Rediff Interview

The ‘affordable computing’ dream is the title of a story on me in Rediff by Priya Ganapati. Talks a little about my past (which I don’t like, but maybe that’s why I get heard now!), but focuses more on what I am doing and hope to get done in the coming years (the vision of “a connected computer accessible to every family and employee” in India and other emerging markets). A well-written story.

A TeleInfoCentre would be a computer-cum-communications centre. It would have 3-5 computers connected together in a LAN, in a single room. One of the computers would work as a ‘thick server’ and do the processing and storage. The others are low-cost, low-configuration ‘thin clients.’

“By locating them in the village, we ensure that people do not have to walk too much to use them: access to computing is just a few minutes, rather than a few kilometers, away. This will make them think of computing as part of their lives; a utility, available on-demand,” says Jain.

The TeleInfoCentre would largely work in the offline mode. The server should mirror key applications and relevant data, making it possible for the clients to work without the need for an Internet connection. Updates could be done via CDs or even Wi-Fi (wireless connectivity).

Such radical thinking is what is necessary to bring computing to rural India, says Jain.

How will the supply chain for these low cost computers be created? Who will make them? How will the applications to run on these computers be developed? Will other state governments be open to the plan? If the government cannot pay up completely, where will the funding for the TeleInfoCenters come from?

“I don’t have the answers to all the questions yet. I know we will do it in next 6-8 months. My approach is to try multiple things. Some may work, some may not. But the important thing is to try and I know we are heading in the right direction,” he says.

As I have said before in my paper on Transforming Rural India, it is up to us to bring about change in India “not between two generations, but between two elections”.

I wish Priya had given a link to this blog for people to get read more.

New Normal

Fast Company has an article about superstar investor Roger McNamee, contrasting the “old normal” with the “new normal” in the context of investing and competing (link via Abhay Bhagat):

Old Normal: Internet Time: Measured in days, weeks, and dog years (for the business cycle). Absolutely everything was accelerated, from hiring to going public. Eighteen months was the magic number for major undertakings, from startup to ship, from funding to IPO. The bumper sticker was, “Stop for lunch and you are lunch.” Says McNamee: “It was a kind of hormonal reaction. There was so much urgency that every standard — for due diligence, leadership, recruiting, and investment — was relaxed.”

New Normal: Real Time: “The New Normal,” says McNamee, “is about real life — and real time. Getting things right the first time is more important than getting things done quickly.” That’s the opposite of the late-’90s mantra, “Fail faster to succeed sooner.” Everything — whether it be building companies or hiring top talent — takes longer in the New Normal. Even more important in the new time frame: Don’t waste your own time. Dedicate it to what you truly enjoy doing.

Old Normal: Grow Market Cap: The ’90s were all about fast money. Capital was quickly available and virtually free to businesses growing at exponential rates. (And it didn’t matter what was growing. Any metric would do: eyeballs, page views, or click throughs.) The logic was, spend to grow.

New Normal: Create Real Value: Today, it’s all about smart money. Capital is expensive, but it’s available to truly committed entrepreneurs who have rigorously developed business plans that demonstrate real positives in the near term. In the late ’90s, customers got a free ride, and capital underwrote everything. The new logic is, pay as you go.

Steve Jobs and Digital Entertainment

WSJ writes about how Jobs is the one person who could bring about the much-touted convergence between the worlds of computing and entertainment.

Mr. Jobs is today increasingly fashioning himself as a digital-entertainment impresario. Over the past two years, he has turned Apple into a producer of entertainment technology for digital photos, movies and music, culminating in next week’s unveiling of the online-music service.

Mr. Jobs hopes to create a new model for online music, a business that so far has only been able to draw large numbers of customers seeking free tunes on Napster and other renegade file-swapping services. Napster grew quickly and peaked with about 60 million users but shut down in 2001 after losing a legal battle with the recording industry.

According to people who have met with Mr. Jobs, the new service is integrated with Apple’s iTunes software. Only Apple customers can use it, but that may change. The service requires a mouse click to buy songs and additional simple steps to move them to a CD or an iPod. Apple will charge 99 cents per song and sell albums for around $10, they say. Users will get to keep the songs permanently.

Jobs also owns Pixar, which is releasing “Finding Nemo”, its latest animation film, soon.

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