Novell buys Ximian and InfoWorld report on Ximian’s acquisition by Novell. I use Evolution, the open-source email client and PIM from Ximian, on my desktop as part of the thin client-thick server solution. So, it is now interesting to see what Novell will do.

Writes InfoWorld:

Novell officials hope the acquisition will also beef up its ability to support Linux-based solutions as the company pursues its goal of adding a full-featured Linux desktop to its lineup of groupware and systems management products, thereby accelerating the acceptance of Linux among enterprise users.

“Customers still face two key business issues: how to provide cost-effective management and maintenance of Linux systems, and how to deploy and support low-cost Linux desktops within the organization. We think we can deliver leading solutions for both,” said Jack Messman, chairman and CEO of Novell in a prepared statement. “Just as importantly Ximian brings us Linux expertise, and strengthen our ability to work with and leverage open source initiatives more constructively,” he said.

One of the key to the deal is the Ximian Desktop 2 product, a complete Linux desktop environment that has an integrated suite of Linux desktop applications capable of supporting Windows file formats and networks. The company’s Ximian Evolution software integrates e-mail, calendaring, contact management, and task lists that are all part of one package. The product is compatible with Microsoft’s Exchange server and Sun Microsystems ONE, and sometime this year will support Novell’s GroupWise product.


Novell has developed a series of administration and security tools for managing Linux networks. In about 18 months, it plans to offer on Linux the same networking services it offers with NetWare, including directory software for authenticating a person’s identity, according to the company.

The company’s backing should bolster the Mono project, an ongoing effort to create an open-source version of Microsoft’s .Net development software. Once the project is completed, developers using open-source Mono tools should be able to create .Net applications that run on Linux or Unix. Ximian plans to release the first full version of Mono by the end of the year.

Applications built using Microsoft’s Visual Studio .Net development tools are designed to run only on the company’s Windows operating system.

Small Business Server

I have been thinking for some time about the need for an all-in-one and affordable server for small businesses. Something that includes messaging, security, file/print server, desktop computing apps running on the server, accounting and CRM, on a Linux platform, so that the price can be kept low. At a price point of between USD 150-250 (Rs 7,500-12,500). Pre-package it with the server sold. The server would cost about Rs 40,000 for 10 users, and go up to Rs 60-70,000 for about 25 users). The software should come pre-loaded with the software.

The competition for something like this would be (a) nonconsumption – companies not using anything, and (b) piracy – just take any version of Windows for zero price. The idea is to offer an affordable alternative with remote support. Combine this with thin clients, and the only machine which needs to be managed is the server.

A couple additional ideas:
– to run Windows apps, small businesses would need a separate Windows machine (Wine doesn’t run everything) with Windows Terminal Services. Can we develop a clone for Windows Terminal Services, or make Wine good enough to run everything Windows?
– over time, develop a VM-ware like clone so that Linux and Windows can run on the same server. This is the only thing that needs to be managed and can do done remotely over the Internet.

We have been working on this as part of our Emergic ideas. I think the time has come to focus on small businesses (5-50 users) and give them a simple, single, managed solution for all their software needs to a very affordable price point (remember: the competition is something that to them costs zero).

What will be needed is to build an ecosystem around this:
– training institutions, to provide end-user training on the applications
– ISVs, to get their software working on this platform for vertical segments
– banks, so they can offer financing for the hardware-software bundle
– channel partners, who can do the selling and already have the small business relationship
– an online marketplace for small businesses to connect to others

Taken together, this can open up markets which do not exist today, and get penetration for Linux in the small business via the server – on the desktop.

PDA as Thin Client

I was thinking about how we could use a PDA sans its screen as a thin client. We need just the processing power and memory (100 Mhz, 16 MB) on the board, along with 5 connectors: for keyboard, mouse, monitor, Ethernet and power. It should be possible to do this for under USD 30 (Rs 1,500). I don’t know if these boards (or devices) exist. But taken together with server-centric computing and open-source software, these can help create low-cost solutions for enterprises.

The problem with most of the existing thin clients is that they have too much processing power and are quite expensive (comparatively). We don’t need all of that power. What is critical is the low-cost. Of course, old computers are the ideal solution, but in India, there is an anti-dumping duty of USD 200 (Rs 10,000) on these computers, which dissuades any import of such PCs.

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India 2: Process Innovation: Distance Education

The availability of ICT tools has major implications for the provision of education. The process of providing primary education involves the following steps at a minimum:

  • Content Creation
  • Distribution of content
  • Delivery of the content at the “last mile”
  • Testing and validation

    Content Creation

    A good primary education system has to be built on a solid foundation of content. Content creation involves a high fixed cost. Once created, if the marginal cost of duplicating the content is relatively small, the average cost can be made arbitrarily small depending upon how large the population is that is served by the content. Since the content for primary education is relatively stable, once created the content can be reused year after year. Therefore the use of ICT tools for content duplication is a natural choice. For instance, once produced, the content can be digitized and then duplicated on digital media such as CD-ROMs and DVDs.

    Distribution of Content

    If content is produced centrally and then duplicated so as to reduce the average cost of content, then the next issue that arises is that of content distribution. CD-ROMs and DVDs can be mailed relatively inexpensively through the regular postal system. Or the content could delivered to the point of use cable or wirelessly. This represents high fixed cost but a very low variable cost of distribution of content.

    Delivery of the Content: The Last Mile

    Ultimately, primary education has to be delivered to the hundreds of thousands of schools throughout the land by an impressive number of teachers. Training of these teachers itself is a formidable task. Again ICT tools can come to the rescue both for teacher training and for assisting them in delivering the content to the millions of students.

    This component of the educational process involves high fixed costs and high variable costs. The high fixed costs can be reduced by facilitating the last mile delivery through ICT tools. ICT tools can reduce the total training that the teachers need by shifting the burden of content creation from them to creation of the content centrally and have the teachers facilitate the delivery of the content. For instance, the actual teaching could be done by a virtual teacher on a CD-ROM connected to a TV monitor, while the physical teacher is someone who mediates the delivery and maintains discipline and the schedule.

    As we noted earlier, about seven million teachers are required for the primary education of those who are currently illiterate. Training those teachers alone itself is a formidable task. This task can be made tractable through the use of ICT in three distinct ways. First, the training of the teachers themselves can be mediated by ICT tools. And second, the teaching of students by these teachers can be more effectively done by the use of tools such as audio-visual material to supplement books that are currently in use. This not only reduces the load on the teachers but in fact teaches the teachers at the same as the students. Finally, it reduces the variation in the quality of the teaching delivered. This happens because the audio-visual material is professionally produced and the quality of the teaching imparted is not entirely dependent on the skills of individual teachers.

    Tomorrow: How TIC and RISC facilitate Education

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