The Economist has an article on Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 computer for the poor. The machines’ specs are not bad at all.
I often teach the Dell case in my technology and strategy classes. One of the questions I ask students is “what could kill Dell” – and one of the answers might be that people start thinking computers are good enough, thus demanding fewer updates and less (mas) customization. To a certain extent we are already seeing that – when a student asks me nowadays what computer to buy, I will answer that, for study purposes, any laptop will do. I especially liked the mesh network piece – imagine what this will do for spreading news and learning.
But the OLPC technology can literally change how we think about computing, yet again. The price point is just ridiculous – at $100, I would like to sprinkle a few of these around the house, as email stations, library catalogue, inventory keepers, shopping list creators and TV program selector. With information stored centrally on a server and mesh networking to connect, information – one’s own or someone elses – could be literally at our fingertips.
Not to mention that you could stop worrying about losing the laptop when travelling – at that price, you could take one on trips and lose it (or give it away to someone needy) when no longer needed.
Richard Posner argues that elite universities should raise tuition and then pay it back according to whether students work full time, to combat the perceived problem of super-educated mummy-trackers which recently seems to have ruffled a few feathers.
I for one think this is one area we can safely let people work out by themselves – the net effect of a pay-and-get-back policy would be to reduce the number of women applying for elite schools, and that is sure not a worthwhile outcome, even though the utilitarian economic case Posner makes (and it seems a bit tongue-in-cheek) has merit. That’s why economics is fun – you can rile people with logical arguments.
Well, I am sure this will be pointed out in spades – but I would like to point out that some schools do this already, for doctoral programs at least. When I did my DBA at the business school, I was supported by a loan from the school, 20% of which was forgiven every year after graduation as long as I was working full time in a degree-granting academic institution. That worked – it was a factor for me when deciding to teach, as for, I think, most of my classmates, rather than to work full-time in consulting. The benefit to the school, of course, was that a higher proportion of its graduates go into teaching than otherwise would have (given that the school has a practice-oriented reputation, that might increase its scholarly standing). For the students that do chose to go into consulting or other non-academic work, the pay differnential finances the loan payback anyway – and the school knows that it is not spending money educating super-consultants.
Microsoft is 30 today, officially entering "middle age" (at least for a software company). I was called up by a journalist from the Norwegian version of Computerworld wondering if I thought MS would be stronger or weaker 10 years from now. Of course, it would be hard to get much stronger than what MS is now, but I could quote myself:
Middle age enters when it becomes clear to you that you are not the person that you want to be, when you realize that the skills that took you to where you are now will not take you further, when you need to switch from increasing your space to tending to what you have. I think Microsoft is entering middle age, whether it wants to or not (and who wants to, or even admit to it happening). Unlike people, however, companies can have youthful parts — and they need to be free to grow.
The recent reorganizations seem more like a firming up than any sign of change in strategy to me – and the company seems tied to exploiting its dominance on the desktop in any other market it can enter. It could be argued that this is, long-term, a risky strategy, but then again, it seems to work.
But, as I asked in a conference panel about six months ago – what can Microsoft offer me if I am a large company that has just decided to go Linux on the desktop. Server, middleware, database, even office applications – when Windows is not there to provide that well developed link in?
Oh well. My computers are still running Microsoft. Most of them at least.
I have decided to remove Google ads from this blog as well as my Norwegian blog, though my wife is keeping them on Lena’s Knits and Pieces. The reason is that the costs exceed the benefits – the income is not there, and the ads were getting on my nerves. It is a bit tiring to write something about universities and have the Google Ad section fill up with exhortations to get a degree by mail order. Likewise when I pan alternative health care and see my page providing links to holistic healing, homeopathy and other garbage.
I think this is a problem with generic blogs. My wife’s site is about quilting, and the ads she gets are focused and interesting to her. She often clicks on them herself to see what others are doing. For a less focused blog like mine the ads are either generic (blog services) or just irritating.
(Incidentally, when the great software and hardware magazine BYTE disappeared, it was for the same reason. BYTE had wide readership and excellent articles, but it was not focused to one particular audience (the way PC Magazine or MacWorld was) and hence had problems getting advertising.)
Being rounded is a problem in a focused world. Perhaps I should have 10 different blogs – or Google should start to qualify their ads, rather than allowing all kinds of crap to advertise.
Election day yesterday, there will be a new, “red-green” government. Not much else will change. I would have written about this, except a) not even foreign, die-hard journalists under a publish-or-perish regime can find much interesting about Norwegian politics, and b) Leif Knutsen has done an excellent job already: Analyzing the result here, and joking about it here.
Oh well. I will stake my hope on the Liberals, too – though that would peg me for a “clueless intellectual”….
Update: Wikipedia, of course, has the results.
My colleague Tim Bevins forwarded me an article from strategy-business.com: Format Invasions: Surviving Business’s Least Understood Competitive Upheavals (registration required) by Bertrand Shelton, Thomas Hansson and Nicholas Hodson, all consultants at Booz Allen Hamilton.
I thought this a good article in that it explains disruptive innovations in a new way, including the point that disruptive innovations succeed if managers don’t fall into the trap of adding new services which take away the initial cost advantage.
What I did not like so much was the article’s insistence on the word “format” when all it means really is “technology”, at least the way Clayton Christensen uses it. They also set up a straw man attack on Christensen – namely saying that Christensen says that the new technology (er, format) underperforms the old. What Christensen says is that the new technology underperformes the old in the traditional dimensions or with the traditional customers, which is essentially what they are saying as well.
Nevertheless, many readers have trouble with the words “technology” (thinking it involves hardware or software or other complications) or “business model” (which sounds, and is, consultantese.) Perhaps “format” is a better format…..