Used PCs

The main story is about NEC launches environmentally friendly PC, but what is interesting is the sidebar on “what to do with an old PC”. The 3 options: Sell, Donate, Recycle, according to Mike Langberg. On buying an old PC, he writes: “WeirdStuff Warehouse and CRC both sell used systems; typically, a 3-year-old PC and monitor will sell for about $250 — half the cost of the least expensive new system. Older PCs are reliable workhorses for simple tasks such as word processing, electronic mail and Web browsing. But you should avoid used computers if you want to do cutting-edge tasks such as photo or video editing, or play the latest computer games.”

Old PCs need to be made into Thin Clients for use in the world’s emerging markets, and be rented out with the software for no more than USD 15-20 per month. This is the way to take computing to the masses.

On the same point, I got an email from a user “apchem”:

Computers are recycled everywhere, not just in developing countries. On the 12th of August, BBC’s godigital programme broadcast a feature
on recycling computers in Melbourne, Australia. The basic idea is that a slow computer is better than no computer at all. Even a five-year old
computer can be used to send and receive emails, browse the internet and use word processing and spreadsheet programmes.

Whatever we may say about Microsoft/Intel, they have made computing universal. Even a layman can approach any PC anywhere in the world
because he knows he will be able to use Windows and Word or Excel. This is proved by the fact that Linux enthusiasts are also trying to make their programs work just like Windows.

Coming back to used PCs, these are available all over the world at throw-away prices. A 166 MHz CPU in working condition may cost just US$30.00 or so and used monitors are available at US$20.00 each or even less. Large quantities of these are entering countries such as India,
Pakistan and Bangladesh, where people rig them up and use them. These are good enough for most people as very few people want to make edit digital movies or watch streaming video on the internet. Who cares about the source of software? The market has found its own way while learned people are still thinking about it!

Workspace Portals

From an Accenture article entitled Desktops of the Future:

The portal as a desktop provides a single view of the work, and gives members of a team a view of their workplace that has the potential to unite them, not make them feel cut off from one another and from their work. As portals evolve from being used primarily as communication and knowledge management tools to supporting the real-time performance of collaborative job tasks, they promise to provide a workspace dimension that is not only unified but also unifying. That is, they can enhance the feeling of connectedness that is vital to the culture of a company.

Properly designed and delivered, workspace portals provide a common area where ideas, information and resources can be exchanged and discussed. Through this open exchange, workers’ performance can be enhanced and better directed toward organizational goals.

An important but often overlooked point about portals is that the rhetoric about a “single point of entry” may oversimplify how difficult they are to integrate. In fact, a portal solution most often is a “federated” one: An enterprise portal may provide the common entry point for all users. But these users will then be passed through to their relevant workspace portal, which is focused on their particular performance needs.

RosettaNet-UCC Merger

Writes InfoWorld:

The pair will develop a large database of common objects that can be used as building blocks for business processes, Hamilton added.

“Now they can have one large set of databases, if you will, of objects and dictionary elements,” she said. “Then each industry can specify which in that library they will use. Our goal is to create this common collaboration architecture which would support commonality whenever possible but at the same time support the individuality or uniqueness of different industries.”

This library of objects will benefit businesses as they seek to launch new b-to-b relationships with partners, said Hollis Bischoff, an analyst at Meta Group, in Stamford, Conn.

“Most organizations haven’t institutionalized to the point where they can say, ‘I already have this process as a Web service or a workflow,'” Bischoff said. “Instead of having to negotiate with company A, B, and C, they can take the object that is closest to what they need to do. It allows both partner organizations to find a way to trust each other because they know it is a trusted process. The more we can take these objects and make these non-proprietary, the easier it is to get to that nirvana of plug-and-play.”

Google on the Desktop

Microsoft to give PCs a little Google, writes the Seattle Times:

As powerful as Google is, its capability stops at our personal computer’s door. I’ve often wished I could “Google” my PC or Macintosh for a bit of information I know is stored on my hard disk, but which I have little hope of tracking down.

It’s true that Windows has a find function. It’s slow, though, and severely limited. The Mac’s Sherlock is faster and better, but still pretty hit-and-miss. Neither platform’s search does well with e-mail, for instance, which is where a lot of the valuable information on a computer resides. E-mail must be searched separately, and its find functions are slow and spotty.

What if there were a Google for all the information on my hard disk? A search function that would rank entries based on the same set of astonishingly intuitive principles that work so well on the Web?

Moreover, if it worked across a home, business or corporate network, Google would be even more useful. If you wanted to get a quick briefing on the progress of a company project, you could just type in the project’s name and voil! Back would come proposals, spreadsheets, memos, e-mail and other valuable data – no matter where they were stored on the network.

If Google wants to maintain its position as the go-to information facility for the New Millennium, it needs to provide this kind of functionality. But right now it can’t. Multiple file formats, naming conventions and the generally kludgy way a computer handles information stand in the way.

Here’s where Longhorn makes things interesting. By standardizing information indexing and retrieval on an open standard XML, or extensible markup language the next-generation Windows promises to make a hard drive and network as easily searchable as the Internet.

Our Thick Server can very easily do this, since everything (mail, docs, appointments) are being stored on the server. Need to see how we can build this.

Trains

The special issue of TIME looks at Asia through its trains. Writes Pico Iyer in the introduction:

Asian history is in fact defined, to some extent, by trains and all the wonders and the horrors they have brought into daily lives. Everywhere you turn in Asia you meet the train, whether in the local express that just drowned out your last sentence in a Japanese suburb, or that image of Marlene Dietrich slinking down the corridor in Shanghai Express.

Trains are how one senses both the natureand the human natureof a place, and they offer a perfect way into a continent known for its energy and its stillness. In South Asia, trains stand for all the ways in which people are connected and divided…In Southeast Asia, one sees, from the train and inside it, the 21st century bumping up against the 18th. China’s trains ferry money, mobility and crime across an enormous landscape. And on the Korean peninsula, the train offers the prospect, however dim, of building a connection, a link of sorts, between poignantly severed halves of the nation.

Trains are a great way to discover a country. There is a certain magic and elation in watching a train go by. For me, my childhood memories are punctuated by the train journeys between Mumbai and Pune, especially through the ghats (and the tunnels) in the monsoons. Sitting at a window, watching the world outside, imagining the lives of the people, seeing how the landscapes change – the train brings life as no airplane can.

Even in the US during my brief stay more than a decade ago, I once took the train from New York to California (Oakland). Took all of three days. It was a memorable journey. Met with people, chatted, saw the beauty of the land, and just relaxed…as time passed by.

China’s slowing IT growth

Writes WSJ: “Network-infrastructure spending by China’s telecom operators has dropped by more than 36% during this year’s first half compared with a year ago, according to estimates released in July by the Ministry of Information Industry. Growth in personal computers sales is also beginning to flatten: PC sales grew by 6.6% during the second quarter from a year earlier, sharply down from its heady year-on-year growth of 27.7% in the second quarter of 2001.”

Rich and Poor People

The Rich Get Rich and Poor Get Poorer. Or Do They?, asks the New York Times:

Over the last three decades, and especially since the 1980’s, the world’s two largest countries, China and India, have raced ahead economically. So have other Asian countries with relatively large populations.

The result is that 2.5 billion people have seen their standards of living rise toward those of the billion people in the already developed countries %u2014 decreasing global poverty and increasing global equality. From the point of view of individuals, economic liberalization has been a huge success.

“You have to look at people,” says Professor Sala-i-Martin. “Because if you look at countries, we do have lots and lots of little countries that are doing very poorly, namely Africa – 35 African countries.” But all Africa has only about half as many people as China.

In his paper, “The Disturbing `Rise’ of Global Income Inequality,” he estimates the worldwide distribution of income by individuals rather than countries. The results are striking.

In 1970, global income distribution peaked at about $1,000 in today’s dollars, a common measure of poverty ($2 a day in 1985 dollars). In 1998, by contrast, the largest number of people earned about $8,000 %u2014 a standard of living equivalent to Portugal’s.

“That’s what I call a new world middle class,” says Professor Sala-i-Martin. It is mostly made up of the of the top 40 percent of Chinese and Indians, and the effect of their economic rise is big.

The papers are available on Professor Sala-i-Martin’s website.

Simputer Applications

Simple computer helps close digital divide, writes Mike Langberg, about the Simputer: “The Simputer is designed to be easy to operate, reliable, rugged and to run on easily obtained AA batteries. There’s a slot for sliding in smart cards, which cost less than $1 and can be given to every person in a village for storing their personal information. A built-in modem makes it possible to collect information and send out messages through the Internet. Villages beyond the reach of phone lines can send and receive data through the smart cards.”

He discusses some of the applications:

The post office in India, for example, is considering giving the Simputer to mail carriers who handle money orders. A villager could send money through a smart card, plugged into the mail carrier’s Simputer, for delivery to a relative on the other side of the country, downloaded to the recipient’s smart card. This would eliminate sending money orders through the mail, where they are often lost or stolen.

Health care agencies in South Africa want to develop a small ultrasound monitor that could be plugged into the Simputer for tracking fetal development among pregnant women in rural settlements.

The Indian government is also interested in the Simputer for collecting reliable and timely information on agricultural production, a process now bogged down by inaccurate and slowly gathered paper documents.

TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: Tech Utility (Part 2)

The future is closer than we think. IBM recently launched Linux Virtual Services, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, will allow customers to run a wide variety of their own software applications on mainframes in the Armonk, New York, company’s data centers and pay rates based largely on the amount of computing power they use. Under the IBM plan, companies that have applications, such as a database, can move the applications to the new service. The applications would run in an IBM data center on an IBM zSeries mainframe running hundreds of virtual Linux servers at the same time. IBM says such virtual servers don’t interfere with each other and provide as much security as physically separate servers would.

Listen to Steve Nevey, a computer-aided engineering manager: “It’s like using my bank–I don’t want to know about finance or interest rates or investments. I just want to give someone my money and get a return. This is the same thing.” This couldnt be more true for the rest of the world which today hasnt even been exposed much to the power of technology.

Emerging Market Perspective

Let us look at the Tech Utility from the emerging market perspective. Technology needs to be move away from its dollar denominated pricing which limits adoption to becoming a mass market phenomenon, which is used by one and all. To enable this, it has to be priced such that it is affordable for the small and medium enterprises, who make up the weak links in the value chains of the larger companies. This can be achieved by leveraging the latest technologies that is why it becomes important to understand which are the 10X forces that are going to make a difference.

When farmers and fishermen use cellphones, they are unconcerned about how the technology works. They use it because it makes them more productive and efficient (and thus, more profitable). It enables them to leverage information like the weather or the latest prices, which used to be exploited by middlemen. Now, technology empowers them and is at a price point where the cost of the call is far lower than the money that they can make or save by making that call. The cellphone has become a utility in their lives. It is something they will not leave without.

Similarly, computers and the Internet have to become utilities in the lives of the people and the businesses in the emerging markets. That will make them appreciate the world outside, providing for connections and communications that previously were not available to them. The first step in this direction is to make available all the hardware and software they need for no more than USD 20 per month. After that, the entrepreneurial abilities of the end users will make them leverage these technologies in ways that we cannot now imagine. This is because they are leapfrogging much of the intervening incremental adoption of what happened in the West, where computers existed for more than a decade before the Internet enabled their easy and cost-effective inter-connections.

In these new markets, technology can spur the creation of innovative applications and uses very much unlike what we have seen so far in the developed markets. This is because the alternate path leads to nowhere. It is the reason why cybercafes tend to be much more popular in the developing countries. It is why the cellular networks in India are better than the US. It is why pre-paid cellphone cards account for nearly half the mobile phone market. It is why the real future of Linux and open source lies in these markets not just on the server, but on the desktop. It is why MMS (multimedia messaging service) is likely to take off in these markets, just like SMS. It is why community wireless networks will find their biggest users in these markets.

The alternatives simply do not exist, and there isnt time to go through the in-between steps. Either they embrace technology as a utility whole-heartedly and leapfrog to have a chance of improving the quality of life of their people, or or they fall further and further behind, and become inconsequential. The choice is clear.

Technologys impact in these untapped markets can be much greater and deeper.

Two different worlds, Two different approaches, One common dream. Technology as a Utility. It is an idea whose time has come.

Additional Reading:

  • Tech Talk: Envisioning A New India: The Tech Utility (January 28, 2002)
  • SME Tech Utility (February 26-March 2, 2002)
  • Tech Talk: Disruptive Technologies: The Tech Utility (August 31, 2002)

    Next Week: Techs 10X Tsunamis (continued)