Emergic Turning Points

I was thinking recently about the key turning points for us in our promotion and thinking of Emergic. I could think of three key events in the past few months.

The first was my decision to write this blog (starting May 9, 2002) and discuss publicly our ideas about Emergic, with periodic progress reports. This has done two things: it has helped establish a credible track record for what we are doing (someone wanting to know more about us can now look at the archives to see the level of commitment and seriousness we have towards the project), and it has helped us connect with people we wouldn’t otherwise have reached. Personally, the blog has helped me clarify my own thinking through the posts and the Tech Talk series.

The second event was the ad we put in the EcoTimes (Oct 10, 2002) and the consequent surprise launch of Emergic Freedom. This was quite unplanned – we made the decision within a few hours of seeing an open-source story in the newspaper. Its been just over a 100 days since the ad appeared. But its been a busy time. It galvanised us into action, and made us work on multiple parallel fronts. Even though direct business still remains negligible, our understanding of the marketplace has improved dramatically. We’ve also made connections with people which has been very helpful and will benefit us down the line.

The third event was the front page story in the Economic Times (Dec 31, 2002) and carried in many other newspapers across India. It heightened awareness dramatically and has helped push us in the direction of building out on the Rs 5,000 PC concept. The story (written by Frederick Noronha for the Indo-Asian News Service) emanated out of a paper and presentation I did at the ICT Seminar in Bangalore earlier in December.

While there have been events – some planned, others happenstance, it is these three singularities which have helped spur Emergic onto higher levels. We couldn’t have planned for any of these in advance. Nor can I say that I can predict what will be helpful for us in the future. We have to keep on following multiple leads, walking along multiple paths. Some of these ideas and events work, others don’t. But we have to do them all.

In a way, its like an “emergence” effort – the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. Each meeting, each activity, each phone call may not yield much by itself, but taken as a whole they have helped shape our thinking. Today, I can definitely say that we are slowly but surely carving out a niche for us in the “affordable computing” space. There’s still a long road ahead, but we are moving in the right direction – and with a heightened sense of awareness about us in the world around.

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Why We Blog

Anil Dash’s explanation resonates with me:

the reason I have a weblog, and the reason I advocate to others that they ought to maintain weblogs themselves, is because I think it’s important for people to have a place to express their opinions and thoughts, and to get feedback on those ideas. The interchange I’ve had over the past three and a half years with my readers, and with the authors of other sites I enjoy, has had profound effects on my personal and professional life. The biggest single moment that has occurred to everyone I know who actively maintains a weblog is the first time a stranger contacts you or leaves a comment where they indicate that something you wrote about touched them, or discussed a topic that they didn’t think anyone else had an interest in, or informed them about a subject that they didn’t even know they were interested in.

In short, it’s making connections between people in the same way that we make links between pages on the web.

TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: The Concept (Part 3)

The second option for creating the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) is to build new computers. Can a computer be created for Rs 2,000 (USD 40)? Yes. But it is not going to be Intel or AMD who is going to do it. There is a third player in the world which sells Intel-compatible microprocessors and chipsets. That is Via Technologies of Taiwan, which had bought out Cyrix a few years ago.

For Via, the first world is not going to choose it as the CPU option Intel and AMD have done a great branding job, and besides, the users need the cutting edge hardware to run Microsofts cutting edge OS. What Via needs to be (and perhaps is doing so) is to make low-cost motherboards all they need are a processor, some memory, the appropriate connectors and the drivers. If Via does not do it, Im sure someone else will we are not talking rocket science here.

The second option still leaves us with the issue of where to get the monitors from. New monitors cost about Rs 4,000 (USD 80), which is double our budget. The solutions: use older monitors they have a lifetime of many years, or to consider a hook-up to a TV. The TV idea has a problem with resolution one cannot get the same quality of display that one can get on the computer monitor.

The gaming consoles (PlayStation, Xbox) have solved this problem they use the TV as a monitor. One may not get the same quality as a monitor for text, numbers and web pages, but in some situations, having some display is better than none. I feel that it is definitely possible to get the older monitors they are now outdated technology for the developed world which now wants flat screens. Hardware that is a generation old can be a wonderful thing for the technology requirements of the worlds emerging markets.

Next, let us now talk about the network connection this is after all the lifeline for the 5KPC. There are multiple options here from high-speed (100 Mbps or more) Ethernet connection to WiFi (802.11b cards which support upto 11 Mbps should be available cheap as the developed world upgrades to 802.11g or 802.11a) to cable connections (from 64 Kbps to 512 Kbps) to a dial-up connection (at 56 Kbps). The 5KPC will work under all situations in fact, it should be designed to work with the lowest connection (dial-up).

The operating system at boot-up time could either come off the network (if the bandwidth is high) or from a local EPROM (if the speed is slow). Applications run on the server. There is a big advantage in this all updates need to be only done on the server, and not pushed to the client. This is like the ASP model the difference being that there is not a single centralized server, but a set of thick servers for every organisation or service provider.

Tomorrow: The Concept (continued)

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