Tech Talk from Silicon Valley

By Mike Langberg

Guided by Voices
AT&T Labs is pushing the boundary between artificial and human speech. A new AT&T product called Natural Voices uses sophisticated ‘text-to-speech’ software to generate near-lifelike vocalizations. AT&T has developed a library of voices, so businesses can choose between male and female (as well as a variety of languages) for applications such as automated response phone systems. See for yourself at the lab’s Web site (, where you can type a few sentences and instantly hear your text transformed into spoken words.

Self Serve
Small businesses that want to run their own computer networks need not despair. The cost of entry-level servers keeps dropping, with Dell recently introducing a fully featured model starting at a mere $699. The PowerEdge 500SC comes with either an 800 MHz Celeron processor or 1 GHz Pentium III, and a minimum of 128 megabytes of random-access memory (RAM). Buyers can select Windows NT, Windows 2000, or Netware 5.1 as the operating system, or get the box without an OS. Dell and other Windows PC manufacturers offering ultra-low-cost servers are putting further pressure on traditional Unix server makers – particularly Sun Microsystems, which introduced its first sub-$1,000 model earlier this year.

One Giant Source
IBM is undeterred by the Internet recession and is moving full throttle on a new business strategy called ‘e-sourcing.’ Big Blue is betting businesses both large and small will increasingly order all their computing needs – data processing, storage, and transactions – through an online ‘computing grid’ in much the same way businesses buy electricity rather than building their own generators. ‘We know today that an increasing number of customers are going to buy IT as a utility-like service over the Net,’ says IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner. Providers are already building what Gerstner calls ‘the data centers of the future’: massive server farms,’ with acres of servers and storage. Gerstner figures e-sourcing will jump from a $6 billion worldwide business this year to $55 billion in 2003. IBM already runs 175 data centers worldwide, 25 of them dedicated to e-business, and will invest $4 billion to open another 50 e-business-hosting centers. IBM is not the only company to see the opportunity – competitors such as EDS and Sprint are gearing up similar services. But IBM’s deep pockets and global reach make it an early favorite.

On Second Thought…
John Doerr, perhaps the most famous venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, has made an unusual apology of sorts for his role in stoking the dot-com boom that has become the ‘dot-gone’ bust. Doerr, a partner in the powerful firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, had a mantra in the 1990s repeated in numerous interviews and speeches: The Internet is ‘the largest legal creation of wealth in the history of the planet.’ In a recent speech, Doerr said the current technology recession is likely to last until mid-2002 and revised his signature quote to characterize the Internet as ‘the largest legal creation – and evaporation – of wealth in the history of the planet.’ Other prognosticators are backpedaling, too. Jupiter Media Metrix, a market research firm whose rosy projections for online commerce helped dot-coms draw investors, is shifting many of its forecasts downward. Total online retail commerce in 2005 will now reach only $104 billion, Jupiter says, a drop of 12 percent from the number predicted last year.

Mike Langberg is personal technology editor of the San Jose Mercury News.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.
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