Lets first build out on the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) concept. What are we talking about? What will this computer do? What are the complementary elements we will need to make this happen?
The 5KPC is, in essence, a thin client, a network computer. It lights up in the presence of a network. Without the connection to a thick server, it has very limited use. This is very similar to a cellphone or a television today. Both need networks to function. Without the cellular network, the cellphone is little more than a clock and good for a few games. Without the cable network, the television screen displays only static. In fact, think of some of the other devices we use our regular landline telephone and radio. Both are network devices in the sense that without the connectivity they are useless.
The desktop computer started its life as a standalone device because when it was launched the data networks were almost non-existent. So, a lot of smarts were built into the device, leveraging Moores Law to keep a cycle of increasing processing power, cheaper memory and storage, and a wide array of peripherals. The network connections came in later in the form of the phone and Ethernet connections. The next big leap for tomorrows computers will be 802.11 (WiFi) connectivity. All of the additional complexities for the standalone computer meant that the cost started at a few thousand dollars and is now down to a few hundred dollars. But they are still too expensive for most of the users outside of the developed markets.
This is the context for the 5KPC. Whats needed is a computer which costs no more than Rs 5,000 (USD 100), and offers software and communications for no more than Rs 250 (USD 5) apiece per month. At the same time, this should have the form factor and performance of the latest computers we are used to. So far, the discussion on affordability has always meant reducing the form factor to that of a handheld computer (a PDA). We are not talking of that. What we are saying here is how can we get a desktop computer with a keyboard, mouse and monitor for the Rs 5,000 budget.
The 5KPC is actually a PC terminal, connecting to a thick server via a network. It can even be thought of as an embedded PC. All the processing and storage is done on the server, with the 5KPC essentially being a display and user interface machine. (In that sense, it is very much like the Tablet PC one could in fact, call the 5KPC a Table PC!).
By shifting processing to the server, we can dumb the machine down to being a Pentium 1 class machine (100-200 Mhz), and with very little memory (2-32 MB, depending on the network connection available). It has a network interface and support for the basic peripherals keyboard, mouse and monitor. It also could have a USB interface. What it does not have is a hard disk, floppy drive or a CD-ROM drive.
Tomorrow: The Concept (continued)