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China Software Companies I

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I thought about this topic for a while; I decided to start it after seeing the recent hypes on E-future stock. E-future claims it is the first Chinese software company listed in the NASDAQ Capital Market. This is correct but it is a bit misleading. There are two markets in NASDAQ: National Market and Capital Market. Capital market is for small capital companies; and most Chinese companies such as Netease and Home Inns (Ru Jia) are listed in the National Market. The reason I mentioned this is there are at least two Chinese software companies in the NASDAQ right now: China.com (CDC Corp) and Ninetowns. You may say many Internet companies such as Baidu, Sina, Netease and Sohu are also developing software, why don’t I categorize them as software companies?

Well, in this discussion I define software companies as the companies that develop software and sell them to the end users (mainly enterprises), by licensing (Microsoft) or sell them as a service (Salesforce); and sometimes they derive majority of revenue from support and service (RedHat). In other words, as much as we like Google and Baidu, and their fantastic technology, they are not considered as enterprise software companies. In addition to companies that develop software (and have intellictual property), I will also discuss some software outsourcing companies in China. Because they also do enterprise software development or customization for companies like Microsoft or Oracle; and they provide consulting services for the end users sometime.

When I talk to people about enterprise software in China, the most frequent word I heard is “ERP”, or enterprise resourcing planning. It seems to many people that ERP is the only thing in enterprise software world. This is obviously not true. But on the other hand, I think it is also the first area computer (software) is used in the Chinese companies. UFSoft (Yong You), one of the largest software company in China, got started in Accounting and ERP software about 15 years ago. Interestingly, about 12 years ago I wrote a foxBase program to manage the cost accounting for my first employer in Shanghai. To be continued…

UFSoft

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Nothing to lose

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Google buying YouTube is a big news for the web 2.0 community. Its effect is felt more than that (I got two emails from friends regarding this :-). Interestingly, I recalled just a few weeks ago, Mark Cuban, the outspoken billionare investor (who made a fortune in the 90s dot com era), said “anyone who buys YouTube is a moron”. Now Google buys it. So according to his comments, and a little bit reasoning, Google is a xxx. Just kidding. When Cuban made this comment, he meant the potential lawsuit fallout because the copyrighted materials are all over the YouTube. And I believe there is some merits to his comments. But Google guys are not crazy either. As matter of fact, they have probablly the smartest people both in business and technology (and laws maybe). There are lots of analysis regarding why/how YouTube thrived amid all these competitions. Or how lucky they are ($1.65 billion payout). But I am not going there. I think they are genius, both with their technology and business model. But they would not accomplish without the “nothing to lose” attitude. Why would I say that?

About 6 months ago I found out YouTube from another web site. It’s a video titled Meat on a stick (lamb kebab, 羊肉串).

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Instant Message Scandal

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OK, I will take a break from the stock lesson today. I am going to talk about the TV media here. I bet president Bush doesn’t like what he sees on TV these days, not just daily casualties in Iraq and Afganistan, and the conspiracy theory of lower gas price. Being a president, the president can not be a winner on this gasoline price issue. When the price goes up, people complains; when the gas price goes down, people are suspicious why the price goes down exactly before this congress mid-term election. Of course the biggest headache for him and republican party, is this “Foley” scandal. Yes, it’s not Shanghai had the big scandal lately. These days when you turned on the TV (say, CNN, FOX, or NBC), you will hear and see the Florida congressman Floey’s scandal (criminal investigation is under way). The center of the matter, is Mr. Foley sent instant message to under aged boy who works for congress. So let’s call it “Instant Message Scandal”, or “IM Gate”?

Many people think the instant message does not have any record. And I think that’s one reason people say stupid thing in IM. Wrong. It turns out many IM providers keep copies of conversation on the server. Also the participants can save the conversations on the computer. More specifically, the Google talk (by default) stores the chat content in your Gmail account.

I remember Warren Buffett once said : when he was not sure about doing something in business, he will use the criteria “can this be put on the front page of local newspaper”. He certainly meant put be on the paper as a good story. Ironically, Mr. Foley’s story did show up in a lot newspaper’s front page, in a totally different tone.

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Make money using Google AdSense

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I am not going to explain how to make money using Google AdSense. Here I just put a real world example: a successful web enterprenur got a check from Google. Guess how big is the check: almost 1 million Canadian dollars. And here is the link. The nice thing about his web site is that he runs it by himself. So after he paid the web-hosting, and other service fees, he can put the money into his own pocket (after paying tax). Certainlly this is a very rare case. Also don’t think he built the web site and the business overnight, as a matter of fact, I believe he has done this for more than 3 years.

Not everybody can be as good or as lucky as him, but I think Google AdSense does provide a new revenue stream for many start-ups.   

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Douban mipang and hnlhousing

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Shortky after I wrote the web 2.0 article, I got comment from Andy and he mentioned his new site hnlhousing.com. I checked it out and it was cool. As I said when I first saw the housingmaps.com about a year ago, I thought it was a very useful tool. Basically it combines the listings on Craigslist with the Google map, and list the house/apartment by date or price. That’s the mashup. Interestingly after two maps, St. Louis was not on either of them. So I guess there is still some value to create one map for St. Louis.

Just kidding. The web 2.0 thing is really heating up, especially on the other side of the ocean, you know it’s China. I came across douban a while ago and I registered it lately. Douban is a web site which lets people review books, movies and music, and more importantly, it connects people with similar interest by “group” or “neighbours”. If you are curious, here is one article from do news which talked about its founder Yang Bo. But I think the real impressive thing is its clean user interface, unlike its big brother sina, sohu, netease, its web page is simple and easier to use. There are links for “buying books” or “compare prices” (I believe that’s where their revenue comes from), but it’s not annoying. Anyway, the web site claims 190,000 registered users as of lately, and is getting a lot attention from the news media and competitors (sina and mop).

I also checked out another web site called “mipang” (米胖)   which means “pop rice” in Chinese. It lets people share about their hometown or places they have been, by words or pictures. It’s at a much earlier stage than the douban 豆瓣, but I think it’s equally fascinating (if not more) because there is Chinese proverb “learn more travelling 1000 miles instead of readinging 10 thousands books”.

Here is an article from China Web 2.0 Riview.          

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Bill call quits

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Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the richest man on the world (12 years in a row), announced his semi-retirement from his Microsoft day to day operations job last week. As we know Bill Gates is the icon of technology industry in last 20+ years, I think his quits at this time is very interesting.

First I want to say I have great respect for Bill Gates. I know a lot people don’t like or even hate him for various reasons. But think about this: this is the man who pushed PC to the office and home, and the ways we work or entertain: Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP, Word, Excel, Power Point; Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, the Solitaire game and so on. He only took 6 days vacations from 1978 to 1984. Before that he quit from Havard Univ. and started the company when the other co-founder Paul Allen told him “you are going to quit, this thing (the PC revolution) is happening without us”. The rest is history.

Secondly, I think the time of his retirement is interesting. This is a difficult time for Microsoft, its stock MSFT has been stagnant for years and has been down sharply recently since the 2006 Q1 earning announcement. Besides the Vista delay, Xbox supply glitch, missed boat on “online music” (vs. iPod), the biggest problem is that it seems like they lost the “Web Search” and rapid-growth online adversing to Google. On the top of that, it appears as we enter into web 2.0 era, the Windows OS and Office suite seems more and more irrelevant. As people spend more time on Browser, for leisure or for work, it does not matter which OS, or browser they are using. Microsoft needs some fresh ideas in this new era. As much talented as Bill is, at age of 50 and a 30 years veteran in software industry, he may not be the best person for this change.

Finally, I think Bill deserve this retirement because he has done so much to the industry. Now he is going to use his experience and chrisma to help the world, I believe he will be successful and wish him do well.

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Undo

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I think “Undo” is one of the best features we have in many desktop applications. I am not going to get into details of individual applications, but I used quite a bit of “Undo” in Visual Studio editor, Word, and more recently “System restore” on my Windows XP box. There are two reasons we need “Undo”, first we as human beings make mistakes all the time; secondly the application or system also makes mistakes from time to time. Real world is not perfect. By the same token in softare development world we usually use version control, i.e., we check in working code to repository every day (or a few days) so that we can roll back if we find the latest (and the greatest code) is not working.

Unfortunately in the real life there are no magic “Undo” buttons. For instances, if we get angry at people we know (I know I have been treated unfairly), the recepients can remember the incident for a long time. Human beings are not computers, the bad memory on human mind (or heart) are not easy to erase. It’s not that human beings are not forgiving (I know I am very forgiving :-), but forgiving does not mean forgetting. On the other hand, I think we can get smart on things, because we are smart than computers. Now that we know there is no magic “Undo” button, let’s think about it before demage is being done.

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Google Web 2.0 and User Experience

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Google is making buzz again this week, with its spreadsheet. I don’t want to talk too much about it because they already got plenty of media coverage. What impressed me most is not the technology itself, but its marketing tactic. Google says it’s only open to limited beta testers, and here is the link . I think a lot of people signed up because of curiosity. This is very similar to its Gmail invitation only sign up. I still remember a while ago my friend called me and asked if I need a Gmail account, because at that time one person can only send 10 invitations (now it’s 100).

Gmail is certainlly very convenient. Its “group same topic mail together” feature works very well for group discussion. Note group is another good feature from Google. Sometimes when I got stuck with a problem, I searched it and found discussions closely related to my problem. Bingo. Another Google product I like is Google Map (now called Google Local), I used it for driving directions; and I could even see the tennis court in my community. There are lot of mashup of Google map, one famous example is housingmaps . This brings up a very hot topic these days: Web 2.0. According to wikipedia, web 2.0 generally refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and share information online. In contrast to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages.
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Wi-Fied finally

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I mean the wireless Internet for my laptop at home. My laptop does come with Intel (R) Pro/wireless Lan 2100 3B Mini PCI Adapter but it losts the connection with my D-link wireless router very frequently. Initially I thought it’s the problem with my Internet provider. But after I changed from DSL to cable for Internet, the problem persists. Finally I decided to invest some money, I ordered this D-link AirPlus DWL-G650 card Thursday night from buy.com; and I received it today (that was fast). After installation and restart, I am able to write this post on my lap while sitting on the couch. No more cables.

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Lost in translation

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I was looking for some information on “Multithread programming” lately and I happened to find the Chinese version of the book “Practical UNIX programming” by Kay A. Robbins and Steven Robbins. Since my friend brought it from China, it has been sitting on my desk. I was glad I could find some use finally.

But it did not work out. I found it’s difficult to read a translated technology book, because my computer knowledge is larged acquired in past 8.5 years in the States (through English), not to mention the loss of semantics when the book was translated from English to Chinese.

I am not trying to criticize the translation work done by my wonderful Chinese colleagues. I have done technical translation work from time to time, and found it’s always a challenging task if I want to make it real good. The thing is sometimes we just can not translate things from one language into another: no corresponding words, background information, etc.
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