Young Americans and the Intelligence Community

IC CAE conferenceA few days ago I travelled down to Orlando – just escaping the last days of the DC winter. I was invited to participate in a conference hosted by the Intelligence Community’s Center of Academic Excellence (IC CAE) at the University of Central Florida.  The title of my speech was “The Internet, 2015-2025: Business and Policy Challenges for the Private Sector.” But I actually learned as much as I taught, maybe more. Continue reading

Tearing the Roof off a 2-Terabyte House

I was home last night playing with the new Kinect, integrating it with Twitter, Facebook, and Zune. Particularly because of the last service, I was glad that I got the Xbox 360 model with the 250-gigabyte (gb) hard disk drive. It holds a lot more music, or photos, and of course primarily games and game data.

So we wind up with goofy scenes like my wife zooming along yesterday in Kinect Adventures’ River Rush – not only my photo (right) but in-game photos taken by the Kinect Sensor, sitting there below the TV monitor.

Later as I was waving my hands at the TV screen, swiping magically through the air to sweep through Zune’s albums and songs as if pawing through a shelf of actual LP’s, I absent-mindedly started totting up the data-storage capacity of devices and drives in my household.  Here’s a rough accounting:

  • One Zune music-player, 120gb;
  • 2 old iPods 30gb + 80gb;
  • an iPad 3G at 16gb;
  • one HP netbook 160gb;
  • an aging iMac G5 with 160gb;
  • three Windows laptops of 60gb, 150gb, and 250gb;
  • a DirecTV DVR with a 360gb disk;
  • a single Seagate 750gb external HDD;
  • a few 1gb, 2gb, and a single 32gb SD cards for cameras;
  • a handful of 2gb, 4gb, and one 16gb USB flash drives;
  • and most recently a 250gb Xbox 360, for Kinect. 

All told, I’d estimate that my household data storage capacity totals 2.5 terabytes. A terabyte, you’ll recall, is 1012 bytes, or 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) bytes, or alternately a thousand gigabytes.

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Para Bellum Web

Tim O'Reilly, Ray Ozzie

Tim O’Reilly created a bit of a stir last night in the tech world by writing a thoughtful essay entitled “The War for the Web.” He’ll be expanding on his thoughts in his keynote address today at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York. From the essay, here’s the core argument:

“[W]e’ve grown used to a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we’ve been readying ourselves for one dominant social network. But what happens when a company with one of these natural monopolies uses it to gain dominance in other, adjacent areas? I’ve been watching with a mixture of admiration and alarm as Google has taken their dominance in search and used it to take control of other, adjacent data-driven applications.

It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we’ll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we’ve enjoyed for the past two decades. But I’m betting that things are going to get ugly. We’re heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform. [emphasis added] Instead, we’re facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.

… P.S. One prediction: Microsoft will emerge as a champion of the open web platform, supporting interoperable web services from many independent players, much as IBM emerged as the leading enterprise backer of Linux.

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Inventing the Software that Invents the Future

Worried about today’s stock market activity? Retreat with me into the security of the bright future that awaits.

Microsoft’s Craig Mundie (pater familias of the Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments), is on a college tour across the nation.  The trip is something of a reprise of jaunts Bill Gates famously made over the years, when he would string together visits to campuses partly to evangelize, partly to recruit, and mostly to get new ideas from bright young (and contrarian) minds.  The Seattle paper today labels these tours as filling the role of Microsoft’s “chief inspiration officer” (“Mundie gives campuses peek at tech’s future”).

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Crisis? Pshaw. Be Bold with Research Investments

Bottom line: The smart companies will weather this fiscal crisis by “steering into the skid,” and actually increasing their investment in the future.

One of my last pieces of advice to DIA’s director before leaving last year was to increase the amount of money annually invested in IT research and innovation. DIA’s technology budget was typically too bloated on the side of operations and maintenance for current systems, and not investing enough in the future, though during my time there we had made significant progress in redressing that, increasing the resources (people and money) put against “what comes next.”

In government-agencies particularly (and many torpid commercial enterprises also), budgeteers make the mistake of throwing money at legacy systems instead of being bold and prioritizing research for the next generation of systems. (Last year I wrote about these issues in “Moving Money to the Left.”)

Now, no one has asked me about my views on the fiscal “bailout package,” which makes sense, particularly when there are people who make far more sense than me expressing their well-founded opinions in ways I thoroughly agree with – such as, say, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron in his excellent op-ed piece for CNN last night (“Bankruptcy not Bailout is the Answer“).

But a number of people have asked me what the impact on Microsoft might be from the current “crisis” and market volatility.  I have to say that I’m pretty optimistic, precisely because Microsoft is investing in the future, in ways that are designed to carry us through short-term downtimes and on to exciting new platforms.  The company’s cash-rich, which helps. 

 Most importantly, our CEO Steve Ballmer firmly pointed to our increasing bet on our new approaches to the future.  Speaking in Silicon Valley, he said proudly that not only will Microsoft continue to buy about 20 innovative companies a year, but we will also keep spending $9 billion a year, or 14 percent of revenues, on internal research and development. (See the Venture Beat story here.) 

 

Microsoft “will use the slump as a chance to invest more in our future than the other guys we’re competing with” – Steve Ballmer, quoted in Bloomberg.com  

 

There are going to be winners and losers coming out of this slump, as there have been in each of the tech slumps I’ve seen in my short (!) life over the past three decades I’ve been involved.  The winners are inevitably those with a vision for the long term and the determination to plan beyond the horizon. 

Microsoft won’t be the only winner (see “Microsoft, Xerox Invest in Innovation” for a description of the Xerox CTO’s similar thoughts), but I’m convinced we will be in the front rank.

 

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When Intelligence Officers Get Social…

Today (and on-and-off this week) I’m attending the Intelligence Community’s “Enterprise 2.0: WIRE and ICES Conference,” up at the Kossiakoff Center at JHU/APL in Maryland, with its focus this year on social software and social networking – not the same thing, of course.

Acronym explanation, with some new ones tossed in:

  • WIRE = CIA’s World Intelligence Review, a very nifty Web 2.0-style classified news site now available on JWICS and SIPRNET.
  • ICES = Intelligence Community’s Enterprise Services group. 
  • And of course, JHU/APL = Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab.

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Gartner sees Hype Cycle for Social Software

Fact: Gartner now says that “Web 2.0 software” is falling from its “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and is on its way to a “Trough of Disillusionment.”  However, Gartner finds that wiki software has traversed that path already and is now well on its way up again to mature enterprise acceptance as a valuable productivity tool.

Analysis: Gartner’s just released their 2008 “Hype Cycle” report on Social Software – you know, stuff like public virtual worlds and Web 2.0 tools.

(I don’t know the legality of republishing the actual chart itself, so I’m not including it; I use the Microsoft enteprise license to access Gartner research.  I do note that a Web 2.0 enthusiast from the Netherlands has already posted the new Hype Cycle chart another new and related Hype Cycle chart, on “emerging technologies,” as a Flickr image here. There’s great overlap between the two reports.)

I’ve written before about the usefulness of Gartner analyses; I have to admit that Hype Cycles are my favorites. There’s something about internally debating their judgment calls as your eye travels the path, from pre-adoption “Technology Triggers,” through the bubble-esque “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” and right down into the depths of the “Trough of Disillusionment.” 

If you’re an enterprise IT guy, in a CIO or CTO role or investigating/recommending/approving new technology investments, you really wind up focusing most time on the slow ascending climb to the right of the chart, what Gartner calls the “Slope of Enlightenment.”  Just as in the old days when corporate “data-processing” chiefs lived by the mantra “No one ever got fired for buying IBM,” today’s CIO’s rely on technology that has essentially graduated to Gartner’s “Plateau of Productivity.”

Several other initial observations on the chart:the two Hype Cycle charts:

  • Newest disruptive technology trigger charted: “Erasable Paper Printing Systems,” something being researched by numerous large companies like HP and Microsoft as well as already in startup mode, but pegged by Gartner as still 10 years or more from mainstream adoption
  • Microsoft’s Surface has achieved brand dominance, as Gartner puts “Surface Computers” on the rise in visibility
  • Other key investments of Microsoft Research are validated with positive momentum ascribed to “Mobile Robots,” “Augmented Reality,” and “Green IT,” though only the last one is within 5 years of mature adoption
  • “Cloud Computing” is still on the rise, not having peaked in hype yet, though many would find that hard to believe – with its Time Magazine cover last year, it’s practically reached the point of being satired on The Daily Show
  • “Public Virtual Worlds” are right alongside “Web 2.0” in still heading down toward their disappointment trough
  • Furthest to the right – meaning most mature and enterprise-worthy – is the seemingly venerable “Basic Web Services.”

I really like these reports for a number of reasons – among other things, it looking at them together makes clear the social aspect of a number of more mature technologies (Tablet PC, Electronic Paper) which I favor, and which too often are recognized only for their technical aspects, not the socially enabling and disruptive benefits within and across organizations. 

The Gartner report also allows the blogosphere and twitterverse to step back from the moment-to-moment faddishness of the social software sector, and reflect upon the larger context of the individual technologies.  One measure of health: not a single technology earned the dubious distinction of “Obsolete Before Plateau,” a mark of shame which Gartner regularly applies to technologies that are getting hype but show no longterm promise.

Taken together, the social software space appears robust and very, very interesting.  Get a hold of the full report, it’s worth it.

Note: post updated 8/12/2008 to add references to a second Hype Cycle report on “Emerging Technologies”


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