Open for Business

Friday, May 20, 2005

What's cooler than ice? Google Maps

Just when I thought web applications were never going to be as rich and responsive as desktop applications, out came Google Maps to prove me wrong. To make it happen, Google used a new approach/pattern to web application design called AJAX (stands for Asynchronous JavaScript & XML). I will write a piece soon on Ajax and its technical advantages as well as its shortcomings, but let me just say that Ajax is truly transforming the Web as we know it. In addition to Google Maps, note that Google Suggest, Gmail, Amazon's A9 and Yahoo's Flickr are already Ajax-based. Orbeon is working on an incredible Ajax engine using XForms. Stay tuned!

Enough about Ajax, let's get back to Google Maps and the amazing user-driven creativity (that many call "hacks") around it. Google Maps turned out to be much more than a place people go to for directions. The addition of satellite images and the nice graphics opened up a whole new world for people who used their imagination. I am going to try and list a few hacks I thought were very cool (and most of the time useful).

- I will start with one of my favorites (already wrote a post on this one). HousingMaps is a great integration between Craigslist and Google Maps. Try it; it's simple and very useful especially when you're looking for a new home in areas you don't necessarily know well.

- This one is called ChicagoCrime. I wish we had one for Silicon Valley so I can see what's going on in my neighborhood. These guys take feeds of data on crimes throughout the city and overlay them on Google Maps by neighborhood and type and even provide RSS feeds. One can imagine combining such a service with the HousingMaps service to inform people of crime activity in certain areas which may influence their neighborhood choice.

- Gas is not a cheap commodity anymore. Check out Cheap Gas a very cool mix of Gas buddy and Google Maps. Just select your city and start saving money on Gas. Make sure you click on the Satellite link; it'll overlay the Gas stations on a nice aerial view of the area.

- The same people behind the Cheap Gas application have integrated Google Maps with the popular movie site IMDb. Make sure you try this one out.

- If you are a lazy tourist or can't afford to go to Honolulu, here is a cheap sightseeing solution for you: Google Sightseeing. Browse the best tourist spots in the world by locality or by category and Google Maps' satellites will take you there.

- A former Tivo engineer developed a Tivo interface to Google Maps. This one is kind of cool but I tend to have my computer (Wi-Fi connected) with me on the couch when I watch TV. Not sure I want to use my TV set for this. Now everyone knows I'm a couch potato.

- This one comes from the source itself (Google Labs). It's called Ride Finder and it helps you find a cab in your area. They track real time vehicle location (see the button in the bottom) so you know how close they are from you.

- How about blending Google Maps with Yahoo's Flickr to displays the location (on a Google map or a precise satellite picture) of where the pictures were taken? Daniel Catt just put it together Geobloggers. Users can plug the longitude and latitude of locations of their Flickr photos into Geobloggers and tag those photos with the name of the city within Flickr. When you are ready to document your road trip, check out this post by Mark Jaquith that provides step-by-step help to use this great service.

- This one is not necessarily a hack but it shows that Google Maps may be used for advertising. Check out this pool with a big Pepsi sign (zoom in on the pool) near an airport in AZ.

Google doesn't have an official position on these nice services hacked by individual users. They will have to come up with one soon. In my opinion they should encourage these imaginative people as much as possible by offering tools, open APIs and loose licensing terms for their mapping capabilities.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Strategic use of open source against competition

Earlier today, I read two different announcements that are interconnected in a way.

The first one is from CA announcing the winners of the Ingres million dollar challenge. I don’t really care about the challenge or the winners; I am more interested in what CA is trying to accomplish. They are effectively funding tools that migrate just about anything to their open source database Ingres. It is no surprise that the #1 prize went to a team who developed an Oracle to Ingres tool and the second prize goes to a Microsoft SQL Server-to-Ingres tool. The third one is a bit more interesting (competition within OSS), it migrates MySQL users to Ingres. More details on the results can be found here.

The second announcement is another migration story. This one comes from IBM teaming up with Red Hat to hurt more threatening competitors (Sun and HP). IBM and Red Hat are launching a bunch of Solaris-to-Linux Migration Initiatives including free assessment services provided by IBM as well as educational materials to help customers migrate. This isn't a new initiative at IBM. Three thousand of their 12,000 Linux customers come from Solaris. IBM has completed more than 500 HP/UX and Solaris-to-AIX customer migration engagements since early 2004.

IBM wants to sell hardware and services; they need to go after HP and Sun to make some room for their profitable eServers. Linux (open source in general) is a great weapon in IBM's arsenal, they have been using it knowledgeably for years (especially against Microsoft/Windows). CA does not necessarily want to make money in the database business but CA's competitors certainly do. Even if CA's migration tools cannot claim as many success stories as IBM's Solaris-to-Linux (or HP/UX-to-Linux); migrating as many Oracle (IBM or Microsoft) customers to Ingres is a good strategy. It doesn't hurt to give it a try.

Geoffrey Moore's take on open source

Geoffrey Moore needs no introduction in the IT world. For the rare people who don't know him, Geoffrey Moore is a best selling author, a VC and a consultant. He is best known for his work in IT marketing and strategy. He is the author of timeless books, including Crossing the Chasm (1991), Inside the Tornado (1995), The Gorilla Game (1998) and Living on the Fault Line (2002). His books have been my bibles as an entrepreneur.

Recently, Moore spoke at OSBC 2005 on the topic of open source, I am most grateful to ITConversation for their hard work on making so many exciting talks freely available. His keynote was entitled Open Source Has Crossed the Chasm - Now What?

I will try to share with you the gist of Moore's speech but I still recommend that you take the time to listen to the man himself (slides are also available here). It's definitely worth an hour (load it on your iPod and listen when you can). When I listen to Geoffrey (or read his books), I usually don't learn new things but I learn how to look at things I knew from a new perspective that makes a whole lot of sense.

I am going to go to the bottom line of Geoffrey's keynote.

On July of 2004, Moore published an article in the Harvard Business Review titled "Darwin and the Demon: Innovating within Established Enterprises". This article introduces the principles and ideas that will be included in his next book (to be published in a few months). His new theory is for every business to identify the following:
- What's Core: this is what gives you a sustainable differentiation over your competitors and creates great value for your customers.

- What's Context: everything else

For example, if you are Domino's Pizza, your Core is not the pizza, it's your 30 minute guaranteed delivery (and pizza is your context). Pizza is your Core if you are Round Table Pizza. You get the picture?

Moore explains how companies get tied up in managing Context (which used to be their Core) and cannot extract valuable resources from managing and maintaining Context to working on their Core. That is why Kodak cannot afford to dedicate as many resources on traditional films (which used to be their Core) and have to embrace the digital photo world. They are starting to do so; their acquisition of Ofoto is an indication of their new direction.

Now where is open source in all these theories, you may ask? Well, Moore thinks that OSS is definitely happening. Popular projects like Linux, Apache and JBoss have crossed the chasm in his view.

Here is the bottom line: OSS is wonderful because it helps IT organizations take a huge amount of Context off their plate. It will vacuum mission critical Context off the table and help them focus their energy on the Core.

Moore mentions Microsoft as an example; they have to manage 30 million lines of code by themselves. Contrast that with Apple which uses a BSD-licensed flavor or Unix as the kernel of its operating system and focuses its resources on its core: building the best and the friendliest user interface on the market.

In essence Geoffrey's message is simple: Use OSS as a great (and reliable now that it has crossed the chasm) tool to manage Context and focus on your Core. Eventually, this Core will become Context, you simply move up the value chain by innovating and offering a new Core and using more OSS to take care of your commoditized Context.

Simple and enlightening, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

ObjectWeb's salvation

ObjectWeb is a not-for-profit consortium co-founded in 2002 by Bull, France Telecom and INRIA to foster development and adoption of next generation open-source middleware in the industry. The consortium today counts over 50 corporate (including Orbeon) and academic members from three continents and federates a community of thousand individuals from about 80 countries.

Today I read this press release that talks about ObjectWeb reaching out to China via the Guangzhou Middleware Research Center (GMRC). GMRC has about 80 researchers dedicated to developing and promoting middleware technologies, including Java application servers. For those of us who don't know Guangzhou, it's a province near Hong Kong known as one of the most technologically advanced regions in China, with 39 universities and colleges and the highest level of PC penetration in the country.

GMRC's director Hongbo Xu said that China is very serious about OSS not necessarily because of the development model or the quality of the software, but because of the "independence" it brings from foreign vendors. This confirms the trend I had talked about in this post.

ObjectWeb is best known for its open source Java application server, called JonAS. Backed and distributed by Red Hat, JonAS is still far behind the leader JBoss (
backed by HP, Novell, Unisys, CA and others). I thought that this partnership with GMRC (which will provide localized software and documentation for ObjectWeb projects) to expand in China was a very smart move. We all know that an average success in China can mean millions of users. ObjectWeb is quite successful in EU but has a hard time cracking the middleware US market dominated by JBoss. Why not conquer Asia?

In this press release I also learned that the partnership goes beyond ObjectWeb and GMRC. The French and Chinese governments announced their decision to leverage open-source software to expand Sino- French scientific and industrial cooperation on information technologies. Middleware was identified as a key enabling technology for e-commerce, e-government and e-learning.

Let's see how this plays out in the mid to long term, will it really help increase ObjectWeb's popularity in Asia, an area currently dominated by IBM and BEA? Will it get JonAS closer to JBoss? It may sound like a stretch but why not?