Sunday, November 30, 2003

Setting up your own company takes no small amount of courage, not to mention a large dose of creativity, vision, and entrepreneurial spirit - particularly if you are planning to enter the fiercely competitive high-tech business. In his article on "how to build a robotics company", Thomas Burick, President of Whitebox Robotics, gives a fascinating account of how he was inspired to create the prototype of the 912 PC-Bot and enter the robotics market.

For Thomas, the key to taking this momentous step was finding a flexible standard platform that would help minimize development costs and enable high volume production. "We were searching long and hard to develop some kind of standard that people would quickly feel comfortable with," he recounts, but then came the 'Eureka' moment": "The elusive answer was under my nose the whole time. I own a small chain of computer stores in Pennsylvania. While working on a PC one afternoon, I innocently thought to myself 'why can't robots be as easy to build as a white box PC?' Just then a light bulb came on with the intensity of a nuclear bomb. From that moment on I was focused as a bullet."

Having worked on the development of a number of prototypes, his goal now is to "position the 912 as "the" industry standard mobile platform. By using standard off-the-shelf PC parts, it allows all of us to be on the same page. That standard propelled the PC industry 20 years ago, now it's our turn."

With a clear vision like that, who can doubt the Thomas will be successful!

Saturday, November 29, 2003

India Rising 

Having visited India quite a few times over the past couple of years, I can't say I've been too surprised to see the recent rash of articles that has appeared in the mainstream news and business media about the country's rapidly growing importance in the global economy. There are a lot of exciting developments going on there, particularly in the IT industry, many of them involving a lot more than setting up call centers and offering low cost IT services.

For a comprehensive analysis of what is happening in India and how this is impacting the US economy, you should check out the latest edition of Business Week. Its article on the Rise of India makes for some extremely interesting reading.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

In Search of Stupidity 

I have just finished reading "In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters", which was kindly given to a me as birthday present, and I'd heartily recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about the history of our glorious industry. Not only is the author, Rick Chapman, extremely funny in the way he recounts the numerous fiascos that have occured in this business over the past two decades, but, having worked for a number of software companies himself in a variety of high-level product marketing positions, he is also very knowledgeable about the industry and its inner workings.

It is this insider's view that enables him to balance the humorous asides with insightful analysis and to give some very convincing (not to mention scary) descriptions of how companies like Lotus and Novell so quickly lost a seemingly invincible leadership position as a result of a few bone-headed decisions by a clueless management.

My only complaint about the book is that Chapman is a lot less sure-footed when he covers the hardware side of the business than he is writing about software companies. Intel's notorious bunnymen were a mere twinkle in the company's eye when the infamous Pentium bug hit, and were not sprung on an unsuspecting world until the MMX version of the processor was launched.

That aside, this is a wonderfully entertaining book. For more information, please visit the In Search of Stupidity website, which is full of reviews, videos, cartoons, and a lot of other fun stuff.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Many Shapes of Tomorrow's PC 

ZDNet has posted a very interesting article from Business Week on "The Many Shapes of Tomorrow's PC". It predicts that "the PC as we know it may be on the cusp of an historic transformation", and goes on to outline the key trends that are driving this change.

One very important point it makes is that, as the x86 architecture proliferates, we are going to see the emergence of more specialized PC-like devices targeted at specialized tasks such as playing digital movies and music and handling communications over the Internet, and it goes on to predict that these devices will be "similar inside but look wildly different on the outside."

We are of course beginning to see this very trend taking shape with the plethora of different devices that are being developed using our VIA EPIA Mini-ITX mainboard. Sometimes I still find myself shaking my head in wonderment that something so small could be turning into something so big!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

If you're wondering whether our recent talk about PC-Bots emerging as a new market category is pure PR hype, I strongly recommend that you download the presentations and accompanying audio files from the Robotics panel we held at Piero's in Las Vegas last Tuesday, which have just been posted on the VIA website.

We had a very distinguished group of speakers on the panel, including Dan Kara from Robotics Trends, Paolo Pirjanian from Evolution Robotics, Fred Nikgohar from RoboDynamics, Cosma Pabouctsidis from RoboteQ, Scott Friedman from SEEGRID Corporation, and Thomas Burick from White Box Robotics , as well as our Robotics Program Manager Tim Brown. And they all delivered the same key message: robotics is no longer confined to the realms of science fiction - it is happening now!

One of the key reasons for this is that most - if not all - the enabling technologies required for building PC-Bots are now in place, including low power x86 processors such as our own VIA C3, wireless technologies like 802.11b, motion sensors, image processing, voice/speech recognition, and software tools and applications for functions like navigation. By bringing some these technologies together on a reliable, low power, and affordable platform such as the VIA EPIA Mini-ITX and adding in some industry standard components such as a web cam, then suddenly the cost barriers to innovation are lowered and wonderful things start to happen like the 912 from White Box Robotics, the IO PC Bot from Robodynamics, and the RoboteQ mobile robot that we had on display last week.

Naturally, we are still in the very early stages of the development of the PC-Bot market, but that's what makes it extremely exciting. There are no limits, as far as I can see, to the levels of innovation that can be achieved by combining a standard x86 platform with ingenuity and imagination.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The first day in the office after a long trip is always tough to deal with. There are so many things that can be communicated much more effectively face to face rather than through email, instant messaging or a phone conversation, and they tend to accumulate while you are away.

My major task over the next couple of weeks is to put together our marketing strategy for next year. This is no simple task these days given our ever-growing product portfolio and all the new businesses we are entering. Quite a few reporters and analysts I met during my trip commented that they were having trouble keeping up with all the developments in VIA. Simply put, we have to do a much better job of communicating what exactly we are doing and why exactly we are doing it. Easy to say, but not quite so easy to do...

LocustWorld have posted a short report and some nice photos of our event in Las Vegas last week. You can find it here.

Mini-ITX.com also has a gallery of pictures of the "robot petting zoo" here. More on the rise of the PC-Bots tomorrow....

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I'm still recovering from England's victory over Australia in the Rugby World Cup Final. The Aussies certainly made our boys work hard for it - and the tension was excruciating. By the time the match was finished, I was totally exhausted.

Two excellent reviews of sound cards from M-Audio and AudioTrak on Soundcardcentral and TechConnect. It's not often that our products pick up three awards in one weekend!

Slowly but surely I can feel the momentum growing behind our audio, and I'm confident that next year we'll be in a position to really start challenging Creative.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Got back to Taipei late last night. There used to be a time you could fly direct from SFO, but these days you have to go through Tokyo - adding an extra four or five hours to the schedule.

It's nice to be home, but I can only focus on one thing: the Rugby World Cup Final pitting England against Australia. It would be great to see England win a world championship for the first time in nearly forty years....

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Am returning to Taipei this morning, so I have a nice 17-hour flight (including all the connections) ahead of me. Can't say I'm exactly looking forward to it.

We've posted a few pictures of the Lunch@Piero's event on the VIA website at http://www.via.com.tw/en/events/pieros2003.jsp. There are a lot of very interesting devices, including the MediaREADY 4000 Series Internet/DVD Entertainment Platform from Video Without Boundaries and the children-friendly EyeQ system featuring a school bus chassis. In addition, there are a number of photos taken during the robotics seminar, including the new 912 PC-Bot from Whitebox Robotics.

The PC-Bots are also featured in an article on CNN and will be on one of CNN's shows this weekend. I for one will be watching out for it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Comdex Part 2 

This is a continuation of my earlier posting regarding our community networking session at Lunch@Piero's.

The technology behind Locustworld's mesh networking is quite amazing, enabling it to automatically adjust traffic loads across nodes without the need for intervention by an administrator. Security levels are also very high as a result of advanced data encryption protocols.

So what's the motivation behind Locustworld's strategy? According to Richard: "There's nobody that doesn't want broadband" (a sentiment I would wholeheartedly agree with!), and his goal is to bring broadband to places that wouldn't otherwise be able to have it. Already, customers have set up networks in villages in the UK, a university in Malaysia, and even Vivian, Louisiana, with a lot more projects in the pipeline.

There are a number of factors that have enabled Locustworld to move so far so quickly, including the availability of our EPIA Mini-ITX mainboard, open source software that is more robust than many commercially available packages and is also being constantly reviewed and improved by an army of volunteer testers, and a low cost business model that enables both Locustworld and its customers to make money. Last but not least, Richard ascribed the company's growing success to "a couple of guys with the willingness to work hard and break the rules."

It is this very combination of a powerful entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness to challenge conventional wisdom that is making many of our embedded customers successful and provides the best source of hope for the industry's future development.

Comdex Part 1 

Even if the crowds weren't as big as before at Comdex this year, I certainly had a very interesting day. The highlight was the Lunch@Piero's event we participated in during the morning. I was very excited by all the amazing new products our partners had on display there. From digital media centers and and mesh network routers to educational consoles and robots, there was just about everything - except for a conventional white box PC!

A common refrain I heard from our customers was that they were able to take a VIA EPIA Mini-ITX platform and combine it with industry standard components such as a web camera and create a unique product at almost zero cost. Never have the barriers to innovation been lower!

The community wireless networking seminar we held at the event proved to be absolutely fascinating - not to mention highly educational for me. Terry Schmidt, the founder of NYC Wireless, gave a highly entertaining account of how his non-profit organisation has been working to build a free wireless networking infrastructure in New York. NYC Wireless has set up quite a number of connections throughout the city in places such as Byrant Park, and Terry claimed that wherever you may be in Manhattan you are only five minutes away from a free connection. For more information, please visit www.nycwireless.net.

While Terry has been focusing his energies on building up a free wireless infrastructure in one of the largest cities in the world, Richard Landis of LocustWorld laid out even an even more sweeping vision in his presentation on wireless mesh networking. A company that has been in operation for less than two years, Locustworld is dedicated to creating a worldwide movement that will enable the implementation of vast wireless networks that are cheap to deploy, secure, and intelligent. In other words, as Richard so aptly described it, the holy grail of networking.

(More to follow in my next entry)

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Great to see that England beat France and is now in the Rugby World Cup Final. Can't wait to watch the game against Australia next weekend.

We have provided an EPIA CL Mini-ITX motherboard to the Linux Router Project. This looks like a very interesting potential application for the board, which comes with two integrated LAN ports. Please click here for the full details.

Slashdot is also hosting a lively discussion on Project GigaQube, which has the objective of "Transform(ing) a relatively useless Cobalt Qube into a small, quiet, and cool looking Unix server with gobs and gobs of storage." Naturally, this also uses a VIA EPIA Mini-ITX motherboard!

Saturday, November 15, 2003


I'm preparing to fly to Las Vegas tomorrow for Comdex, and while this year's show promises to be only a shadow of its former self, it seems that a lot of people from the industry will still be gathering there.

This year we will not be having a booth at the show, but will instead be showing a number of "Inspired by VIA" product innovations at a press-only Lunch@Piero's event on Monday and Tuesday, including digital media entertainment centers, mesh networking routers, and PC-Bots. In addition, we'll also be hosting seminars and panel discussions on WiFi: Community Networks and Security on Monday and Robots: The New PC Convergence on Tuesday.

Wireless mesh networking is a subject I have covered in a previous blog entry and one that excites me greatly, because of the potential it has to provide remote communities with high bandwidth Internet access. In addition to examining the technical and commercial feasibility of community networking, the session will also look at some of the key challenges faced in building next generation networks, such as security.

As for robotics, this is becoming a hot topic with even the the United Nations Economic Commission predicting a ten-fold growth in the Personal and Service Robotics sector over the next few years, and we will be looking at how to translate this potential into commercial reality. We'll also be showing a number of very interesting PC-Bots designs based on our VIA EPIA Mini-ITX Mainboard from companies entering the robotics market. So please watch out for more details early next week.

For more information about our activities in Las Vegas, you can also visit the VIA website at: http://www.via.com.tw/en/events/pieros2003.jsp

Friday, November 14, 2003

VOIP Telephony 

Good to be back on the slightly warmer and less windy West Coast. The ascent out of Washington Dulles last night was extremely bumpy as a result of the heavy winds - not an experience I'd like to repeat!

I had a very interesting time yesterday with the people from Nimble. The most impressive demo I saw was when they made a Voice Over IP telephone call to California on the Nimble V5 using an application called SymPhone made by a company called Telesym. The beauty of this software is that it enables you to make a VOIP call to ANY cell phone or land line number in the US or overseas (if you are calling from the US) - rather than only being able to hook up with other people running the same application on their computer, as is the case with many other similar VOIP programs.

The sound quality of the call was absolutely wonderful, certainly as good as what you would get from a land line and better than many US cellular connections. This was to a large degree helped by the echo-free audio system on the Nimble V5, which also enables you to make calls without having to wear a headset - thereby overcoming yet another limitation of VOIP telephony on PCs, which generally don't have the right audio features to do this.

I still feel I am quite a novice when it comes to the world of VOIP telephony, but after yesterday's eye-opener I'm certainly beginning to wake up to its possibilities!

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Nimble V5 

I'm in Washington today, the first time I've visited the US capital, but unfortunately I don't have any time to visit the major sights because I'm busy with a customer promoting their Nimble V5 system.

A full-featured small form factor PC with a full duplex echo-free speaker that makes it ideal for video conferencing, the Nimble V5 is one of the most innovative products that has been developed using our VIA Eden platform. However, perhaps because of its very uniqueness, it is proving quite a challenge to communicate the product's benefits to an audience that has been "educated" for so many years as to what a PC should like like.

The first major communications challenge is presented by the product's size. Measuring just 5.2cm x 19.5cm x 19.5cm, the Nimble V5 is extremely small compared to a PC or even one of the new small form factor boxes such as those from Shuttle. As a result, the first question many people ask when they see the device is: "does it run Windows XP?" And even when you say it does, you have to demo the machine to them before they really believe you.

The second major challenge is explaining how the system has been optimized for video conferencing and Voice Over IP technology with its full duplex speaker that has been built into the front of the chassis to deliver great echo free sound and easy to use controls. Again, seeing (or in this case listening) is believing!

Last but not least, what should we call the device? As I mentioned above, The Nimble V5 is a PC so we don't want to confuse people by removing any mention of that. But it's also a communications device. Perhaps Nimble have got it right by calling it a Personal Communicator + Computer - or PC2 for short. I for one can't think of anything better than that.

Here's hoping that one day I'll be able to match the engineering innovation with my own marketing innovation. In the meantime, any ideas you may have would be warmly welcomed.

Seasonal or Fundamental 

I had fun at the Gartner techinvestor summit yesterday, and met a lot of interesting people. I had to spend a lot of time answering the same old question, though: is the current strong demand seasonal or fundamental? My own opinion is that we are just at the start of a resurgence in the high-tech market rather than in a mere seasonal blip, but this is based as much on intuition as it is on raw data. It won't be until the first half of next year until I know whether I'm right or not.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Gartner Tech Investor Summit 

Arrived in New York yesterday evening, and will be presenting today at the Gartner techinvestor summit. This is the first time the event has been held, and I am greatly looking forward to it. It'll be interesting to see what kind of mood investors are in as well. Wall Street really hasn't made up its mind on the future outlook for the tech industry.

Monday, November 10, 2003


While I was on the road last week, a colleague sent me a link to this article on the BBC about the forthcoming UN world summit on the information society, to be held in Geneva from 10 - 12 December.

The piece neatly summarizes some of the challenges faced in bridging the so-called digital divide between developed and emerging countries. As I suppose should be expected, however, money - not technology - is at the heart of the problem, with many emerging countries asking for the creation of a digital solidarity fund to cover the cost of their programs and developed countries favoring private investment and the redirection of current aid.

While additional funding may be appropriate in certain circumstances, I've heard far too many horror stories of grandiose IT aid projects that have failed to believe that sinking large sums of money into this area will help solve the problem. Opportunities for potential abuse and waste are too great in even the most well-intentioned projects, and the failure to take into local conditions can result in such absurdities as the installation of computers in schools without electricity!

A more approach would be to focus on small-scale projects that can be implemented quickly and cheaply, and most important of all deliver tangible benefits to the target community, such as enabling video classrooms with teachers in cities or real-time doctor consultations. Once experience has been gained, then the projects can be scaled out to meet the needs of even more people.

My hope is that the delegates at the WSIS will focus more on these type of issues rather than on empty rhetoric and political grandstanding. It is going to be very interesting to see what happens at this conference.
Time to get back to some serious posting on this blog. I've been suffering from a creative block over the past couple of weeks, induced perhaps by the impending approach of middle age. Anyway, I reached the big "four-oh" yesterday, so now I can put all that angst behind me and start finding out whether it's true that life begins at forty!

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