We bought a 300MHz PC for $45 - 80GB HD for $100, paid nothing for software and setup a mail-server for 15 of our users in 4 hours (including webmail, Anti-spam, Anti-virus and IMAP). And my stomach cringes each time my staffers sit waste during morning hours rebooting their XP laptops multiple times because it froze when connecting with the file-server.
Big Software Corporations didn't Deliver Innovation
As most of us who have something to do with software over the years have witnessed, the industry has suffered in the trade-off between profit maximization by big companies (some monopolistic) and innovation.
In 10 years the non-profit Linux, GNU, *BSD and other Open Source groups have produced better and faster innovation than what establishment-type companies have in some 20 (most started in period of 1975 to 1985).
I sympathise with Gordon Moore's recent statement on his disappointment with software companies which have lagged miserably in delivering innovation.
Examples of what's lacking are limited by one's imagination, but I fail to understand why something so simple as a pen-like input device to write/draw is not available for the PC which can capture the data, wrap it up in an email or IM and send a graphic/text to a coworker. I started using computers 10 years ago in 1995 and the Mouse & Keyboard were the input devices - today 10 years later I don't have better means of interacting with the machine. Do you call that innovative progress?
I challenge the claim that computer are becoming user-friendly if the means of interacting with them continue to evade natural methods such as voice, hand-script and audio-visuals.
I also believe that fundamentally there has been a paradigm deficiency in the way computers/machines are made for users/men. If we think about it every computer is similar to another - with a similar size and type of monitor, keyboard, mouse. Text is almost always the same size. Viewable area is almost always the same. But users of computers are almost never always the same. There are distinctions in users between young and old, male and female, expert and beginner and on probably several others lines.
So is there a special computer for an elder house-wife whose visibility is not as sharp as it was in her younger years, who is barely computer-literate (computer literacy as we know it today), who is intimidated with a keyboad with 104 keys and a silly looking mouse connecting to it and which always has to be set on a table. Indeed what a grandma could do with a computer is not something extraordinary than what we know to do with them. She would probably want to connect with her doctor, her friends, her children and grand-children and lookup the Internet for whatever mundane piece of information once in a while. So why didn't any company innovate, for example, a computer with large characters, simple and convenient keyboard and pointing device and a connection to the Internet, that actually physically fits in a kitchen (of course if grandma would have it her way, she wouldn't let it be set on a table or the kitchen-counter).
What I'm trying to point out is that the computers/machines as we know them today are indeed not build with it's user in mind.
The Measure for Success for Innovation
When do we say that we are innovating at an acceptable pace? Is it when a manager is able to do a flashy presentation using PowerPoint or a CFO can plan a year's budget using Excel? I believe users of those applications are a very small minority of computer users today. Most users actually have 3 "star applications" - the word-processor (a really-cool-super-charged type-writer that we know for a 100 years), the email client and the Web browser. Almost every user that has access to a modern computer uses these applications on a regular basis, especially the latter two.
The measure of successful innovation should be based on the benefits it brings to the number of users it reaches. And in this day and age there is a single universal benefit to urgently call for - access to the Internet. The Internet is the saving grace for empowering the majority of the population of the world with access to knowledge and possibly other resources.
When her country's government, family & friends and God can't come to the rescue of an HIV positive patient in sub-Saharan African, access to the Internet could find her the money and emotional support she needs a continent away - if only she could reach it.
When a young son of an Indian farmer doesn't have access to school because the father is too poor and illiterate to afford it, the boy could learn a trade if he has access to the Web.
xxx Background on software patents xxx
There is a great (we in the software business could call it historic) movement with roots in Europe against Software Patents. And I want to enlist your support for NO SOFTWARE PATENTS.
Consequences of Software Patents
The consequence of software patents will be that big businesses with fleets of lawyers and a strangle-hold on the US & European legal systems will try to patent every Class, Structure, Data-type, File-System, Programming Paradigm there is and have a fairly good chance at get it. These patents would then be used to control the market, at times monopolise segments of it, at others form oligopolies/cartels - but to whatever end maximize profits of the few companies. I don't have anything against profit making, but when institutions are being constructed for the focused-purpose of exploiting consumers and small-enterprises it's time to speak out.
In case of Open Source technologies, for simply this reason that software innovation is not controlled by the big-few we have improved the chances of the poor in India, Brazil, Philippines and the rest of the 3rd world of having access to the Internet. Ref the sub $150 computer: http://www.ntavo.com/ntaterminal.php. Likes of Bill Gates envisioned a PC in every house hold many years ago, but we are unfortunately very far from that. And selling the Windows OS for $100 where most of the world lives at $2 per day amounts to hipocrisy. If it weren't for FREE software, computers for everyone may actually never be reality.
Most of us have another some 50 more years to live in this industry, and only some 20 are behind us. My call to you today is to keep innovation free from corporate interests and product politics by saying NO TO SOFTWARE PATENTS.
Benefits of Having NO SOFTWARE PATENTS
3 benefits can be pointed out to for avoiding legislation on innovation
Innovation by SME's, Independent of Capital Constrains
Small companies are driven by an elimentary goal of survival.
Internet & Digital Age Benefits to the 3rd World
The third world doesn't need another deprivation!
Consumers Benefit by Freedom from Monopoly6 billion people of the planet amount to a abundance of diversity. No single company's drive for profits could serve the needs of all of them.
To be completed...
USA Today: Concept of $100 laptop for world's poor is a winner