Each of the Tech 7-11s has a thick server and any number of thin clients. The thick server is a new desktop, costing no more than USD 1,000-1,500 (Rs 50,000-75,000) and capable of supporting upto 40 thin clients. A thin client can be any old or used computer without a hard disk, CDROM or floppy drive. It has a boot-ROM on its network card to get it started, and then uses the processor on the server for all its computation. The thin client provides the user interaction points the keyboard, mouse and monitor. By simplifying the thin client, we can bring down the cost of these diskless terminals to less than USD 150 (Rs 7,500) in bulk, prices could go even as low as USD 100 (Rs 5,000). There is an almost infinite supply of these machines available as the developed nations upgrade their desktops.
In this server-centric computing architecture, all processing and storage happens on the server. The client is a dumb terminal, but wait! Linux and other open-source software can transform the client into a full-featured Windows-like desktop. It can provide a graphical user interface and all the base set of applications that most users need: an email client, a personal information management application, an office suite with a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application which can read and write MS-Office file formats, a web browser, an integrated instant messenger which can connect up with all of todays IM systems, and a PDF reader and writer. All this in a virus-free environment at a fraction of the cost of what a new desktop with Windows would cost.
The Tech 7-11 would also provide Internet connectivity. This connectivity could be via leased line, dial-up, VSAT or even WiFi using directional antennae to increase the range dramatically. Printers can be connected to the thick server or the thin client as the case may be. Some of the thin clients can also have support for multimedia.
In addition, the Tech 7-11 would have a wireless access point, using the 802.11 protocols. Such an access point is available for between USD 100-150. What this will do is offer connectivity in the neighbourhood to anyone who has a WiFi-enabled computer. WiFi cards are available for USD 50-100, and falling in prices. As their range increases, the WiFi network with the Tech 7-11 as the hub could extend beyond a few hundred metres. This means that in a village, the thin clients could now be at local schools or homes or government offices, and use the Tech 7-11 as the thick server via the wireless access point.
The two key differences from a cybercafe environment are: the presence of the thick server, which can now become a content and applications server (replicated to and from Internet servers), and WiFi, which can now extend the computing endpoints to beyond what is there in the physical space of the Tech 7-11. As we shall see, both these innovations have the potential to increase by 10x the earnings of the Tech 7-11 and make it a viable and profitable franchise.
Tomorrow: Tech 7-11: Business Model
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