Thin Clients in India

InfoWorld has a story based on an interview with Prof. Deepak Phatak of IIT- Mumbai on how the use of open-source thin clients can cut computing costs.

To help bring down the cost of computers, Phatak is promoting the adoption of a low-cost thin client based on Via Technologies Inc.’s 800MHz C3 processor, rather than a more expensive chip from Intel, and Linux applications that run on a PC server.

Opting for a thin client instead of a desktop PC saves money in two ways. Thin clients don’t require a hard disk and the 800MHz C3, which costs $22 in 1,000-unit quantities, is cheaper than processors from both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD), he said. The cheapest desktop Celeron processor listed on Intel’s Web site is a 2.1GHz version of the chip, which is priced at $69 in 1,000-unit quantities.

The lower price of the C3 helps bring down the cost of the thin client — which includes a 15-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor — to 14,000 rupees, Phatak said. That price may fall to around 10,000 rupees next March if the Indian government follows through on an expected cut in tariffs on computer components, he said.

When it comes to software for the thin clients, Phatak has chosen Linux and other open-source software. This provides an alternative to software from companies like Microsoft, which require expensive software licenses, he said.

Linux and open-source software may currently be seen as the most affordable route for India’s push to expand the use of IT by local businesses, but Phatak is no open-source ideologue. His goal is to see the price of building an IT infrastructure become affordable to IT companies, regardless of the specific software or hardware involved.

“I would expect the growth (in thin client shipments) to be exponential,” Phatak said. “I believe in the first year the numbers could be as few as 100,000, but the fourth-year and fifth-year numbers should go up.”

“My ambition is that we should sell 20 million PCs every year, for the next five years at least,” he said.

In fact, Netcore’s Emergic Freedom is running at the Affordable Computing Lab in the School of IT at IIT-Mumbai. While we have had only limited commercial success so far, we are beginning to see an increasing interest in solutions that can cut the total cost of ownership of computing.

I think to get to mass-market levels we need a USD 50 (Rs 2,300) thin-client (excluding the keyboard-mouse-monitor). I wrote about my ideas recently in a Tech Talk Series on “The Next Billion“.

Bharateeya Blog Mela

Dina Mehta hosts the Indian blog mela (a carnival) this week. This is a neat idea. Each week, a blogger “hosts” a collection of blog posts. This not only introduces the host to the community, but also readers to a number of new bloggers. The mela is in its 31st week. Take a look.

Futures Marketplace

Trying to predicting the future is a fun exercise. Now, one can take bets on it. NYTimes writes:

In the simplest systems, players buy and sell contracts to pay 100 units of fake or real money at some future point – like the end of a game or an election. In Mr. Peters’s case, he was buying and selling the right to get 100 points if, “by Nov. 16, the Secretary of State has certified elections results in which a majority of voters elect to remove Gray Davis from office.”

These marketplaces synthesize a prediction for the future by letting the price fluctuate as everyone chooses how much to pay for the contracts. Someone who spends 50 points to buy a Davis contract is effectively betting with 1-to-1 odds that Governor Davis will be recalled by the voters. Paying 50 points will yield a profit of 50 points if he is voted out. Someone who paid 33 points would be getting 2-to-1 odds and someone who paid 10 points would be getting 9 to 1 odds.

Robin Hanson, an assistant professor of economics at George Mason University and an organizer of both the Foresight Exchange and the Pentagon project, said: “What’s nice about these institutions is they always come up with a number. When you talk to academics, they might say, ‘That’s not possible. We don’t have the right data. We don’t have the right insight.’ These markets cough up a number. There may be a lot of error, but at least you get something.”

Markets like these are most accurate when the players have a stake in the question at hand and the result is determined by a large number of people. The Iowa Electronic Markets, for instance, collect small bets made with real money on the outcome of elections. They report that the prices of futures contracts pegged to the results of elections are often better predictors than most polls.

One of the sites mentioned is Futures Exchange.

In IndiaWorld, we had created a marketplace for the elections many years ago – we had called in the “Indian Political Stock Exchange”. Given that elections are due next year in India, it may be a good idea to revive such a site.