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In the Android space this week came word of HTC stopping its slide, VW shows its car system, and Microsoft Office is getting closer.
The document storage company operates more than 1,000 sites around the word, and has 'ample roof space' for solar energy generation.
Two companies I've been watching in the LED technology space have come out with new products this week: one, a street lamp for roadway and outdoor area lighting, like you would see in your local community. The second is a prototype of a bulb intended to act as a replacement for the 60-watt incandescent products that we all think of when someone says the word, "lightbulb.
That's the word from James Hansen, NASA scientist and head of the Goddard Institue of Space Studies. He says current policies are not working and that the U.
There has been for some while “heated debates” amongst fellow blogospherians (probably not a word, don’t comment and bitch about it please) about all these cloud services we’re hearing about. First we had Windows Live SkyDrive which now offers 5GB of storage space, and rumours of GDrive keep hitting the news.
Word Space Lite (Multi-User) is the flash card game that helps children practice reading and spelling words. This is a great app for...
Dan Farber was one of the first to cover the Giant Global Graph, here on ZDNet. A few days on, though, there's value in taking a look at how these ideas are being discussed across the blogosphere.The GGG, or Giant Global Graph. It sounds like something with which you might terrify a child at bed time, but this is no Gruffalo, no Jabberwock, no Smaug. Rather it's father-of-the-web Tim Berners-Lee's label for his latest attempt to express the power of the Semantic Web's core technologies in ways that will resonate beyond the established SemWeb literati. In the post he writes; “So, if only we could express these relationships, such as my social graph, in a way that is above the level of documents, then we would get re-use. That's just what the graph does for us. We have the technology -- it is Semantic Web technology, starting with RDF OWL and SPARQL. Not magic bullets, but the tools which allow us to break free of the document layer. If a social network site uses a common format for expressing that I know Dan Brickley, then any other site or program (when access is allowed) can use that information to give me a better service. Un-manacled to specific documents”As we might expect when someone like Berners-Lee posts, his thoughts sparked the usual flurry of interest, picked up by The Guardian, Read/Write Web, ZD Net, Nova Spivack, GigaOM, Nick Carr, and a host of other bloggers. The compulsory Wikipedia stub is already in place, and anticipating (at the time of writing) that “it may become a common expression.”So what is this Giant Global Graph, how's it related to the Semantic Web, and what does it all mean?In his post, Tim clarifies the distinction between the Net(work of computers) and the (World Wide) Web offered up over that network; “So the Net and the Web may both be shaped as something mathematicians call a Graph, but they are at different levels. The Net links computers, the Web links documents. Now, people are making another mental move. There is realization now, 'It's not the documents, it is the things they are about which are important'. Obvious, really.”He then goes to the next level, to connect the statements in that web of documents to form a graph; “We are all interested in friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. There is a lot of blogging about the strain, and total frustration that, while you have a set of friends, the Web is providing you with separate documents about your friends. One in facebook, one on linkedin, one in livejournal, one on advogato, and so on. The frustration that, when you join a photo site or a movie site or a travel site, you name it, you have to tell it who your friends are all over again. The separate Web sites, separate documents, are in fact about the same thing -- but the system doesn't know it. There are cries from the heart (e.g The Open Social Web Bill of Rights) for my friendship, that relationship to another person, to transcend documents and sites. There is a ”Social Network Portability“ community. Its not the Social Network Sites that are interesting -- it is the Social Network itself. The Social Graph. The way I am connected, not the way my Web pages are connected. We can use the word Graph, now, to distinguish from Web. I called this graph the Semantic Web, but maybe it should have been Giant Global Graph!”Tim concludes; “In the long term vision, thinking in terms of the graph rather than the web is critical to us making best use of the mobile web, the zoo of wildy differing devices which will give us access to the system. Then, when I book a flight it is the flight that interests me. Not the flight page on the travel site, or the flight page on the airline site, but the URI (issued by the airlines) of the flight itself. That's what I will bookmark. And whichever device I use to look up the bookmark, phone or office wall, it will access a situation-appropriate view of an integration of everything I know about that flight from different sources. The task of booking and taking the flight will involve many interactions. And all throughout them, that task and the flight will be primary things in my awareness, the websites involved will be secondary things, and the network and the devices tertiary. I'll be thinking in the graph. My flights. My friends. Things in my life. My breakfast. What was that? Oh, yogourt, granola, nuts, and fresh fruit, since you ask.”So not, then, anything radically new. This is the long-held promise of the Semantic Web, but it is valuable to see that promise rearticulated in something akin to the language of the social network. Those involved in the Semantic Web probably 'knew' all of this at some level, but had perhaps become too caught up in the mechanics and the model, too distant from the point. This is why the Semantic Web matters; the graphing of relationships between resources on the open Web. Not ontology wars. Not RDF-is-better-than-microformats. Not demonstrations of concept in the laboratory and behind the firewall. Not the creation of a shadow web. This. So thank you, Tim, for reminding us. That said, might Nova's 'semantic graph' not be a better label for this important restating of the point than the rather obtuse GGG? 'Giant' and 'Global' set too many alarm bells ringing for me, and hint way too much about all-encompassing-ness and top-down-ness... even if that's (probably) not what Berners-Lee intends. We got waylaid by misconceptions of ontologies as all-encompassing and all-pervasive. Rubbing everyone's noses in 'Giant' and 'Global' just sets us up for yet another round of that particular debate, and I for one have better things to do...Let's turn to look at some of the commentary that Berners-Lee's post received. Journalist and author Nick Carr, for example, remarks; “Sir Tim suggests that the Semantic Web (recently dubbed 'Web 3.0') was really the Social Graph all along, and that the graph represents the third great conceptual leap for the network - from net to web to graph”and concludes; “But while it's true that technologists and theoreticians desire to abstract the graph from the sites - and see only the benefits of doing so - it's not yet clear that that's what ordinary users want or even care about. That'll be the real test to whether the graph makes the leap from mathematician to mainstream - and it will also tell us whether a social network like Facebook has a chance to become a true platform or is fated to remain a mere site.”Nick's concluding point is certainly well made, but probably in the early mobile phone camp (who knew they wanted one?) rather than presenting any insurmountable unwillingness to adopt and adapt. The onus is clearly on us to move beyond the talk, and to demonstrate compelling and desirable benefits to being in (on?) the Graph. Tim O'Reilly's damning criticism of Open Social offers a lesson that we would do well to learn; “If all OpenSocial does is allow developers to port their applications more easily from one social network to another, that's a big win for the developer, as they get to shop their application to users of every participating social network. But it provides little incremental value to the user, the real target. We don't want to have the same application on multiple social networks. We want applications that can use data from multiple social networks.” “Set the data free! Allow social data mashups. That's what will be the trump card in building the winning social networking platform.”Surely we can all agree with those sentiments?The scepticism is in evidence elsewhere, perhaps most noticeably when Pete Cashmore writes; “Much like 'Web 2.0', 'ajax', 'crowdsourcing', the 'wisdom of crowds', 'UGC' (user generated content) and other catchy terms before them, the social graph looks set to become a bullet point on every web startup’s VC pitch in 2008. The blessings this week from Tim Berners-Lee make that inevitable. Let’s leave aside the fact that the 'graph' isn’t a graph in the sense that most people think of it (most would describe it as a 'network') or that the phrase 'social network' could already serve this purpose: there’s a sense that we need a new word for the concept now that these networks are becoming portable, and the term can ride a wave of Facebook hype to become the de facto nomenclature for this latest piece of the portable identity puzzle. Beyond that, the Webfather’s latest blog post gives us a meandering introduction to the social graph’s role in the development of the web. For the record, I’m not bothered by the phrase: it’s nice to have new labels for specific parts of the solution. I am, however, adopting a new lexicon for my day-to-day life in keeping with the trend: making a landline phone call will now be 'unSkyping', Post-It notes will henceforth be called 'retro-Twitters', going outside will now be 'outdoorsing', a paperback book will be known as a 'Kindle Alpha' and Wednesdays will be Day 3.0. No need to remember any of these, of course: I’ll rename them all next month.”Recent podcast subject Yihong Ding offers a thoughtful consideration of Tim's post, opening with; “Sir Tim Berners-Lee blogged again. This time he invented another new term---Giant Global Graph. Sir Tim uses GGG to describe [the] Internet in a new abstraction layer that is different from either the Net layer abstraction or the Web layer abstraction. Quite a few technique blogs immediately reported this news in this Thanksgiving weekend. I am afraid, however, that few of them really told readers the deeper meaning of this new GGG. To me, this is a signal from the father of World Wide Web: the Web (or the information on [the] Internet) has started to be reorganized from the traditional publisher-oriented structure to the new viewer-oriented structure”and continuing, “Both Brad Fitzpatrick and Alex Iskold presented the same observation: every individual web user expects to have an organized social graph of web information in which they are interested. Independently, I had another presentation but about the same meaning. The term I had used was web space. Due to current status of web evolution, web users are going to look for integrating their explored web information of interest into a personal cyberspace---web space. Inside each web space, information is organized as a social graph based on the perspective of the owner of the web space. This is thus the connection between the web spaces under my interpretation and the social graphs under the interpretation of Brad and Alex. Note that this web-space interpretation reveals another implicit but important aspect: the major role of an web-space owner is a web viewer instead of a web publisher”before concluding that; “The emergence of this new Graph abstraction of Internet tells that the Web (or information on Internet) is now evolving from a publisher-oriented structure to a viewer-oriented structure. At the Web layer, every web page shows an information organization based on the view of its publishers. Web viewers generally have no control on how web information should be organized. So the Web layer is upon a publisher-oriented structure. At the new proposed Graph layer, every social graph shows an information organization based on the view of graph owners, who are primarily the web viewers. In general, web publishers have little impact on how these social graphs should be composed. 'It's not the documents, it is the things they are about which are important.' Who are going to answer what are 'the things they are about'? It is the viewers instead of the publishers who will answer. This is why information organization at the Graph layer becomes viewer-oriented. The composition of all viewer-oriented social graphs becomes a giant graph at the global scale that is equivalent to the World Wide Web (but based on a varied view); this giant composition is thus the Giant Global Graph (GGG).”Writing for GigaOM, Anne Zelenka worries that the GGG is not best-suited to the modelling of inter-personal relationships; “But the Giant Global Graph itself is like Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant character Raymond Babbitt in the 1988 movie Rain Man. Raymond knew all about plane trips but couldn’t make sense of human relationships.” “...though Berners-Lee borrows social graph talk, he’s not really concerned with human relationships, but more about things that computers can understand, things like plane trips” “The semantic web has always been about computers taking on more processing for us, not about computers allowing us to be more human, which is where the social graph might more naturally aim. Semantic web fans would like to suggest otherwise. Nova Spivack, founder of semantic web startup Radar Networks, as well wants to make everything into a semantic graph story. 'The social graph is a subset of the semantic graph,' he told me.”Whilst Tim's examples might support Anne's point, I'm unconvinced. The semantic technologies behind the GGG are all about expressing relationships between things, and those relationships might as easily be human or social as a manifestation of the airline timetable. Those social relationships, though, are about far more than the zombification of your 'friends' on Facebook. Rather, we can reach through to the implicit and explicit pattern of relationships between professional peers, students in a class, or citations of an author. We can map the shape of those relationships, and we can leverage existing capabilities to expose them back to participants in the relationship in order to allow them to see it, understand it, and use it in new and beneficial ways.Richard MacManus also covers the story for Read/Write Web, concluding; “I'm very pleased Tim Berners-Lee has appropriated the concept of the Social Graph and married it to his own vision of the Semantic Web. What Berners-Lee wrote today goes way beyond Facebook, OpenSocial, or social networking in general. It is about how we interact with data on the Web (whether it be mobile or PC or a device like the Amazon Kindle) and the connections that we can take advantage of using the network. This is also why Semantic Apps are so interesting right now, as they take data connection to the next level on the Web. Overall, unlike Nick Carr, I'm not concerned whether mainstream people accept the term 'Graph' or 'Social Graph'. It really doesn't matter, so long as the web apps that people use enable them to participate in this 'next level' of the Web. That's what Google, Facebook, and a lot of other companies are trying to achieve.”I'm not sure that Nick's concern was with acceptance of the term, so much as acceptance of the concept that their data become (potentially) more portable than they understand or wish. And Google, Facebook and the rest have a very long way to go in achieving (or even, in some cases, recognising) an open and actionable graph. “Incidentally, it's great to see Tim Berners-Lee 're-using' concepts like the Social Graph, or simply taking inspiration from them. He never really took to the Web 2.0 concept, perhaps because it became too hyped and commercialized, but the fact is that the Consumer Web has given us many innovations over the past few years. Everything from Google to YouTube to MySpace to Facebook. So even though Sir Tim has always been about graphs (as he noted in his post, the Graph is essentially the same as the Semantic Web), it's fantastic he is reaching out to the 'web 2.0' community and citing people like Brad Fitzpatrick and Alex Iskold.”On the Web 3.0 blog, we learn that; “We sometimes forget the real use of data - that of providing value to humanity in various forms, and providing true functionality as the humans need it. Connections are good, but functionality is paramount. The fact that a company can store ticket information on the web is not sufficient, but the user being able to buy it is significant. A company storing data is not sufficient, it being able to sieve out information from it, transforming it into knowledge, and converting to action is paramount. Someone along this, functionality becomes the significant aspect. URLs are becoming more potent with XML wrappers (RDF/OWL/SPARQL) around it. The new generation of applications will be playing on these enhancers to achieve seamlessness that we have sorely been lacking in the last 25 years. The WebTop is becoming more significant than the desktop. Browsers that were a mere window to the world may become a real wide entrance to the world itself. In a very short time, local resources on a computer may have no significance in how users achieve functionality.”Nova Spivack also offers a long and considered response, picking up on some of Anne's concerns; “But if the GGG emerges it may or may not be semantic. For example social networks are NOT semantic today, even though they contain various kinds of links between people and other things. So what makes a graph 'semantic?' How is the semantic graph different from social networks like Facebook for example?”He continues, “A semantic graph is far more reusable than a non-semantic graph -- it's a graph that carries its own meaning. The semantic graph is not merely a graph with links to more kinds of things than the social graph. It's a graph of interconnected things that is machine-understandable -- it's meaning or 'semantics' is explicitly represented on the Web, just like its data. This is the real way to make social networks open. Merely opening up their API's is just the first step”and concludes with; “The Giant Global Graph may or may not be a semantic graph. That depends on whether it is implemented with, or at least connected to, W3C standards for the Semantic Web. I believe that because the Semantic Web makes data-integration easier, it will ultimately be widely adopted. Simply put, applications that wish to access or integrate data in the Age of the Web can more easily do so using RDF and OWL. That alone is reason enough to use these standards. Of course there are many other benefits as well, such as the ability to do more sophisticated reasoning across the data, but that is less important. Simply making data more accessible, connectable, and reusable across applications would be a huge benefit.”So where does all of that leave us?Well, I don't think we saw something new created last week. What we saw was a restating of some principles at the heart of the Semantic Web, a recognition that the social graph so frequently mentioned in relation to the big Social Networking sites shares many of those principles. Finally, we saw the beginning of an informed discussion that might - finally - see the fruits of many years of Semantic Web research and development surfaced in language that can be used in conversation with the pragmatists building the mainstream Web of today, aligned to technologies and techniques fitting for that Web, rather than simply making the gloomy shadows a bit more pronounced.Which brings us, with all due respect to Julia Donaldson, right back to the Gruffalo! :-) “'A gruffalo? What's a gruffalo?' 'A gruffalo! Why, didn't you know? He has terrible triples, and terrible graphs, and terrible OWL in his terrible ontologies.'”Hmm. Maybe not. Read the original anyway, it's good...Content adapted from a post to Nodalities.
As Danny highlights in the latest instalment of This Week's Semantic Web, Marc Andreessen has once more demonstrated that he's not content with co-authoring Mosaic, sneaking around in the 24 Hour Laundry and driving social networking Ning-style. Far from it, as he continues his recent practice of blogging thoughtfully on issues facing the industry of which we - and he - are part. Yesterday's post, The three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet, touched on a number of issues that we've addressed here on Nodalities before, and it is well worth both reading and thinking about.As Marc suggests in his introduction; “One of the hottest of hot topics these days is the topic of Internet platforms, or platforms on the Internet. Web services APIs (application programming interfaces), web services protocols like REST and SOAP, the new Facebook platform, Amazon's web services efforts including EC2 and S3, lots of new startups talking platform (including my own company, Ning)... well, 'platform' is turning into a central theme of our industry and one that a lot of people want to think about and talk about. However, the concept of 'platform' is also the focus of a swirling vortex of confusion -- lots of platform-related concepts, many of them highly technical, bleeding together; lots of people harboring various incompatible mental images of what's about to happen in our industry as a consequence of various platforms. I think this confusion is due in part to the term 'platform' being overloaded and being used to mean many different things, and in part because there truly are a lot of moving parts at play that intersect in fascinating but complex ways.”How true. The Platform space is a great one to be in and it's brimming over with opportunity and potential; so much so that we're one company staking an awful lot upon the detail of our Platform vision. Traditionally sloppy use of language, however, has led to a situation in which unnecessary confusion is now associated with a superficially straightforward term. Some of this confusion is introduced by innocent drift in the evolving usage of a word, but far more is down to the unfortunate fashion for everyone jumping on the bandwaggon and unleashing a 'platform' of their own. At least we've been using the Platform label for our own endeavours in this area for a number of years.In his attempt to introduce some clarity, Marc's post reiterates his basic definition of an internet platform; “A 'platform' is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers -- users -- and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform's original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate. We have a long and proud history of this concept and this definition in the computer industry stretching all the way back to the 1950's and the original mainframe operating systems, continuing through the personal computer age and now into the Internet era. In the computer industry, this concept of platform is completely settled and widely embraced, and still holds going forward. The key term in the definition of platform is 'programmed'. If you can program it, then it's a platform. If you can't, then it's not.”Check.He then offers three 'kinds' or 'levels' of Internet platform, being careful to stress that one is not necessarily better than those it supersedes; “I call these Internet platform models 'levels', because as you go from Level 1 to Level 2 to Level 3, as I will explain, each kind of platform is harder to build, but much better for the developer. Further, as I will also explain, each level typically supersets the levels below. As I describe these three levels of Internet platform, I will walk through the pros and cons of each level as I see them. But let me say up front -- they're all good. In no way to I intend to cast aspersions on what anyone I discuss is doing. Having a platform is always better than not having a platform, period. Platforms are good, period.”Marc's three levels are;Access API “Architecturally, the key thing to understand about this kind of platform is that the developer's application code lives outside the platform -- the code executes somewhere else, on a server elsewhere on the Internet that is provided by the developer. The application calls the web services API over the Internet to access data and services provided by the platform -- by the core system -- and then the application does its thing, on its own.”Plug-in APISuperficially very similar to the 'Access API', but the host application (such as Facebook) into which a developer's application connects does the vast majority of the work around marketing; “Facebook provides a whole series of mechanisms by which Facebook users are exposed to third-party apps automatically, just by using Facebook.”Runtime Environment “In a Level 3 platform [such as Salesforce], the huge difference is that the third-party application code actually runs inside the platform -- developer code is uploaded and runs online, inside the core system. For this reason, in casual conversation I refer to Level 3 platforms as 'online platforms'.” “Put in plain English? A Level 3 platform's developers upload their code into the platform itself, which is where that code runs. As a developer on a Level 3 platform, you don't need your own servers, your own storage, your own database, your own bandwidth, nothing... in fact, often, all you will really need is a browser. The platform itself handles everything required to run your application on your behalf.”And there's more, and it's interesting stuff that Marc has clearly thought about long and hard.Reading - and rereading - Marc's post, though, I kept coming back to ideas touched upon in two posts of mine about the relative openness of different Platform solutions; “Facebook and Talis might very well be offering 'Platforms', but they're quite different in intention. Facebook's platform seems to be all about making the Facebook site as rich, compelling and sticky as possible; everything is sucked to one point. The Talis Platform, on the other hand, is about providing developers - wherever they are - with the tools and capabilities to easily link and manipulate data across and through the web. The former sits heavily 'on' the web, and feeds upon it to suck ever more into its maw. The latter is truly 'of' the web, giving a distributed community of developers and users powerful new capabilities to enmesh their applications, and to deliver capabilities at the point of need.”Regardless of its position in Marc's levels, I truly hope and believe that the Internet platforms of long-term viability will be those that embrace the Network rather than feeding rapaciously upon it; those that are of the web as we are trying so hard to be.A Platform should give the developer a helping hand. It should lift them up and provide them with a set of tools that make it easier to concentrate upon and deliver their core value whilst the Platform worries about the day-to-day mundanity that is mere context [to paraphrase Geoffrey Moore]. A Platform should enable the developer to realise the benefit of those tools and capabilities in places and manners of their own choosing, rather than expecting or requiring the developer merely to expose their assets within the bounds of whatever site(s) the Platform chooses to offer. Platform providers who realise and embrace that will be the ones to succeed.
Word Space (Multi-User) is the flash card game that helps children practice reading and spelling words. This is a great app for kindergarten...
Last week, I wrote that NASA was checking coastal waters from space. It seems that NASA wants to appear as a very environmental-friendly organization. It is helping the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with airplanes monitoring great lakes algae. It also is collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service on wildfire imaging missions. NASA is using an unmanned aircraft named 'Ikhana' -- a Native American word from the Choctaw Nation meaning intelligent, conscious or aware -- for imaging wildfires in California, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Images collected from the different sensors onboard are transmitted via satellite to a ground station where they are analyzed and transmitted as a Google Earth overlay to fire experts.
Many pundits are equating Microsoft's reticence to roll out Web-based Word, Excel and PowerPoint as Microsoft conceding the Web-based Office space to Google, OpenOffice, ThinkFree, etc. Here's why they are wrong.
Charles Simonyi is on his way to the International Space Station aboard Expedition 15, which blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 17:31 GMT April 7. Along with other crew members, Charles is slated to rendezvous with the space station on April 9 at 19:15 GMT.
Word has reached ZDNet HQ that Toshiba will have some big announcements to make at 3GSM in February, with some kind of smartphones or PDAs coming out for the UK market (they already do featurephones in Europe and, of course Japan, but haven't touched the prosumer/business space as yet).This would be very interesting as Tosh are, of course, bigtime laptop manufacturers - it would not at all surprise me if we're talking Windows Mobile here.
The Silicon Valley Web 2.0 upstart, eponymously named Upstartle, confirmed today that they were recently acquired by Google. Their excellent Web-based word processer, Writely, is a gem of online software and is probably the crown jewel in the Web 2.0 software space. The rumors of acquisition had been swirling recently and in retrospect, the purchase makes sense.
or·thog·o·nal:Adj.[from mathematics] Mutually independent; well separated; sometimes, irrelevantto. Used in a generalization of its mathematical meaning to describe setsof primitives or capabilities that, like a vector basis in geometry, spanthe entire `capability space' of the system and are in some sense non-overlappingor mutually independent. For example, in architectures such as the PDP-11or VAX where all or nearly all registers can be used interchangeably inany role with respect to any instruction, the register set is said to beorthogonal.Ah, the PDP-11 or VAX, such memories of room-sizedcomputers with monstorous gigabyte hard drives. Anyway.I used the word "orthogonal" today to describe the "innovationpack" planned for Lotus Notes and Domino in mid-2006. This isthe set of capabilites including a blog template, RSS feeds, and Noteson a USB key that were announced at Lotusphere. They're "orthogonal"because they are not a 7.1 or 7.5 release...in fact, no core code is disturbedat all. This is critical to those organizations who have testingrequirements in order to deploy a "new" piece of software. The"innovation pack" is separate from the core Notes/Domino codestream. Apparently, the "orthogonal"nature of this deliverable taught several people in the room a new SATword.Other notes from today's Lotusphere Comes to You in Chicago:- About 120 customers and partners attended. Speakers included KevinCavanaugh, Rob Ingram, David Marshak (demonstrating Sametime 7.5 live!),and Joe Linehan. - In my session on Notes/Domino directions, all of the attendees were onND6.x or 7. A number of Linux and iSeries customers represented,as well as some pSeries and Solaris. Oh yeah, there were Windowsusers, too. - Today was my first visit to the IBM offices at 71 S. Wacker, Chicago. This is the address that has been on my business card since August,but until today, I had never been there. Nice place, very sleek. The A/V equipment is first rate (except the wireless microphone setup). But now I can no longer point out that as a telecommuter, I've neverbeen to my own office. Though I still didn't go looking for wheremy snail mail is stored.
Ubuntu is a well integrated, practical and absolutely free Linux distribution. There may be worries about support, but the Canonical organisation is building a good reputation and the head of steam in the wider Ubuntu community should provide decent local support from third parties, too.
Based on a recent e-mail I received, word is starting to get out that ZDNet is running an auction on eBay that awards the winning bidder some audio advertising space in the IT Matters series of podcasts that I host. Normally, it goes against every rule in the editorial book here at ZDNet for someone like me to be discussing one of the company's advertising initiatives, but in this case, I'm crossing the line because I think its for a very worthy cause.