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TECH TALK: Reinventing Computing: Six Challenges

August 18th, 2004 · No Comments

(I have adapted this column from one that I wrote for Business Standard in July.)

There are six important computing challenges that need to be tackled:

Affordability: The existing solution, created by and for people with very high incomes, is too costly for most people in developing countries. While hardware costs have dramatically and monotonically declined over time, software has become more expensive to own and manage. Consequently, the total cost of ownership of computing solutions is still very high. (Piracy is a commonly used workaround when it comes to software. But most have to take the non-consumption route when even the pirated software plus the hardware costs exceed their budgets.)

Desirability: The utility of computers derives primarily from the services that it provides users. Even if the total package of hardware and software was affordable, people will not buy unless the services they derived from the computer were relevant to their lives. Furthermore, while the utility of computers is a necessary condition for their widespread adoption, it is not sufficient. People have to be knowledgeable about the utility of computing.

Accessibility: Given the low per capita incomes of developing countries, only a relatively small fraction of the population can afford to own even low-cost computers. Yet a significant number of people who cannot afford to own computers can still derive benefits from having access to computing services and be able and willing to pay for these.

Manageability: Computers require significant amounts of back-end support because of the complexity of the software. The cost and complexity of administration, support, and defence against spam, spyware and viruses act as significant deterrents to using them. Upgrading software, applying patches, managing conflicts between different applications are also issues that users need to worry about.

Security: Using computers is not for the faint-hearted. Rarely a week goes by without the discovery of some flaw in the software that users have on our desktops which, if left unattended, could cause serious damage to the data we have stored, and perhaps, worse. In a world of connected computers, security has become one of the most important concerns not just for CIOs but also for individual users.

Ubiquity: It is still hard for users to get access to the information that users have whenever they want and wherever they are. This is especially true for personal and group information stored in local databases or files on computers which may not be available when one is away from the computer. Instead of relying on syncing different devices, it would be nice if there was a single data store which made available information on-demand.

Tomorrow: Five Goals

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