It is quite amazing that not a single PC vendor in India yet sells an “Indian language computer”. In a country of a billion people, the fact that English is pretty much the only language available on the computer explains the poor installed base (about 6 million) and sales of computers (about 1.5-2 million this year). If one looks at China, Japan or Korea, all of them have their own versions of all major software applications. Lack of localisation remains one of the key barriers to the growth of computing in India.
The challenges in creating a mass market for computers and applications in India are many. The high cost of both computers and software makes them the domain of few. The lack of a domestic software products industry leads to little innovation. The still-born Internet boom has not helped much. The result is that in a country which harbours dreams of becoming a global economic superpower, technology still remains expensive, exclusive and an afterthought.
In India, everything is expensive relative to incomes: the cost of technology (US Dollars multipled by anything from 50 to 70), the cost of telecom and travel, and the cost of real estate (in the major metros) and electricity. The only thing cheap: human resources (though this is also starting to change). Add to that the myriad government rules and regulations, and doing business in India becomes a labour of love. Export earnings are much needed but we are doing it (at least in software) at the cost of building a domestic market.
Yet, India has excellent opportunities to create a mark in the international technology arena. Indian enterprises, will over time, get integrated into global supply chains. But the basic challenge remains: how can the cost of technology be brought down significantly to make its adoption more rapid and widespread. Enterprises of all hues and sizes need to adopt infotech and streamline business processes and communications. As the Internet makes companies relook at how they interact and what they do internally (and what they outsource), tech-savvy Indian companies can hope to reap rich dividends.
One of the key elements in the computing value chain is the Desktop. With Microsoft having a global economy with its Windows and Office suite of applications, in India the choices for desktop software are only two: either pay Rs 20,000 (which is not a small amount for most companies) or indulge in piracy (which has been the preferred option). A country does not become great by stealing. So, piracy as a long-term option to greatness is ruled out.
To bring down the cost of computing on the desktop, one answer is to consider an Indianised Linux-based solution. Worldwide, the Linux desktop is a rarity, with a market share of less than 2%. But in our quest for “disruptive” solutions, Linux along with a few other innovations may just be the answer that Indian enterprises may be looking for.