NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2008
The New, The Best, and The Worst - November 2007
Collected by Pim Borman, Webmaster, SW Indiana PC Users Group, Inc
Swipcug(at)gmail.com (click to email author)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

Disruptive Open Source Programs.
The prestigious British weekly news magazine, The Economist, carries a 14-page special report on Innovation in its October 13th, 2007 issue. As you might expect it is about innovation in entrepreneurship, not the kind associated with the name Edison and symbolized by a light bulb. Besides, Edison did not invent light bulbs but only improved them to make them practical and marketable.

Of the different kinds of entrepreneurial innovation the articles discuss, a particular one caught my attention. Referring to Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma - When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, The Economist writes: "... even successful firms can get into trouble by trying to please their best customers. Because there may be only a handful of highly profitable, high-end buyers who want and can afford more features and better performance, firms can invest heavily in trying to deliver what this elite group wants, even though the resulting products may end up being beyond the reach of the majority of customers." That opens the door to producers of "inferior" but perfectly adequate, lower priced products to compete successfully and to dele­gate the incumbents to market niches. Christensen calls this "disruptive" innovation, as opposed to innovation due to product improvements or novel marketing techniques. As examples he mentions how personal computers took over most of the tasks of IBM's mainframes and Digital Equipment's mini-computers and how Nucor's highly efficient mini-mills outdid US Steel's blast furnaces.

Another such disruptive innovation that comes to mind is the development of Open Source software in competition with expensive, overly elaborate programs currently in use by the majority of computers in the Western world. Most users of MS Word never use, or even know or care about, its many arcane features and could save themselves a lot of money by using the free OpenOffice.org's Writer that has most of the same features. Even simpler, but perfectly adequate text processors are available for free, such as Abiword. The OpenOffice suite also includes perfectly adequate offsets for most users of MS Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentation manager, Database, and Drawing programs. Recently IBM announced that it would open up its Corel Office suite, and in particular the powerful Lotus spreadsheet program, to the Open Source community and participate in Open Source program developments.

Firefox already has taken over a large corner of Microsoft Internet Explorer's browser market, based on its simplicity, ease-of-use, and the perception that it is less susceptible to virus attacks. The Thunderbird email program is giving MS Outlook Express a run for its money with easy plug-in access to spell checkers in multiple languages and the expectation of greater safety in everyday use.

Most of the powerful image manipulation features provided by the expensive Adobe Photoshop program are available for free in The Gimp, another Open Source program free for the downloading. Many free programs are available to convert documents back and forth to PDF format, long the carefully preserved domain of the expensive Adobe Acrobat program. There are long lists of other Open Source programs capable of performing just about any function required by users, including an excellent simple checkbook and bookkeeping program, GNUCash and a good genealogy program, GRAMPS. Interestingly, almost all Open Source programs run just as well in Linux, without the need to invest in the performance-hogging, malware-susceptible, expensive MS Windows operating systems, Vista in particular.

Open Source programs, including the Linux operating system, are making only slow inroads in the Western world, especially the USA, due to the overwhelmingly strong marketing legacy exerted by Microsoft. The rest of the world, in which the USA seems to occupy an ever-diminishing niche, is less overwhelmed by Microsoft and mostly can't afford its expensive, excessively complex products. Open Source programs are widely used in Asian countries like India and China, and stand to gain further in features and reliability due to inputs from highly capable local programmers. Those countries are only now entering the computer age with literally billions of potential computer users about to acquire their own systems. There is no question what software those new computers will use. Meanwhile, in the Western world Open Source programs have found early adaptors amongst government offices at several levels with limited financial resources for software, that have growing needs for use in computers that are already available at low cost.

It may take some time, but the advance of Open Source software is unstoppable because it makes perfect sense. Smart major computer companies, such as IBM and Sun Microsystems, recognize this and have decided to switch, rather than fight. Microsoft, mostly dependent on software sales, may well end up being disrupted like the lamplighters of long ago. Tux, the Linux mascot, might paraphrase the Borg, the StarTrek cyborgs that "assimilated" whole planet populations: "You WILL Be Disrupted... Resistance is Futile." (Thanks to Louis Ritz for The Economist)

Thermal Color Printing
Thermal printers, still used in cash registers, have been around for about 50 years. They print in black-and-white on special paper using rows of heaters to activate the ink. They are sturdy, small and inexpensive since the only moving parts are there to advance the paper.

Scientists at Zink Imaging have developed heat-activated inks in the three complementary colors, cyan, magenta, and yellow, needed to generate full-color images. The dyes used are expected to be stable over time and are still being improved. A hand-held printer will be available by year-end. 2x3 inch sheets of paper will sell for about $2.00 per 10-pack.

Expensive still, but a promising development. Over time the prices are certain to come down (Chem.&Eng. News, 9/10/2007)

© 2007 Willem F.H. Borman. This article may be reproduced in its entirety only, including this statement, by non-profit organizations in their member publications, with mention of the author's name and the Southwestern Indiana PC Users Group, Inc.

This article has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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