Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Digitization vs Softwarization

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Based on late evening conversations with Aneesh Dubey.


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When enterprises talk about taking advantage of software, they often mean digitization and not softwarization.

Digitization is making the existing process digital. One gets some of the benefit of software - speed and agility but the underlying process is still the same.

Softwarization is coming up with an entirely new process enabled by software.

It is useful to look at a business process as an operating system. The capital resources are the substrate over which this BusinessOS runs. Both employees and customers are the users.

Digitization in this case is merely getting a faster processor.

Softwarization is getting a completely new algorithmic core.

Things that remain computationally complex with mere digitization become tractable and scalable with softwarization.

Google Maps and Amazon don't just digitize traditional businesses (map making and retail respectively). They softwarize it. It is not possible to do Google Maps or Amazon with pen and paper, even at a slower speed. It is possible to do corporate payroll with pen and paper at a slower pace.

Even when a corporation or a department therein is failing, it doesn't consider software as an exit strategy. They try to scale down the existing process with layoffs and cost cuts.

The industrial ethos, peaking with the Toyota way was 'Process over People'. The Silicon Valley hacker ethos is 'People over Process'. This is privileging skill over volume. Leveraging softwarization iteratively results in exponentially increasing surplus refinement which gives volume often for free. This is why Facebook has more revenue per employee than most businesses.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Temples of the Modern World

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India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru called dams the 'temples of modern India'. India had just gained independence from the British and the government was heavily focused on building infrastructure for this young country. But Nehru's statement was more of a hope and a vision than a statement of fact because dams (or anything else) never really became the temples of modern India. (Temples remain the temples of modern India.)

Modern USA, on the other hands has many such temples dedicated to the gods of science and technology. Last weekend, I visited Chicago with family. Traveling the US with my mother is a unique experience because I get to see this country with truly foreign eyes. As my mother marveled at the unthinkably tall skyscrapers of the city, I mused at how religious the entire experience of visiting a tourist city is, even for Americans.

Consider the similarities. Temples are often imposing structures, build to intimidate the visitor. People flock to temples in hordes, often traveling long distances and spending a significant amount of time and resources to visit them. They later revel in the memories of the visit and urge others to visit. Temples are created to evoke a sense of awe in the devout. But most importantly, temples are places that help you make sense of the world outside.

This is exactly what Chicago's - or any other big American city's, for that matter - tourist industry is set up to do. As tourists shuffles from on attraction to another, they are bombarded with imagery and statistics intended to evoke a sense of awe - look at how tall this building is, how incredible the forces that are holding it up against gravity! Look at all these marvels of science and technology, see these many wonders that the natural world has to offer! In the end, they come away better equipped to make sense of this world fueled with science and technology.

Sarah Perry in her excellent essay over at Ribbonfarm talks about two distinct kind of American tourist attractions - Theme Parks and Amusement Parks. Spaces such as Chicago downtown look like Theme Parks in many respects. However, as Perry points out, Theme Parks make no claims of authenticity. However, Chicago downtown does. Temples are theme parks that claim to be authentic, real explanations of what is out there.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Gall's Law

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Venkatesh Rao thinks that Gall's Law is much too optimistic
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system. 
Gall’s Law is in fact much too optimistic. It is not just non-working complex systems designed from scratch that cannot be patched up. Even naturally evolved complex systems that used to work, but have now stopped working, generally cannot be patched into working order again.
I agree. This is why reforming old, sluggish organizations is a fool's errand. It is much more beneficial to fork existing organizations and take them into completely new directions or rewrite from scratch. 

Exit, Voice and Loyalty

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In any social group, members have two strategies to show dissent - Exit and Voice. They can either voice their dissent and hope for change, or they can give up and exit to a more favorable group. However, Loyalty might prevent people from showing dissent in either one of these ways. Loyal members neither voice dissent (or don't voice it strongly enough) nor leave.

But social logic is usually associative logic. Loyalty usually gets defined as not showing dissent. Anyone who exits or voices dissent is branded disloyal. Instead of Loyalty being present as an a priory notion, the idea of loyalty (or patriotism or being a team-player) is created and nurtured  to curb dissent.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Windows 10 Start Menu Review

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This review was written for Windows 10 Home Insider Preview Build 10162.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has reintroduced the start menu to its flagship operating system. This is a welcome change and I'm excited to get rid of the terrible Windows 8 start screen.

The Start Menu now looks like the Windows 7 and the Windows 8 Start Menus had a baby.

The Windows 10 Start Menu

One the left hand side, we have the familiar frequently used apps from Windows 7. But on the right hand side we have the Windows 8 style app launchers with live tiles. This marriage is somewhat useful. It was hand to be able to press the Windows key and be able to see the weather. But, I suspect, some people might continue to be confused by this setup. How exactly does one distinguish the Windows Universal apps from the traditional desktop apps?

The Start Menu has transparency, just like the rest of the Taskbar theme. There is a blur effect added to the background which improves readability. It can be resized both vertically and horizontally. Horizontal resizing happens in steps, which creates better harmony with the Windows Universal apps launchers.

The new Start Menu can be resized both horizontally and vertically.

Like Windows 7, some of the frequently used items have menus. In Windows 7 these would show the frequently used file or subcategories for that app or shortcut. In Windows 10, these show the jumplists for the corresponding apps. I actually like this change for the visual consistency that it brings. Jumplists can be configured by the app itself and should be canon.

Child menus for items in Start Menu show the jump list for that item.

The Taskbar jump lists are the same as Start Menu jump lists.

The right click menus have also been expanded. App items now show an 'uninstall' action.

Right click menus in Start have been expanded to include additional options such as 'Uninstall'.
The right click menu on the Start button itself is vastly expanded, giving access to several settings items and shortcuts to Task Manager, Search and Run among others.

Right click on the Start button is also vastly expanded.

One of the most important tasks of the Start Menu in Windows 7 was search. Search in Windows 7 was not bad but it was somewhat lacking. Often, it would not be able to find files on my desktop unless I typed in the exact file name. On other desktop and mobile operating systems, the game has been upped significantly by the likes of Siri, Google Now and Spotlight on OSX. 

Microsofts answer to this is Cortana. Cortana has been neatly integrated into the Start Menu. The search box has been made more prominent by moving it from Start to the Taskbar itself. However, it can still be activated by tapping the Windows key and typing, just like Windows 7. Triggering search hides the Start Menu and presents the dedicated Cortana UI. 

Search, along with Cortana gets its own dedicated UI.

Cortana is probably a topic of a separate review. Here I will just look at the desktop search features.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that search can now has has various built in utilities such as calculator, unit conversion, time and weather. This is no doubt powered by the Cortana engine.

Unit conversion in search.

Search time around the world.

Look at weather.

Make calculations.
Search overall feels terrific. It lists both files on your desktop and searches within apps. (For example, any available apps within the Windows Store.) Web searches are also integrated and links open in your browser. Search is fast and responsive. Of course, as with all tools of this nature there are privacy concerns. There doesn't seem to be a good way to turn online search off. However, you can manage and delete the data Cortana collects about you in your Microsoft account.