We all need a bit of Religion – Even in Chain World Game

ChainWorldReligion has a message. It needs to be heard, shared and passed on. It likes to be practiced and followed in large numbers. There are dire consequences for not accepting its edicts and making them mantra for ones life. Otherwise, calamities may befall the sinner.

There is always reward at the end of the journey for the faithful and harsh punishments for those who go astray. There is charity to be distributed among the less fortunate and Holy Kings to conquer new continents in hope of spreading the message and converting even more converts to the new religion.

The game’s edicts sadly do none of these.
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Apple’s Next Big Product Ideas

In today’s highly competitive market, Apple is still one of the most innovative companies in the world at this time. Considering that they are over 35 years old, their creativity should be waning like that of Yahoo, Microsoft, HP, Dell among others. Instead it is never been stronger. So what new products can come out of their product line based on what they have in store for us.

Based on the patents filed, product maturity and development, the following are most likely to be revealed in the next 12 months.

iPhone Nano

Nano iPhoneWould it not be great to use my Nano touch to make calls, and run some apps. Yes, the screen interface is too tiny but hey, the next version of Siri could simply make that voice operated. It would be much easier for most of us to wear our phone on our wrist than carry one in our pocket. For example, when we go running/jogging in the morning.

Sort of like the KITT watch from Knight Rider. You speak into it rather than type/touch the screen.

Siri is a problem today. It is not mature enough. But a revamped version is expected with iOS 6 later this year. Maybe that or a later version will bring us closer to reality of launching such a phone.

The only other downside will be battery life. Can a device this small last a whole day on one charge?

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Apple’s Next Big Act

AppleEven though Steve Jobs has declared that we live in post PC world. But it is still a fact that majority of worlds computers run Microsoft Windows. A staggering 85% of world’s computers run Microsoft Windows. Having said that, Apple has not dominated the desktop space since early 1980s. Since that time Microsoft has only grown its lead and mercilessly crushed all opposition in the process.

Today, the space has little competition barring a few million Macs (5%) or a meager Linux (1%) install base. This can all change in an instant if Apple decides to change one thing. Offer their OS X Lion on PC Platform.

Already, Hackintosh (Bootlegged Macs running on PC hardware) are a craze among the underground community. Hackintoshes have shown the way that the hardware and software can work wonderfully together. It is just up to Apple to officially support it.

If Apple does decide to offer its Operating System for non Apple hardware, there will be a huge paradigm shift. A large number of computers, especially in the corporate world, will switch to Macs. And here is why:

  1. Better, stable and reliable Operating System than Windows.
  2. Viruses do not work/affect Mac as badly as they do on Microsoft Windows offering better security.
  3. Mac OS offers better quality products (app store, iLife, Facetime etc) that people will love to have on their PCs.
  4. Cheaper than buying a Mac hardware
  5. Steve Jobs stamp on the Operating System
Apple has never tried to sell just the Operating System. It has always thrived in selling a complete user experience coupled with out of this world innovations. Which is great but in today’s highly competitive world, selling the software in large numbers is the key to winning the race. Innovation can take you so far and sooner or later competitors catch on. Like Android did with iPhone. Like Windows did to Macintosh in 1980s. Now imagine, if Apple allowed its software to be available everywhere through HP, Dell and other hardware manufacturers, it will gain tremendous advantages. Here are the following advantages:
  1. Adding millions of new machines without needing to ramp up production within Apple factories. A cheaper and faster proposition
  2. Allowing even a larger number of computers access to its highly lucrative App store. The billions of downloads could simply become trillions in a matter of months.
  3. Allowing it to compete better with Google (with its ChromeOS and Android) and Microsoft  operating system
  4. With more users experiencing the power of Mac operating system, it will enable them to sell even more iPod, iPhone, iPads and even its hardware (Macbooks etc). Thus creating a hypergrowth in their various product segments.
  5. Sell the dream of Mac everywhere
Finally, Apple can once again be the king of its kingdom that it single handedly created in 1977 by inventing the PC. This strategy will help it compete better with Google on one side and Microsoft on the other. Otherwise, Apple will always be a niche hardware/software manufacturer which will die off once the innovation machine stops.

Steve Jobs – Innovation Personified

Apple IIc
Apple IIc

I wrote my first line of code on an apple II machine in BASIC when I was probably 13. Surely, there were IBM PCs around, but they looked clunkier than my Apple. I learned my first desktop publishing lessons on a Macintosh Classic connected to a laser printer on an apple talk network (the crude 1980s networking introduced by Apple). Wow! They had it all even then.

Next Computer
Next Computer

I moved on from Apple to Commodores about the time Steve left Apple to pursue other adventures. But by the time I was in college, I had found my new love. The NeXT computers with their ingenious NeXTStep Operating Systems. Yes, Steve’s second company was Next Computers right after he left Apple. So for the next four years (early 1990s) I wrote my papers on it, learned how to program in languages like C, Objective C, Perl, used this platform to build my first websites and ofcourse surfed the web (yes before Netscape era), and most importantly learned the Unix operating system the core of my career ever since.

NeXTStep

NextStep Desktop

The hardware and the accompanying software were so advanced in their times that even today, they can hold their own against the best of Microsoft Windows. The little black boxes let us use Graphical WordPerfect to finish our documents in visually pleasing screen fonts and let us print them on laser printers with a click of a button. While IBM PCs still boasted textual green screen based word processors connected to clunky dot matrix printers that made more noise than did any useful printing. We used to send emails through (even voice mails to other NeXT Step users) to people across the world using its graphical and simple to use email client. It let us read classics including the complete works of Shakespeare and other great books in perfect fonts and styles (probably world’s first Kindle), let me surf the web (before the birth of Netscape or even the tech boom on (an obscure) omni-page browser) and yes, it was all graphical, many years ahead of Windows 95. Did I mention, in my spare time, we used to play beautifully written games on it too. And some of them were networked, so that friends on other computers could join in. Yes, I am talking early 1990s ten years before networked/online games became a craze.

Steve Jobs with Macintosh

The original Macintosh Computer

Today, all NeXT affectiandos know that Steve bought/merged his NeXT Computers into Apple upon his return in 1997 and then launched the revamped MacOS X, which is essentially the next generation of NeXTStep OS. MacOS X today powers all Apple computers and is one of the most stable Operating Systems out there.

Today, I cant think of life without my iPod when I go hiking or my iPad when I need to read the latest classic or just surf the web. And oh, I ditched my PS2 in favor of iPod/iPad games that are so cool and better.

Steve’s innovative creations through the ages have mimicked my love affair with computers. I still remember the goosebumps I used to get when my little BASIC programming codes would run perfectly on an Apple Iic. I still cant believe the ease with which we used to get desktop publishing done in late 1980s on a Macintosh. And I could have never finished college with so much fun had I not had my Next experience. And ofcourse, without iPad where will we be all today.

So Steve today, you stepped down from Apple and resigned as CEO, but to us, who have lived through your life with Apple, you will be missed. And we hope that you can still play a critical role as Chairman and Board member in many years to come.

>Kindle or Paperback?

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Kindle or Paperback?


That is the question which my digitally inclined friends and I are pondering. So at our home, we have painstakingly collected close to thousand book personal library. The collection is still growing as we speak as each week a new book is added from somewhere. 


These books are stored in nicely built custom wooden book shelves line the walls of our home including bedrooms. Yet, I have even more books in boxes stowed away in storage. Sadly some of them have to remain there till I find time and money to build more custom book shelves to house them.


But now, with Kindle, iPad and other ereaders, the concept of a home library seems quaint, heavy and expensive. I can fit almost all of my books (they take up over 30+ cartons) of them and many more onto a book reader thinner than the Time Magazine that I get delivered each week. Or is it?


I have my dad’s edition of Charles Dickens novels which themselves are over 50 years old. I have Shakespeare in a special hardbound collectors edition to share with friends. And oh, Homer’s Illiad and Newtons books in Great Books Americana edition. But Kindle have them too and they are all free (atleast at the time of writing this).


Suddenly my multi-room, multi-shelf book collection can now be housed inside a magazine size Kindle.


So is Kindle and iPad the future of book reading? 


Hmmm. Something to ponder.


What happens when Apple goes bust or Amazon no longer exists? What happens to my books bought through electronic medium for e-readers? Will they survive the decades ahead in digital form and can I pass them on to the next generation like my dad shared them with us?


Can iPad books be still the thing to read in say 2030? Or will they be dead along with the technology that housed them? I can still read paperbacks that I bought during highschool (1980s era) without any trouble. Will that be true with an iPad?


History of digital world tells us that we wont have a Kindle in 2030. Today’s “in” and “hot” technology will be lost, old fashioned and forgotten by that time. Does anyone remember Newton from Apple? The world’s first handheld PDA that died unceremoniously during Steve Jobs second coming. Does anyone remember a Palm PDA that once controlled 95% of all handheld market? Where is it now? 


And then, we went through the same crazy world with music. The LPs, cassettes, CDs all replaced and rebought in mp3 format. Yes, we all ended up buying again and again the same song after every so many years. And then the same happened with Videos. My Star Wars VHS collection no longer plays on modern players. Heck, I need to buy HD versions again just to keep the movie playable.


Technology changed so fast that we lost information that we were unable to transfer to the next medium. Palm games and content is not necessarily available onan iPhone or Android phone. I do have my Atari (1982) still with me with the original Pacman, Space Invaders and Astroids. But Atari is defunct and those game cartridges are worthless and not playable on the current hardware. 


So the question really is will my books bought today be usable on a hardware 20 years later?


This is a problem and we need a solution. A workable solution.


The book readers from Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble need to agree on a common protocol to share content. The hardware should be independent of where the books were purchased from. In other words, if I buy something from Apple, it should be readable on Apple hardware or even Barnes and Noble or any other reader that uses the same protocol. Currently, a Kindle book is only readable on kindle (be it on ipad, PC or a kindle hardware). But a Kindle book should be readable on iBooks as well. And an ebook from iBooks should be readable on Barnes & Noble Nook.


Without this collaboration, it is difficult for any serious book reader and collector to move to the digital world.


So till then, I will prefer to buy paperbacks for all the great books that I find in the market and will only occasionally purchase ebooks as I want to pass on the library of books to the next generation to enjoy.

>Nokia Sports Tracker

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We all tend to go gaga over cool apps that are built for iPhone. But sometimes, in this all hoopla we forget that there is innovation and creativity going on beyond the Apple platform. And Nokia is no exception.
Quite recently, I downloaded and started using a really cool app built for Nokia Symbian phones called Sports Tracker. Yeah, I do own a Nokia E71 device that AT&T sells in the US as the thinnest smart phone on the planet. But thankfully, I do not use AT&T and therefore I am not subject to confused pricing and often patchy service. Enough about AT&T and E71 as that can be discussed at another time.
Nokia Sports Tracker, uses the built-in GPS to keep track of our outdoor activities (walking, hiking, running, cycling, ski etc) through the touch of a button. It not only tracks our speed, the distance and time but will also automatically upload this information to our training diary on line. And yes, you can share that information with friends and create a social network around it. It also rudimentary calculates your heart rate and calories burned.
Nokia Sports tracker is cool as one does  not need to install any special device (in your shoe for example) to use. It uses the built in GPS to track where you are what you are doing. Once you press “Start” a workout, it begins calculating information and tracking you on a map. The elevation above sea level (altitude), the speed of walking/cycling/running, the distance traveled, are all calculated in real time and stored in your phone. You can also share your workout live with friends as well (comes in handy if you are competing).
In the past I used to try to keep track of my workouts using pen and paper. Now I use Nokia Tracker. So far, I love this app and hope to see more of such gems coming from Nokia in near future.

>Apple vs Amazon — Let the Games Begin

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Around the turn of this century (21st that is), Apple was getting itself ready to go beyond the highly competitive (and low margin) PC business and into the feverishly controlled and secretive music industry by introducing a tiny cigarette pack size device called an iPod. Driven by 5GB micro hard disk which promised to hold thousands of our favorite songs and could run them for many hours at a stretch was something that we did not even know we wanted. And the industry giants like Sony thought it made no sense and just outright went on an anti-mp3 crusade.

For Apple, it was truly a radical departure from its core business of making computer hardware and software. But with Steve Jobs cunning insight, and ability to see what we want before we know we want it, has turned the company into a media giant. What happened since that day is nothing short of a revolution for the electronic industry. Today, iPods are no longer just music players, they are essential accessories in our lives. It is hard to not run into someone who is not listening to a Podcast, a song, or watching a video, playing a game or gesturizing something on their iPods/iPhones.

What Apple got right and what Microsoft, Google and Nokia don’t get is that Apple is not trying to get into the music or phone business. No, it’s not into a PDA or gaming market either. It is essentially about being a leader in the distribution, use and viewing of digital media using an electronic device preferably a hand-held like an iPhone. Something that Amazon has been aspiring to do with its Kindle devices for the past many years.

Apple with its well and tightly integrated iTunes desktop, store and hand held devices (iPods and iPhones) has created a unique eco-system that is hard to rival or match. Kindle, from Amazon, comes in close with its ability to let users download what they want to read at a touch of a button. However, it still lacks as a complete device in many ways including not letting them run interactive media (like games, videos or even music). It does not support Wifi and still runs on some proprietary mobile data network (making it hard to use outside the USA). And worst of all the display is still black and white. Which is great for reading books but makes a boring display for doing everything else. And oh, it is heavily dependent on tons of buttons as the screen is not yet touch sensitive.

It is touted that within a few months Apple will announce an iMac Touch/iPad, a tablet PC with no keyboard or mouse, but just a huge touch screen. In short, a glorified version of iPod Touch that will probably have built in access to a 3G network (along with Wifi) allowing users to do anything and everything digitally. A device that will take on Amazon at a game that it thought it had created and had a complete monopoly over. Users who are already more comfortable dishing out money at iTunes Store will probably use it to buy/read books, watch movies, share photos and do whatever their heart desires online.

Apple’s strategy of going after the digital content and dominating that space has truly secured their place for the next decade. They are likely to dominate this market place for many years to come while traditional rivals like Microsoft and Google (with Android) will be left behind wondering what hit them. And for Amazon, it finally has a competitor that has its game plan all worked out against them.

The next decade is all about digital content. It will be all online and will be fueled by handheld devices. Apple has already geared itself to that challenge and will likely dominate this segment while its rivals will be once again left wondering what did they do wrong.

What happens when Google goes bust!

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With the US economy tanking and its ill effects being felt right across the globe, many silicon valley startups and stars of today may not see the light at the end of the gloomy dark tunnel. And one of the biggest shining stars coming out of the rubble of the bubble bust has been Google. What if it tanked? Already its stock options crashed over 60% in recent days, what if it cannot see through the tough times ahead. Techcrunch, the foremost authority on the technology based enterprises, is predicting the death of web 2.0 and the related startups.
Today, we rely upon Google for almost about everything. Google Search, Youtube, Picasa Blogger, and Gmail are some common ones, but corporate world is increasingly switching to Google Apps which provides us with in integrated space for email, docs, collaborative calendar, company specific chat, collaborative wiki and even web hosting (for static sites). Ah heck, how would we feel without Google Analytics, or Adsense?

Now consider this, what if Google goes out of business and closes its doors during the current downturn. What happens to many blogs hosted on blogger (including this one) or the photos that we upload and share using picasaweb or our gmail that we use to store and send thousands of messages since whenever. What happens to search and other cool things that we take for granted from Google?

Well, maybe I am exaggerating a little by foretelling their downfall, even though Microsoft has been predicting and planning it for years. Having said that, still many startups would be shaken up by the current bust in the US economy and Wall Street excesses. No matter how great the idea, or how successful the company, many are likely to breath their last in the coming months. And hence the need for the alarm. We need to be careful of where we store our critical and personal data and use those snazzy online services. Many Software As a Service (SaaS) companies may not survive nor would web 2.0 social networking portals.

So how would we feel when the likes of Google, Facebook, Flickr, or Youtube disappear from the horizon?

gOS 3 – the most beautiful Linux

gOS is the best Linux offering

gOS is the best Linux offering

A few months ago Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu Linux, called upon open source developers to surpass Apple and their wonderful MacOS-X based user experience. Well, gOS release 3 could be close to doing just that. They have taken the best of Mac OS-X and Linux to a level that the user experience of using it is, well, exceptional!

I decided to give my three year old HP Livestrong laptop an OS upgrade. It has been running the default Windows XP Home edition all these years (with an occasional dose of Fedora every now and then). But this time round, I have downloaded the latest version of gOS live CD and used it to install it on the laptop. The installation went smoothly and I was able to install the OS in less than an hour. But as usual (as experienced with earlier Linux installs on this machine), it failed to recognize the broadcom wifi drivers. No sweat. I just plugged it into a LAN network and then used Synaptic Package Manager to find B43xx drivers. Which once installed, the card began working perfectly.

The Mac users will notice the familiar dashboard at the bottom of the page. This critical and important feature replaces the navigation through cumbersome menus (found on Linux and windows) to find programs and applications and also takes care of the clutter of have multiple shortcuts (or launchers) on the desktop. The dashboard bar is completely customizable and I have already changed a few applications around to suite my needs using the Wbar configuration utility (that came pre-installed).

gOS runs on top of Ubuntu 8.04, which is great as Ubuntu is already the best desktop experience available on Linux platform. Ubuntu claims to offer over 18,000 applications ready to install through its various repositories. I therefore, decided to install all the apps that I usually use on my regular Toshiba Ubuntu laptop and see if there are any glitches. The last time I tried doing that with gOS 2 (that I tested earlier this year), I encountered weird errors and some apps did not function too well. But this time around, the gOS team seems to have put in extra effort into integrating this OS with Ubuntu. The results are just spectacular as I seem to have no issues installing or running any app.

My HP livestrong has an AMD 1.8 GHz Turion processor with 512 MB of RAM and 160GB of Hard disk (which I upgraded from 80GB recently for multimedia space). For Windows XP, the RAM is a bit of a drag and sometimes even the processor feels slow to run programs. But gOS takes less than 200MB of memory and usually never exceeds 300MB (when browser, openoffice, and other apps are simultaneously open). Thus the need to upgrade the laptop with more memory is not required. It has also taken about 3GB hard disk space for installing the OS which is quite efficient use of hard disk. My old machine has received a new life and I am utterly enjoying using it without any speed, or memory issues that I get from Windows XP. I do recommend that older machines should just switch to gOS rather than spending that money upgrading them.

It also comes with two more innovations which I am beginning to enjoy. The first is Google Gadgets. By default, it lets users install and play with over 100,000 such gadgets that were so far available only to Windows users. I randomly installed over a dozen such gadgets to see if there were any integration issues. But so far, everything is working smoothly. Google Gadgets make it possible to personalize gOS so that it no longer looks threatening (to a novice computer user) as a Linux machine.

The second innovation is the app called Prism. This application lets web applications run off the desktop. In fact, I am writing this blog using Prism on Google Docs from my desktop. This is a great experience. Prism lets us use all our favorite web apps off our desktop. Apps like Youtube, Blogger, Gmail, Google Docs among others.

My gOS desktop

gOS is the best Linux offering

Even though gOS has no affiliation with Google, yet it seems to be eerily aligning itself to Google. All the Google apps (Google Docs, Youtube, Google Gadgets, Gmail, Blogger, News, Picasa etc) are natively supported and seem to point towards a complete Google experience.

Over all, I give it a complete thumbs up and I recommend that everyone who is interested to use something other than Microsoft should give it a try. Especially those who cannot afford to buy licenced windows.

You can download your free copy from their website at http://www.thinkgos.com

>The Fast Growing IT industry In Pakistan

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Pakistan’s IT Industry was stagnant till the beginning of this decade. A meager sum of US$22 million was being brought in as export revenue up till 2002 in Pakistan. An IT enterprise with more than 50 employees was generally considered one of the bigger software houses in the country. A survey in 2004 by PSEB (Pakistan Software Export Board) indicated there were only a handful of companies with over 100 employees. To make matters worse, a software house formed in the 1990s or earlier would probably not survive its first five years and would most likely close its operations.

However, this past four years has brought about a big change. Since 2004 we are witnessing a phenomenal success and very high growth rate (averaging 50% growth rate annually) for the IT industry in Pakistan. Not only are the companies able to survive longer but are thriving in the national and international markets. And some of them have truly become great success stories worldwide.

I have been associated with the Pakistani IT industry since the mid 1990s when I decided to settle back in Pakistan from the USA. One of the biggest and probably the best change that I have witnessed in Pakistan in recent years has been the emphasis on developing indigenous products and intellectual property rather than just being a typical offshore software house that offers competitive rates as compared to the shop next door. Dozens of local enterprises are not only building some really exciting products here but are also creating waves in the international market. And yes, quite a few are getting funded as well from Venture Capitalists as far away as the Silicon Valley. We even have numerous tech blogs to cover them as well including the popular Green & White that I reviewed earlier this year. So if you want to find out more about the startups and the products in the market check them out.

PASHA (Pakistan Software Houses Association) estimates that today Pakistan’s IT industry is worth over 2 billion dollars. PSEB just came out with numbers that shows that the exports of IT related services and products are now over 170 million dollars (as reported by State Bank of Pakistan). By 2013 it is estimated to grow beyond 1 billion dollars. There are over 1,100 companies registered with the PSEB and over 100,000 people are employed by the industry. The biggest companies now boast a workforce of over 1,000 employees or thereabout. That’s a remarkable change from just a few years back when the biggest could hardly muster 100 employees. For more details about the IT industry and the PASHA survey, check out their website.

This is definitely a very exciting time for the IT industry in Pakistan. And also the best time to invest in a startup in Pakistan. I too left the cozy life of a salaried employee and became an entrepreneur in 2001 to co-found Cogilent Solutions that launched Pakistan’s first job hunt portal, BrightSpyre. Today it boasts over half a million job seekers from across the country and page views in many millions. It is still growing and will probably cross a million unique job seekers before any other job portal in Pakistan sometime soon.