH players to provide on demand educational subjects to student and adults alike. This might be a further boost to India's literacy efforts and also an opportunity for people to further skills at home and promote a new class of small time home entrepreneurs across India.

To speed up things further, ISRO's recent INSAT series satellite launches have made up for a lack of K Band transponders that are necessary for the DTH relays. Indians are in for a big treat in the days to come.

The other day when Mom was complaining about having to pay Rs 150 every month to the local cablewallah and still suffer poor transmission quality, change in channel sequences as per the cable guy's whim and wish. My brother shouted out a solution to her from the bathroom, "Tata Sky amma"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mobile Search Revolution in India

While working recently on a project for the Singapore government on mobile speech and search technologies, I happened to do an intensive research on the what it takes for mobile search to be successful. The questions that I was seeking answers to were
  1. Can current internet search behemoths like Google, Yahoo and MSN just port their search engines onto the mobile platform and be assured that mobile phone users will embrace it just as well as they did over the computer?
  2. What is that key difference that one has to grapple with when they offer search facilities over the mobile phone?
Well, answers I did find. Some after brainstorming with people around me and some after scouring the internet for articles. It happens that the first thing that disappears in a person who is performing a search over his mobile phone is patience. This happens because mobile searches are charge money. And nobody wants to spend money on getting results that are irrelevant when using a mobile phone. The same results might have been tolerated on the computer but not so on a mobile phone by the discerning user. This I call the Golden Rule for mobile searches

Intrigued, by this single finding, I decided to test out for myself some of the offerings by small startups in India. Quite interesting. How did they adhere to the Golden rule. All of them limited the scope of their searches. Their reasoning went something like this
  1. The mobile user wants something of use to him when he is on the move. The rest can wait.
  2. What the mobile user typically wants on the move is what an yellow pages offers
  3. Provide the most relevant search for the user keyword by further localising the searches as per city/locality
Chennai-based Onyomo’s offers localized searches for 10 Indian cities currently. I searched for Queens in Bangalore. It suggested 3 beauty saloons and also prompted me with 3 results for restaurants.

When I clicked on Restaurants, it immediately showed me the restaurant that was on my mind as the firstAsk Laila is another search engine that produces equally good results
Mumbai based JustDial too offers similar services that is accessible via mobile phone and SMS too. I was however disappointed with the results that came out of the servive when I searched for the Queens restaurant. The search just suggested 50 more categories for me to browse through. What do they expect me to do while on the move in the middle of a busy junction?...Browse through their categories ?
TeliBrahma is yet another service called Genie that offers a small java based download onto your mobile phone that assists in searches.

Mobile searches are surely the next big thing and it will be interesting to see who emerges the winner.

Monday, November 26, 2007

India Infotech Titbits - 1

Due to repeated requests by the readers of this blog to restart the news updates that I stopped last year, I have decided to reintroduce the feature albeit a slightly different manner. Instead of just supplying the top news items in the IT sector, I will be analyzing them in current backdrop of happenings in the IT world and try to put them in perspective

  • Vavasi Telegence, an Indian company claims to have developed a wireless technology on the lines of the recent Chinese technology. It is based on Time Division-Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access (TD-SCDMA) which will offer high speed mobile wireless connectivity. This technology will be in use as newer bands are opened by the government to support the burgeoning growth in mobile market in India. Termed NG-1 by the company to denote Next Generation-1, the innovation might lie in how the technology is handled and deployed in India to squeeze the last drop of juice it could offer with minimum infrastructure roll out.
  • Hyderabad-based MetroMela Internet Services has launched Covering the cities of Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Cochin and Mysore for now, the website claims to highlight everything that these metros offer. Be it the best place to buy electronics or the best place to savor the top cuisines of the city, this site offers it all. The better part of the site is that in addition to information avilable, users can themselves add information too for the benefit of other users. So here we are seeing another of the crowdsourcing efforts in vogue. I personally tried the Chennai microsite and found it quite good. It mentioned that Ritchie street is the place for electonics and Murugan Idly shop to be the best for idlis anytime of the day. Hope to savor it all when I will be there sometime next month :)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Outsider perspective into Indian IT

A foreigner's perspective that chronicles the radical changes sweeping across the Indian IT landscape is invaluable. For a moment, it lets us put aside the thousands of inefficiencies we see in the working of the Indian IT tech startups and focus on what is being done right that is allowing the likes of Wipro, Infosys, TCS, Satyam, HCL, Patni, Mindtree, Aztec, etc to compete effectively with the turf protectors like IBM, Accenture, Cap Gemini, etc

One such view is provided by Business Week journalist, Steve Hamm, who has kept tabs on the IT growth in India since 1989. One of his books, Bangalore Tiger, tells the story of Wipro Technologies. Though I am yet to read the book, I stumbled upon an excerpt of the book on Rediff.

Titled 'How Wipro turned defeat to victory', it tells the story of what the top management at Wipro did in 2003 after losing a deal from a big European travel agency. It details the policy change, the radical new steps and the eventual win back of the deal from the same customer. The quote that captures the essence of the article is the one from Vivek Sharma, a senior business development manager, "If you bring in value, you may have a short-term [negative] impact [on your billings]. But in the long view, you'll get benefits from that."

Read it here

Friday, November 02, 2007

Cool Hotmail for Indians

Heard of CoolHotmail? MSN India has come out with a brand new strategy to push its services in India. That is through CoolHotmail. What's different in it you may ask. The difference is that you get a email that suits your intersts, passion, your geography, your group or something that screams out your favorite star. Thrown in with the unique email id are the 5GB free storage that comes with the Live service. Sample domains include

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chandamama - Online Edition soon

I still remember the good old days when Dad used to buy me Chandamama magazine for children back in the 80s. I used to pore through the magazine as though there was no tomorrow. The stories that included tales from Panchatantra, the tales of King Vikram and Betal, the Jataka tales really made up a big portion of my reading during my young formative years.

Now I have reason to rejoice. Chandamama is all set to come back and will come out with a complete revamped edition.

The current new management plans to go all out on a 4 pronged strategy to popularise the magazine again. Two of the strategies include
  • going online by uploading all its content on the Internet;
  • making the online edition a portal and “the one safe place for your child”;
Looks like the next generation of kids can grow up just like my generation did....take a Chandamama book to bed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Internet will be driven by India, China

"Five years ago, if you had to set up a data centre, it had to be in Manhattan, or may be in the Bay Area. But in the coming years, given the talent, resources and needs, most data centres will be in Apac (Asia-Pacific)"
The argument comes from no less a person than Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz. He is of the opinion that the internet momentum is shifting from the wealthy countries to the more heavily populated ones like China, India and Indonesia. He attributes several reasons to this like
  • The explosion of social networking sites and the youth heavy demographics of these countries
  • Creative use of Internet to bring its power to the poorer masses by various institutions
  • The evolution of the Internet from mere communication tool to a powerful social utility
Schwartz sees a massive growth in developer community in the Apac region. India's developer numbers are expected to rival that of US in a couple of years. Worldwide, 50% of users of Sun Microsystem products for software development come from India and China.

However this could also mean a threat to the competing software development tools framework by Microsoft like the .Net platform. However Sun could also be overlooking the threat from free open source frameworks like the hugely popular ones currently being used for web development like Ruby on Rails and AJAX.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

India to get Google phone first ?

A lot has been happening in the Indian mobile sector of late. Last week, it was Nokia that announced that India had overtaken USA as the second largest market for its handsets and network equipment. With more than 6 million new cell phone users being added every month, India is the fastest growing cellular market in the world. Of the approximate 185 million Indian cell phone users, Nokia boasts of 85 million users in its kitty in terms of the brand of cell phones they use.

Amidst Nokia's announcement, comes the other surprising news that is being reported across global dailies today. The Google phone rumor is doing the rounds again. The latest news is that the Google phone is set to make a splash in India, US and Europe simultaneously. How soon? In less than two weeks. That comes as a real surprise.

Talks are believed to be taking place with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Essar, respectively India's first and third largest mobile telephony operators, and state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam.

It makes me wonder what is Google's strategy
  1. Is Google positioning its phone as a direct competitor to the Apple iPhone? Or is it the likes of Nokia that Google sees as its competition.
  2. Is Google ditching the well tried out strategy of releasing new phone models in developed markets followed by developing markets?
  3. Is the India strategy one of getting an entire generation of users directly hooked onto the mobile Internet and getting them to bypass the desktop Internet access. Well, what better way to give extra credence to its vision of "organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful", then to get a sixth of the planet's population experience the power of Internet through Google phones.
Though I would have been delighted to provide my blog readers answers to these questions, I am as much an onlooker as you. So do keep checking this blog as I track this story going ahead. I welcome your comments too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Web biggies wooing Indian web surfers

There is a popular Hindi adage that when translated to the best of my abilities goes, "When God showers goodies on you, he will give enough for your roof top to cave in"

Thats exactly what flashed to my mind as I had been surfing for the latest tech news during the past week. Google, Yahoo and IBM, three of the web's big players have been wooing Indian netizens with India-centric online offerings.

Google has release two new language offerings.

One is the Google Indic Transliteration that allows users to type in English and the software does the transliteration to Hindi on the fly.

The software is still in its beta and has been opened to the public to receive and improve upon feedback. The software is similar to a T9 input on a mobile that offers word suggestions both in English and Hindi.

Two, the Indic On-Screen Keyboard iGoogle Gadget which too is on beta testing. Primarily targeted at users who would like to perform Google searches in Indic laguages, the tool is available in the form of a Google homepage gadget. It plans to support 15 Indian languages eventually.

Yahoo too has plans up its sleeves for Indian users. It launched 7 language specific portals in the first quarter of this year.
It extended the same language feature to its hugely popular desktop messenger tool as a plugin. Its also plans to incorporate the ability to send mails in upto 7 different Indian languages into its e-mail by the end of 2007.

IBM, another big web player in recent years plans to go a step further and incorporate speech recognition technologies. Hindi speaking people can effortlessly create emails or documents by speaking it out. The plan for the future is to incorporate this speech recognition technology into IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems like ATMs, Service Kiosks, Billy Payment systems, ticketing systems, etc.

The Desktop Hindi Speech Recognition Technology is developed by the IBM India Software Lab in collaboration with Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC)

The system recognises more than 75,000 Hindi words with dialectical variations and provides an accuracy level of 90-95 per cent. A spellchecker enhances accuracy by adding the ability to correct spoken-word errors.

Rejoice Indian Netizens.....Goodies falling all around you .....

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Indian Diaspora & Indian Software Firms

Being a regular reader of Harvard Business Review articles, I recently came across a very unique study conducted by two HBS professors, Ramana Nanda and Tarun Khanna. Titled "Diasporas and Domestic Entrepreneurs: Evidence form the Indian Software Industry" the paper examines the relations between the Indian diaspora which is estimated close to 18 million and spread over 130 countries and the Indian software industry.

It tries to answer two key questions
  1. Are entrepreneurs who are based in cities where matching with prospective clients, new referrals and monitoring is easier, less likely to rely on the diaspora than entrepreneurs based in cities where this is harder?
  2. do entrepreneurs who rely on the diaspora have better performing firms than those who do not tap into the expatriate community?
The study is unique because it gives a new dimension to way smaller software firms in India are expanding their businesses by tapping into the diaspora of Indians. Not just that, it also reveals that the opposite might actually be more true. The Indian diaspora might be tapping back into the Indian local, small scale software companies for mutual benefit.

With data from the NASSCOM, the two professors have done detailed mathematical regression analysis to arrive at their findings. The paper can be downloaded here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Countering the Rising Rupee

With the rupee breaching the 9 year high against the US dollar yesterday by appreciating to 40.23 a dollar, Indian exporters have started frantic efforts to kick off counter measures that can sustain their eroding margins. More so for the Indian IT industry that clocked exports worth $31.4 billion for the fiscal 2006-07.

So what are the top 3 players in the Indian IT industry doing to weather the seemingly 'here-to-stay' storm.

Short term firefighting
  1. Forex Hedging Gains
    TCS, the number one IT services provides in India, according to analysts, has shown how hedging can help during times like these. While Infosys, the Indian IT bell weather registered a 300 basis point decrease in operating margins (A 1% rise in the rupee against the dollar affects operating margins by 30 to 50 basis points.), TCS maintained its previous quarter performance. TCS had about $2.5 billion outstanding in hedges on June 30.
  2. Lower Provisioning of Taxes
    Declaring lower amounts to be set aside as payable to the tax man at the end of the fiscal is one way in which quarterly gains can be boosted.
  3. Lower wage hikes
    Wage hikes are definitely poised to take a hit. India's IT exporters are now walking the tightrope between escalating wages and the appreciating rupee, not to speak of demanding clients.
  4. Lobby with the government to intervene to halt the appreciating rupee
Long term adaption
  1. Increase services to emerging markets in Gulf and Asia
    Top IT companies in India differ in terms of their diversity of client geographies. While the US contributes to 63% of Infosys's revenues, TCS has diversified revenue sources ranging from US, Europe, Gulf and even the Indian domestic sector
  2. Fill up previously less lucrative spaces like 'Assurance services' in emerging market
    Domestic testing or 'assurance services', an IT service market at the lower end of the spectrum that the big players couldn't care less about all these years, now has got back their attention. This will lead to some serious competition in the domestic market as the big players prepare to channelize their resources into newer

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Using the Internet to protect her husband

Leave it to the people to find ingenuous uses for technology tools. We have heard of using the power of Internet to seamlessly cut across boundaries to reach to people many of whom you may never meet physically all your life.

Well, now hear of how this Indian lady has used the Internet to build a wall of invisible protection around her husband and herself while they go about doing what they do best - Blow the whistle against corrupt government officials in Karnataka, India. The Internet provides them wide exposure while also popularizing their work and making sure that they no one dare touch them without risking enormous public outcry.

NewYork Times has the full story...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bump your Desktop

Tired of your bored desktop graphical user interface...Well listen to Anand Agarawala, who dislikes the present status quo of windows desktop filled with icons . “You can sex it up with a ‘lickable’ interface like the Mac’s, but basically it’s the same old thing: Point and click, icons.”, he says. So what is the alternative he has come up with - BumpTop.

The following video will tell you the rest of the story...

For more, read Pogue's New York Times coverage of Bumptop.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Reaching out to the Billions at the Bottom

"Serving the low income markets that comprise of the people at the bottom of the economical pyramid is a prodigious opportunity for the world's wealthiest companies - to see fortunes and bring prosperity to the aspiring poor" - cites the article "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, an article by C K Prahalad and Stuart L Hart.

What are the ways of doing this.

One is to repack technology to brings its benefits to the masses. Eric Brewer, a professor at Berkeley University, credited with the popular search engine of yesteryears Inktomi, has come up with a technology to serve the ignored masses. Called WILDNet or Wi-Fi for Long Distance Network, the technology pioneered by Brewer and his graduate students aims to provide Wi-Fi access over distances of upto 60 miles. Two Wildnet transmitters can shuttle 5 million bits per second, as much as a cable modem, over distances of up to 60 miles. A relay station is needed if the antennas aren't in direct line of sight. Wildnet takes Wi-Fi technology and extends its range 100 times farther than an airport hot spot.

Wildnet's most dramatic impact to date has been in southern India, where the high-speed links are bringing better eye care to poor villagers. Forbes quotes the story of Parvathi Shanmugam, a 45-year-old mother in Andipatti, a small village in the state of Tamil Nadu, who used to dread taking her daughter on the 10-mile trip to the eye clinic in Theni, a bigger city to the west. Her family had to take two buses, which took about an hour, and often waited two more hours for a doctor. A year ago Andipatti opened its own eye clinic connected to Theni's Aravind Eye Hospital with a Wildnet link. The clinic now conducts real-time eye exams with doctors in Theni, over a direct connection 150 times as fast as its old dial-up modem, which used to cost $200 a year. The Wildnet link, installed at a cost of $1,800, is practically free to operate.

Cost per visit is 5 rupees, or 13 cents, one-sixth the price charged in Theni. For the billions who form the base of the pyramid and earn less than 1 USD per day, solutions like these bring hope while offering ways for companies to bring technology benefits at affordable costs to them.

Researchers are also working in Nallavadu and similar villages to erect WiFi (wireless networking) antennas that reach distances of up to 30 kilometers to provide affordable and easy access to weather conditions for fishermen, crop prices for farmers, health news, and when possible, warnings of imminent disaster.

For the past several years the 40-year-old has been burrowing away at some engineering problems whose solution would make life more livable in the Third World.

"I don't want to impact just ten people, I want to impact a billion people," says Brewer who is also the principal investigator of the ICT4B or Information Communication Technology for Billions program at the Berkeley lab. He also heads the TIER project short for Technology Infrastructure for Emerging Regions funded by Intel Berkeley Research Lab.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Infosys Strategy best among Application Outsourcing Companies

The Forrester report citing Infosys as the leading strategist among the several Application Outsourcing providers in North America comes as no surprise. The report states that

"Infosys is among the strongest offshore providers in applications outsourcing (AO). Like its contemporaries, its rapid growth indicates that it is competing effectively in the AO market. Infosys is not always viewed as the most price-competitive of the offshore providers, but its strong reputation for cultural fit among North American customers allows it to compete effectively with multinational corporations (MNCs) and offshore rivals alike."

In fact I wouldn't be surprised if I find other offshore players in the list too. The reasons are multifold. The key one I believe is the kind of marketspace that the offshore players are competing for. With homegrown players like Infosys, Wipro, TCS and Satyam competing in North American and European markets, they are bringing the home advantage of cheap offshoring while evolving new strategies to fit their Global Delivery Model to suit the cultures of the markets they are penetrating. This involves not just trying to offer what the client wants, but grooming entire business units that serve the client to respond to the finer requisites of making the client comfortable as he outsources his work to these new kids on the block. The other not so comforting factor that the Indian players need to constantly allay is the client fear of getting his work outsourced to half way across the globe.

Another brilliant strategic move by the Indian companies is in expanding to the emerging BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China faster than their North American companies like EDS, IBM, Accenture. They are foraying into these new markets with two purposes in mind. One to capture new clients and two to develop new offshore development centers that they can then plug into their GDM model to serve clients across time zones even more seamlessly.

The Forrester report is a recognition of the huge strides Indian software MNCs are making just 1.5 decades after their appearance on the global stage.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Getting Internet to Rural India

Heard of United Villages? No?. Well your rural counterpart might have. For United Villages is bringing Internet and WWW to the rural areas of the developing world. Not through copper or optical fibre cables or WiMax. Rather through buses and motorcycles.

In rural India and parts of Rwanda, Cambodia and Paraguay, these vehicles offer web content to computers with no internet connection. They are equipped with an antenna and WiFi. The buses and a fleet of motorcycles update their pages in cities before visiting the hard-to-reach communities. As these vehicles pass through the villages which is upto 6 times a day, the WiFi enabled rural computers get their content updated from the content on board the bus using the WiFi connection. Click here to watch a short video

The founder of the United Villages initiative Amir Hasson, a MIT Sloan graduate, said the company had been set up to give those people in these areas a slice of the web for a fee. He recently on a BBC interview mentioned, "There's only 0.003% percent of the web that rural India cares about. They want to know the cricket scores, they want to see the new Aishwarya Rai photos, and they want to hear sample of the latest Bollywood tunes." “We're becoming the glue that sticks together those areas that have mobile connectivity and those that don't,” Mr. Hasson explains

As well as this regular content users can make special requests for a few additional rupees. For example, if there was no information about Britney Spears on the village computer, a fee could be paid to get hold of such information. The bus would then go back to the city and communicate with an internet server. The box on the bus would be updated with the requested information and, a few hours later, the bus would arrive back at the village to zap the Britney Spears pages to the computer.

The service is currently being run in the state of Orissa under the name DakNet.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Manpower malaise bothering IT companies

Is Indian software industry growing too fast making it unsustainable for long? Going by what the Indian IT industry experts and leaders have been harping about, this really seems to be the case. Every few weeks, I come across media reports with the now all too familiar headline, "India short of manpower in IT sector".

Are we really short of manpower. Are our IT companies desperately scouting for an oasis of manpower?Well, again there is a debate here. One group says that we are really short of engineers, soaking up so much of the engineers into the IT field that other fields are facing the brunt of this circumventing of human resources. The other argument is the denial of any real shortage of resources, but the lack of quality resources that the IT industry needs. The malaise if you observe is symptomatic of both these.

Is the Indian government doing anything to address these concerns? What can really be done? Well, it seems the government is definitely taking initiatives in the right direction, though the industry will need to wait a few years before it starts yielding fruit. Blogger Harsha Kumar has some excellent suggestions on what we need to revamp in the education system as a possible remedy to this problem.

Whatever it is that we need to do to put to rest the concerns of the industry, I also feel that the industry has grown too rapidly for its own good. If stupendous growth like this can wreak havoc on the infrastructure of a city like Bangalore, it surely could have our education system creaking and groaning under pressure. And who doesn't know that the most difficult time to change a system is when it is under strain. Its like trying to change wheels on a car which was earlier moving at 5 kmph and is now moving at 200 kmph !!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

RFID providing dual benefits to Infosys

Its one thing to deploy technology solutions as proof of concept applications so as to benefit the company to showcase its technology know how to its clients. However, deploying applications as proof of concept for the mutual benefit of its employees as well as lend credibility to its commitment in the eyes of its clients is much more desirable. Infosys, the bell weather of Indian IT services has done exactly the latter with its RFID application.

Infosys has designed and deployed a vehicle access-control system using EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags. For those hearing the term for the first time, relax. RFID stands for Radio Frequency IDentification. These are small chips or chips embedded on plastic cards that can hold information and pass it on wirelessly to a reader which scans a given area of influence. For more refer to HowStuffWorks and Wikipedia.

What Infosys has done is this. Deploy RFID readers across its multistory car-parks. Employees have been issued RFID tags to be placed against their windscreens. Whenever the employee approaches within 3 meters of the RFID reader, the system reads the information in the RFID tag on the employee's windscreen, authenticates him as a Infosys employee and lets him access to the car park area.

Prior to this being implemented, the employee had to stop over and roll down the wind shield to swipe a RFID card against a card reader that could only read in the vicinity of a few centimeters. This used to result in serpentine queues of cards waiting outside the car park area just waiting to get in. Now the same technology extended has not only helped ease employees' lives but is also getting new orders for the company.

For the detailed story, go here

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cyber Crime Fighting in India gets New Teeth

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB), two of the top Indian law enforcement agencies have been giving high priority over the years to fighting cyber crime. The spate of increased world wide threats to government servers and systems from hackers and cyber pirates has prompted the government of India to order the development and deployment of CyberCheck Suite Version 3.0. Claimed to be an advanced cyber forensics tool that compares with the best tools on the market, this indigenous piece of software was developed by Resource Centre for Cyber Forensics at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, Thiruvananthapuram, that falls under the ministry of communications and IT.

CyberCheck Suite Version 3.0 marks the beginning of developing indigenous forensic softwares comparable to ENCASE, the current leading forensic software in the world and can be used in different Indian languages. This also turns out to be a more cost-effective option as the indigineous software will be available at a fraction of the cost of the imported equivalent software tools. Plans are on to deploy the software at police stations across the country and train personnel.

This should act as a deterrence to cyber criminals out on the prowl over the Net.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sub $100 PC from India

"Novatium - Computing for the next Billion", announces the bright orange logo of this next generation Indian computer firm that has plans to turn to reality Larry Ellison's (Oracle's famed head) dream project back in 1990's of creating dirt cheap computers which reach and work to their true potential and productivity when plugged into the network.

Coming up with really low cost computers has been a pursuit of many individuals and corporations across the globe. One example that has got its fair share of bouquets and brickbats is Negroponte's $100 computer. While this project aims to reduce costs by cutting down on high end features of laptops and making it 'kid-centric', Novatium aims to cut costs by shifting all things that can be done on a desktop PC to the network or the WWW.

Trash the hard disk, go for low processing power chips and use less RAM. Why need all this when you can store over the network; use the memory and processing prowess of the central server. This is the logic behind, Novatium's NetPC. Make the computer "client thin" with the least amount of processing, storage and memory utilization happening at the client end of the PC. All that will be taken care by servers connected to the same network as the client-thin NetPC.

Though the website has scant details of the level of feasibility achieved till date, it does boast of some interesting case studies of where such PCs can be put to use. What interests me is the belief that the company has in making the concept work while giants like Oracle have been a failure. The difference hinges on probably the
  • angle of approach taken,
  • the timing and also
  • the landscape
in which the experiment was carried out.

A similar project initiated by Oracle went into losses within a short span way back in the 90s. The reasons on hind sight might seem the lack of network penetration, the lack of sufficient processing power, the inertia in trying to move the large number of users in US who had already taken to desktop computing in a big way and also the lack of enough network enabled applications.

Novatium scores on all these aspects. One, Novatium's first target would be the Indian market where PC penetration is still far low than the developed world and there is no trend that has yet been set. The market would be more malleable for Novatium to introduce its NetPC and get users hooked on to this new way of computing.

Two, with Google well on its way to populating the WWW with network enabled free to use applications like office suites, chat software, search engines, email and even small scale business software suites, the time is just ripe for Novatium to hitch a ride on the attractiveness of WWW as a medium to complement the client thin NetPC of Novatium.

Three, the cheap storage online, the exploding broadband internet access and the appearance of WiMax on the horizon all seem poised to give Novatium the necessary thrust into the center stream of PC market.

Definitely this is one project that I will keep tabs on.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Potential for high end R&D in India

When Intel announced that it plans to setup base in Bangalore, India in 2000 with about 100 employees, the expectation was the company would ramp up its operations in India. True to its word, today Intel has about 3000+ employees today at it Research & Development hub at Bangalore, Karnataka. The total investment that the multinational company has poured into the country amounts to 1.7 billion USD till date.

The company sure has been justified in pursuing its Indian dreams. The Sydney Morning Herald reports the breakthrough of a tera flop chip, the major portion of which, was researched and developed in the Indian Intel center. The chip, which packs 100 million transistors, burns less power than a typical home appliance and performs more than a trillion calculations per second -- a "teraflop." The first "teraflop" performance was achieved in 1996 on a supercomputer built by Intel that took up more than 2,000 square feet, was powered by nearly 10,000 Pentium processors and consumed more than 500 kilowatts of electricity.

Though not out for commercial production yet, the chip marks an important milestone not only to Intel India, but also stands testimony to the skilled human resource available in India to lead high end research projects. This usually has been a point of endless debate with a certain section of people arguing that Indian engineers are mere products of a mass assembly line educational system and another section arguing that though we might be producing engineers in large numbers, they are not lacking in skills and talent. Well, this should be an indicator of the positive outlook one attaches with the Indian talent pool.

More on the topic: Financial Express

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Multi Touch Sensor GUI

A preview into the state of Graphical User Interfaces in the future. Do away with the keyboard, the mouse, the stylus. All you need are your ten fingers and the multi-sensor touch screen at your disposal. A recreation of the GUI that shot the film, Minority Report, to fame.

Imagine providing the power of such a GUI to people. Computing will herald a new wave of intuitiveness never experienced before. You do not need to fear computers. Just touch and feel them with your ten fingers. The rest you will learn along the way.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

India learns the art of Satellite Recovery

India's latest successful Polar Synchronous Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launch is commendable for more reasons than merely overcoming the failure of the last unsuccessful mission. Not only did the PSLV inject into orbit 3 satellites (which included a 680-kilogram remote-sensing satellite named CARTOSAT-2 that will gather climate and geographical data, an Indonesian Earth-observation satellite, Lapan-Tubsat and a satellite from Argentina, Pehuensat-1) but it also carried into space the fore runner of the capsule that might eventually be used to bring back Indian astronauts safely from space.

India has indicated that it's working toward putting humans into space as early as 2014, with an eye toward sending a crew to the moon in the 2020 time frame. An unmanned moon mission is scheduled for 2008.

Yesterday, the capsule, returning after 12 days in Earth’s orbit, survived a fiery re-entry into the atmosphere and splashed down in the Bay of Bengal, from where it was plucked by a coast guard vessel to be ferried back to the Sriharikota space centre. This marks the entry of India into the club of space faring nations that can not only inject satellites into orbit, but also recover them back from space.

In recovering the capsule, ISRO achieved capabilities in precision control and heat-resistant silica tiles for safe re-entry into the atmosphere, parachutes to slow the capsule’s descent, and even a flotation system triggered by salt water.

With such recovery possible. ISRO plans to give the Indian scientific community a boost too. ISRO said that it can now help carry out microgravity experiments which would help scientists study material behavior in space and create materials with special properties. Earlier, such experiments were possible only at the International Space station. Now, a capsule with science experiments can routinely piggyback on large satellites.

Might look like a small step for the world, but a giant leap for Indian Space Research !!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The attack of the FM stations

Can a revival of old technology throw up challenges to newer technology? Can renewed public interest in an hitherto used and sidelined technology, be so great that it causes the masses to shun a more recent breakthrough?

"Bangalore 93.5 Mast Maja Madi" (Bangalore 93.5 Have some rockin' fun) was what I heard two radio jockeys shouting their voices off on one of the FM channels. I was in Bangalore the last week and was surfing the airwaves on my FM radio. Just five months before when I had last been there Bangalore had 3 FM stations. Bangalore now has a total of 9 FM channels.

  • Part of the reason for this rise in FM channels is the relaxing of the government regulations and the license fees that new FM startups need to pay up to start these channels.
  • The other contributor to that end has been the veritable improvements in FM broadcasting equipment and technology.
  • The increasing heterogeneity in the social makeup of Bangalore has also contributed to allowing a wide number of FM channels to share space and yet cater to key sections of Bangaloreans'

I found something else that was more interesting than an increase in FM channels. I never whipped out my MP3 player to listen to music to during my entire stay in Bangalore !! That was a first for me. I never found the need to, given the range and quality of music that was being dished out by the 9 channels day in and day out. This interested me. I asked my cousin who used to plug onto his MP3 player on his way to office in the mornings if he was using it anymore? The answer was a resounding 'NO'. Every auto rickshaw that I climbed into had one of the FM channels blaring away to glory. Cars of my friends had not played CDs ever since the attack of the FM stations. Let alone all this, the most striking fact of all that I heard was that the sales of mobiles with inbuilt FM radio in them had sky rocketed in Bangalore. I suspect that similar episodes are being enacted out in other Indian metros.

So for no fault of its, a technology like MP3 that offered more personalized audio options on the move finds itself sidelined in favor of an older technology, FM. A single FM station cannot offer music to suit every Tom Dick and Harry's tastes, but how about 9? How about letting DJ's and RJs managing our playlists than have ourselves do it? Public behavior can cause nightmares to technology predictors. While MP3 players were expected to steam roll FM out of public imagination, here we are seeing the FM empire strike back with a vengeance.

Photo courtesy: The Hindu

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why moblogging hasn't taken off in India?

I was explaining my inquisitive cousin studying in 9th grade what moblogging is all about. He asked me if I do it. I said I don't, but could show him a few who do. I scourged the net to see if I can find some m0bloggers. I could hardly lay my hands on a few mobloggers. That got me wondering why moblogging hadn't caught up so well in India despite the hype surrounding it. Blogging by typing text and clicking photos via your mobile camera and using GPRS to send it to a platform like Blogger to be published seemed quite straight forward. How come nobody was taking it up?

A few clicks and searches on Google led me to this excellent interview of conducted by Kiruba Shankar on why moblogging is not taking off in India. And if you are wondering who Jace is, he is one of the few mobloggers in India. The reasons that pop out from the interview are

  • Technical difficulties in getting GPRS setup on one's mobile
  • Lack of MMS popularity due to low critical mass of users
  • The prohibitive costs of good camera phones
  • Setting up blogs and access paths from your mobile phones to blogs.
  • The associated difficulties of filtering out headers and footers that service providers attach to MMS messages sent.
Not everything is gray though, Jace says. Things are improving in terms of special support from sites like Flickr who are making moblogging a lot easier. Jace has also put together a small program to enable his content make its way from his mobile to his blog without any hitch. Quite a neat blog that he has going, I must admit.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Top Ten Technologies that shaped India in 2006

As I step into 2007, I cannot help but look back in wonder at the amazing strides we are making as a country. Technologies that are helping integrate India with the world economy at a faster rate every new day. Technologies that are helping Indians stretch out and make their presence felt globally. Listed below are the ten technologies I felt have made an impact in this direction in the past one year.

  1. WiMax
  2. WiFi
  3. 3G telecom services
  4. IPTV
  5. Social Bookmarking
  6. VOIP
  7. Storage & Backup Technologies like SAN and HDDs
  8. Blogging
  9. Social Online Networks like Orkut, Friendster, MySpace
  10. FM Radio Broadcast

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