Via PC and Emergic Freedom Solution

The three planks for our marketing for Emergic Freedom need to be (i) Cost Savings (ii) Applications Equivalent – that one gets similar apps on Linux and compatibility with MS-Office file markets (iii) other benefits – like virus-free environment, freedom from upgrades, low maintenance (since the client PCs have no moving parts) and lower consumption of power.

In this note, I’ve taken the first element – cost svaings – and discussed it further. What is becoming clear is that we need to think of our Emergic Freedom offering not just as a software solution, but as a hardware-software combo. That there are cost savings in using the solution is apparent. What I have done here is compared the alternatives. (Keep in mind that in India, import duties still account for a quarter or more of the PC cost.)

The two options for the PC usage are (a) as part of a Network (b) as a standalone device. Unless otherwise stated, the PCs need to be part of a network – think of them as PC Terminals.

These are the options for PCs available (1 USD = Rs 50):

Rs 4,000: An old PC (Pentium 1 or 2) without monitor
Rs 6,000: An old PC with an old monitor
Rs 8,000: A new PC (based on Via) with an old monitor
Rs 10,000: A new PC (Via) with a new monitor
Rs 10,000: A new standalone PC (Via, with hard disk, CDROM drive, multimedia)
Rs 12,000: A new standalone PC (Via) with an old monitor
Rs 14,000: A new standalone PC (Via) with a new monitor
Rs 15,000: A new standalone Intel/AMD PC
Rs 19,000: A new standalone Intel/AMD PC (with hard disk, CD-ROM, multimedia) and new monitor (the price assumed is quite low – most branded PCs will sell for Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000).

The Via PC I have mentioned here is from Via Technologies of Taiwan. They make CPUs, chipsets and motherboards, among other things. Their CPUs are at the heart of the Walmart sub-USD 200 Lindows PCs (excluding monitor).

The above does not include OS costs. There are three OS options:

– Linux in Terminal-Server mode: used for the networked PCs (eg. LTSP)
– Linux in Standalone mode (the existing Linux distributions – Red Hat, Suse, Debian, Mandrake)
– Windows 2000 or XP in Standalone mode

The first two OS options can cost from Rs 0 to Rs 3,000, while Windows will cost between Rs 3,000-6,000 (or even 0, if one is pirating it).

In the event of a PC being used as a networked device, we also need to factor in the server costs. The base server will cost Rs 19,000 (the new standalone Intel/AMD PC with new monitor), with an incremental cost of Rs 1,500 per terminal that needs to be attached to it (for additional memory and faster CPU).

Consider now the Linux Terminal Server option for setting up the network. The first PC (server) will cost Rs 19,000. Each additional PC costs Rs 10,000 for the terminal and Rs 1,500 for the extra loading on the server. Thus, for each additional PC, the saving on hardware costs alone is Rs 7,500 as compared to a new Intel/AMD PC. So, if one is setting up 5 PCs, the saving is Rs 30,000, while for a 40 PC setup the savings can run to Rs 292,000.

On the software cost, the savings depend on whether one is pirating the Windows software or not (I say this because in emerging markets, the piracy levels are extremely high – so the norm is not to pay for software. It is not something that can go on forever but it is a worrisome reality for Microsoft today.) There are four options:

1. Linux (Emergic Freedom): for Rs 2,500 per client (includes OpenOffice)
2. Windows XP: for Rs 0 per client (pirated) and MS Office (pirated) or OpenOffice, both ar Rs 0 per client
3. Windows XP for Rs 5,000 per client (legal) and OpenOffice (legal) for Rs 0 per client
4. Windows XP: for Rs 5,000 per client (legal) and MS Office (legal) for Rs 15,000 per client

As compared to Emergic Freedom, the second option is cheaper by Rs 2,500 per PC, the third option is more expensive by Rs 2,5000 per PC, and the fourth option is more expensive by Rs 17,500 per PC.

Now, it is possible to get a better idea of the cost savings on hardware and software.

For a 5 PC setup, the Via PC Terminal and Emergic Freedom solution is
– cheaper by Rs 17,500 vs an Intel/AMD new PC setup and pirated Windows setup (Rs 30,000 – Rs 12,500)
– cheaper by Rs 42,500 vs an Intel/AMD new PC setup and legal MS Windows and Open Office (Rs 30,000 + Rs 12,500)
– cheaper by Rs 1,17,500 vs an Intel/AMD new PC setup and legal MS Windows and MS Office (Rs 30,000 + Rs 87,500)

For a 40 PC setup, the Via PC Terminal and Emergic Freedom solution is
– cheaper by Rs 192,000 vs an Intel/AMD new PC setup and pirated Windows setup (Rs 292,000 – Rs 100,000)
– cheaper by Rs 392,000 vs an Intel/AMD new PC setup and legal MS Windows and Open Office (Rs 292,000 + Rs 100,000)
– cheaper by Rs 992,000 vs an Intel/AMD new PC setup and legal MS Windows and MS Office (Rs 292,000 + Rs 700,000)

This is what we have to convince prospective buyers of new PCs! I know we have a winner on our hands – the message needs to be communicated in simple terms. For any organisation buying more than 1 PC, the Via PC-Terminal and Emergic Freedom solution will deliver savings.

BlogMeta.xml

This is similar to the SMBmeta.xml initiative proposed by Dan Bricklin. Imagine if every blog had an XML file which specified various parameters like bloggers’s name, location (city and country), blog’s starting date, brief profile of blogger, specific categories covered (perhaps taken from DMOZ or Yahoo’s categories), format of the archives directories, link to RSS file, etc. This file could then be botted and built into a directory, just the way the RSS files are picked up. Having the metadata would make it much easier for us to find other bloggers based on geography or interest. Users could be given a front-end to generate this file, which would be stored in the home directory of their blog.

I’m sure others sould have thought of this. [The closest I found was this by N.Z.Bear.] Maybe, we need to start an initiative to define this and get bloggers to do this. The reason I feel that the metadata needs to be created by the blogger is because a blog is so much about the person. It isn’t easy to get a person’s information from the blog, unless the blogger has an “About Me” page. That too is quite unstructured. I want to use blogs to identify experts in specific areas. This is well-nigh impossible to try and build up manually (even though we intend to give it a try in BlogStreet).

In fact, in blogs, what needs to be really categorised (and searched) is the blog post. That is the basic element from which blogs are constructed. Today, the blog post gets lost in the page. While the BlogMeta.xml may not still take us to the blog post, it (along with the RSS feed) has enough meta information to treat each blog post separately, and thus more accurately collate opinions from across the blogspace.

Broadband over Power Lines

There has been an increasing talk of high-speed Internet being delivered like a utility over the pwer lines, in effect making “making every electrical outlet an always-on Web connection.” WSJ has a report on companies like Amaren Corp, which serves about 1.5 million electric customers in Missouri and Illinois, are doing. Here’s how the technology works:

Data is carried either by fiber-optic or telephone lines to skip disruptive high-voltage lines, then is injected into the power grid downstream, onto medium-voltage wires. Because signals can only make it so far before breaking apart, special electronic devices on the line catch packets of data, then reamplify and repackage them before shooting them out again. Other technologies use more elaborate techniques that detour the signal around transformers. Either way, the signal makes its way to neighborhoods and customers who could access either it wirelessly, through strategically placed utility poles, or by having it zipped directly into their homes via the regular electric current. Adaptors at individual power outlets ferry the data into computers through their usual ports.

XML’s 5 Years

News.com has a series of commentaries on XML. The dream: “What if every bit of data in every computer included instructions about its content that would allow any other computer to interact with it? Such interoperability could unleash amazing new automation and efficiencies in information systems, and spawn a powerful new service-driven computer industry. For example, software might be written that would allow a carmaker to instantly change its parts orders across all of its suppliers to meet a sudden rise in demand for a specific model.” We are getting there. XML is becoming the lingua franca of the Web.

A comment by Jon Bosak of Sun:

Consider electronic commerce. Bridging the gap between rich and poor economies is a global imperative. Businesses of all sizes must be brought into the EDI framework currently occupied by the Fortune 500. Doing this economically will require royalty-free data standardization and inexpensive software as well as vendor support. A combination of XML-based standards and technologies is now converging to accomplish this goal. The ebXML standards provide a free, coherent, easily implementable infrastructure for trade that maps to existing EDI systems; UBL provides standard business messages; Gnome, Linux and Java provide a free, vendor-neutral computing platform; open-source products such as ebxmlrr and OpenOffice provide free registries and office productivity tools; style sheets and open-source page formatters allow the large-scale output of printed business documents; and commercial products like the Sun ONE Secure Trading Agent are coming online to provide vendor support for trading partner agreements and secure messaging over the free Internet. The convergence of these elements will enable the entry into electronic commerce of most of the world’s businesses.

TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: Government (Part 2)

Here are some ideas on what governments can do to facilitate the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) Ecosystem. The aim, as one of the Indian Government papers points out, should be to create a government that is SMART Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent Government.

  • A 5-year vision of a computer for every employee. The government can lead the revolution by ensuring that it practices real-time government. At a hardware-software-communications cost of Rs 500-1,000 per month, the payback period for technology adoption would be rapid since there would be better management of processes. Also, by ensuring that enterprises and citizens can interact with it electronically, the government can cause a domino effect in the usage of technology across the nation.
  • Preference for open-source solutions over proprietary software. Besides the cost savings, this move will ensure that software can be modified by local developers, if required. Innovative developers, especially students, can create improvised software for use in different government departments as part of meaningful projects.
  • No specifying of brands or actual configurations in tenders: Computing is changing rapidly. The days for specifying that OS software and Office software means MS-Windows or MS-Word/Excel/Powerpoint are over. There are alternatives which are just as good. Similarly, desktops could be thin clients or low-configuration machines, and not necessarily Intel Pentiums. Government tenders should focus on the solution and its performance, and not specify the modalities of how it needs to be done.
  • Eliminate all duties on computer hardware and peripherals. There needs to be a recognition that technology needs to become a utility. By penalizing hardware imports, the government is putting an indirect tax on its usage, when the situation should be just the other way around.
  • Allow the import of used computers into the country. Amazingly, in India, from what Ive read and talked to people, second-hand computers attract an anti-dumping duty. These old computers hold the secret of mass-scale computerisation. In fact, the government can go a step further and launch a national donation program for older computers, as the Thai government is planning to do.
  • Making education institutions as resource centres. The emphasis in schools should be on not just ensuring literacy, but computer literacy. In colleges, the goal should be on making them hubs for promoting low-cost computing technologies in the neighbourhood.

    There are many local government success stories across the world. The problem is that the scaling up of most of these services requires a huge investment, because they are based predominantly on using new Intel- or AMD-based PCs, MS-Windows as the desktop platform, commercial databases like Oracle on the backend. The mix of open-source software and low-cost (or used) PCs is what is needed to make these demos replicable across a state or nation.

    In the adoption of new technologies, the government can lead the way, and become a testbed for new ideas. What is needed is Will and Vision, both of which are qualities not ordinarily associated with most governments in the world. What is needed is for a few entrepreneurial-minded officers or ministers to become the harbingers of change agents in their countries. Can it be done? In India, chief ministers like Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh) and SM Krishna (Karnataka) have shown that it can be. These initial success stories need to be translated nationally and globally.

    Tomorrow: Bank Branches

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