Desktop to Webtop

Bill Burnham writes:

[The] trend is the migration of desktop data to the online storage cloud and the fight between Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft to control this data because he who controls the data will most likely control the “webtop” and the suite of web-based applications that access that data.

What is the “webtop”?, well the webtop is basically a web-centric version of the desktop OS. Microsoft’s $270BN market valuation attests to the value of the desktop OS (and its suite of integrated applications) and there is a growing belief in the tech world that much of that $270BN may be up for grabs again as end-users make the platform transition from desktops to webtops. There is also a realization that in the standards-based world of the web, the only real sustainable advantage is control of unique customer data because without that data one webtop OS is basically indistinguishable from the next.

Internet OS

GigaOM writes about Xcerion:

Internet OS sector seems to be getting increasingly crowded. Start-ups such as YouOS, EyeOS are vying for mindshare with Internet giants like Google. The seriousness of market is reflected by the fact that earlier this month, Microsoft set up an all-star group to tackle the Cloud OS opportunities.

A dark horse in this race is Xcerion, a Swedish start-up that came out of stealth earlier this month, and announced its XIOS, its XML-based Internet OS, and got subtle tip of the hat from some of the most respected technology pundits.

Saving Power with Thin Clients

WSJ writes:

IT managers are experimenting with new ways to cut power use, while also helping the environment. Companies are taking advantage of software programs such as Surveyor from Verdiem Corp., which enables IT managers to automatically turn off desktops when they aren’t in use. Other firms are turning to “thin client” computers, which are barebones machines that connect directly to servers and use far less power than desktops. And many are also using new features, including enhanced “sleep” features, in software and products from PC manufacturers and companies such as Microsoft Corp. that also save on energy.

Some companies are turning to barebones PC terminals known as thin clients to cut electricity costs. The Verizon Wireless call center in Chandler, Ariz., for example, last year swapped out most of its 1,700 PCs with Sun Microsystems Inc. thin clients. That helped slash its power usage at the call center by a third, say Verizon officials. Afterward, an official of the local power utility “joked whether we were leaving the building,” says Carl Eberling, vice president for information technology at Verizon Wireless, a Basking Ridge, N.J., carrier owned by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC.

Broad-basing Computing

The Hindu writes in an editorial:

To millions of citizens who cannot afford an expensive personal computer, the early results of a pilot test of a low-cost networked PC, which uses a cable connection to hook up to the Internet, offer new hope to overcome digital deprivation. The nimble `thin computing’ system eliminates the need for the consumer to acquire powerful hardware and expensive software to perform functions such as writing documents, accessing websites, and emailing. The pilot project in a middle-class locality in Chennai by Novatium, a technology products company, to demonstrate a Rs.4,450 NetPC has attracted wide attention; the user has a recurring access cost, inclusive of Internet charges, of about Rs.450 a month. For quite a while, networking companies have aimed to make the `network the computer.’ In parallel, there have been attempts by others to produce low-cost standalone PCs that can break the $100-barrier while plans to develop handheld devices with similar goals met with limited success. The NetPC model seeks to shift the burden of performance away from the user’s hardware to the server. By accessing software that is installed not at the user end but on a remote server, the total cost of ownership for the consumer is reduced.

Cloud Computing

Wired writes:

Cloudware is filtering down to consumers. Google’s free collection of online apps includes a suite of personal productivity tools that rivals Microsoft Office. For a monthly fee, users can get 10 Gbytes of data storage and telephone support to boot.

At the same time, a profusion of Net-connected devices are challenging the primacy of the desktop. Exhibit A: the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet, a slick handheld that does Web browsing, email, IM, and media playback. The TiVo digital video recorder sells movie tickets and streams Net radio. And smartphones like the Motorola Q, Samsung BlackJack, and a little monster called the iPhone are leaving the lonely desktop with less and less to do.

By offering online alternatives to desktop apps, businesses can amass a trove of data about customers and their activities — information that can be used to deliver ever more tailored services. Consider wesabe.com, a personal finance service. The site pulls financial data from a user’s bank, credit card, and other accounts. Then the server categorizes purchases, savings, and so on and compares them with the user’s stated goals. It also compares each user’s behavior with that of others on the site, computing average spending and saving habits. And it organizes communities of people who share particular aspirations or patronize a specific vendor.

Novatium in The Hindu

The Hindu had a story recently on Novatium:

Mr. Mani’s house is now one of 140 homes in Chennai where `Nova Net PC’ offers Internet connectivity and computing solutions at affordable rates.

The Net PC primarily scores with its costing. The Net PC package consisting of the CPU, a 14-inch CRT monitor, a keyboard and a mouse has been tentatively priced at Rs.4, 450 (roughly $100). When Net PC hits the market at this price, it could well be the most economical home PC ever.

However, Novatium is positioning the device beyond the cost advantage. It is talking about the PC as a home appliance that would offer a no-frills attached comfort of use.

So, what makes it comfortable? For starters, the first generation Nova Net PC is stripped off most hardware that could give rise to complications. The CPU consists of a motherboard, an Ethernet connectivity port to connect to the VLAN, 4 USB ports and a serial port for the monitor. Two of the 4 USB ports are used for the keyboard and mouse. Storage, therefore, will exist remotely on a server managed by Novatium. Each user gets close to 2 GB of space.

Dell’s Cheap China Computer

WSJ writes:

Chief Executive Michael Dell said the new computer, with a base price starting at about $335, would be sold first in China, then other countries, including India and Brazil.

The computer, which Dell calls the EC280, “was designed with China and other key markets in mind,” Mr. Dell said. He said Dell is striving to “adjust our business to meet the needs of customers in fast-growing and emerging markets.”

Designed by engineers in Shanghai, the EC280, unveiled yesterday, features an Intel 205 microprocessor and will cost from 2,599 yuan to 3,999 yuan ($336 to $517), depending on the specifications of the monitor, hard drive and memory chips.

Lenovo, which dominates the Chinese consumer-PC market, has found an even cheaper way to get computers to people with low incomes. The company has teamed up with Microsoft Corp. to offer a “pay as you go” computer model that puts a PC in a consumer’s hands for an upfront price of about $150. Part of the computer will be financed by a bank loan. The loan is paid back over time as the consumer buys computer cards — similar to phone cards — that give them a set amount of time on the computer and eventual ownership of it.

Audio Interview by Vijay Rana

Vijay Rana has done with an audio interview me about Novatium and the network computer.

No! it is not a dream. It’s now a reality for 400 poor families in Chennai. A company called Novatium has introduced this unique concept in computing where all the computing, multimedia and Internet applications are set up on a remote server. This NetPC has no conventional processor and no hard-disc. It is connected to a remote server through a cable operator or phone company. You can connect to this server by paying a monthly fee like you now pay for Internet service provider or the cable operator. Recently, the Newsweek Magazine profiled the cofounder of NetPc, Rajesh Jain: “This formula may just change the way the average person thinks of computing.” Comparing the NetPC with the $100 laptop of MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, the Newsweek wrote, “if the winning formula turns out to be Jain’s, or something like it, it could kill the PC altogether. Here in this exclusive interview Jain unveils his vision of a PC for everyone in India.

Novatium Approach Criticism

Following the Newsweek cover story, I came across this article by Chin Wong:

A company in India called Novatium has begun selling the NetPC for only $100, but heres the catch: it has no hard disk, very little memory to speak of, and uses a cheap processor of undisclosed origin thats more typically found on mobile phones. The software? Zip. Youll have to subscribe to that, including the operating system, which will be rented out to you over the Internet. You cant save your files locally, eitheryoull have to send them back to the server over the Internet.

even if the speed of my broadband connection suddenly doubled tomorrow, I still wouldnt trade in my PC for a $100 NetPC and heres why.

First, I run applications that would crawl over a network. You can do word processing reasonably well over the Internet, but dont try manipulating a 60-megabyte graphic file or editing video over a network unless you have a lot of time on your hands. And hosted applications will slow down as more users get on the network.

Second, I like local storage and I have a hunch most people do, too. This is why we save data files to the hard disk, keep backups of important files, burn digital photos onto CDs and fill up MP3 players with our favorite songs. We like having this stuff available, even when the network isnt.

Finally, and perhaps most important, I like the freedom to run any program I want on my computer without having to get it from some centralized server. This is what drove people from dumb terminals and centralized computing in the first place, and this is what will keep thin clients out of the computing mainstream for years to come. The PC let the genie out of the bottle, and it will take more than a rehashed network computer to get it back in.

Personal Computing Future

Mark Cuban writes:

Google is in a unique position with their datacenters and infrastructure to dominate thin client computing and everything they are doing seems to point in that direction.

If you arent famliar with Virtual Machines, you need to be.

Virtual Machines are exactly what they seem to be. The ability to create a virtual computer on which any and all personal computer applications (as well as higher end apps) can reside. VMs are more ideally suited for applications that dont chew up alot of bandwidth, which is why the seperation of multimedia applications to consoles is critical to VMs becoming popular.

If the heavy bandwidth apps are on gaming consoles, then why wouldnt consumers just connect to the net and use Google Office apps, or MicroSoft Live Office Apps, or any other provider of online apps ?

Which is exactly what I think Google is trying to accomplish in the future.

Newsweek Cover Story on Novatium

Newsweek (International Editions) feature the $100 PC on their cover, with a major focus on Novatium and what we are doing.

If Rajesh Jain is successful, the NetTV, which hooks up to any television, could be the first in a family of devices that connect the next billion people to the Internet. Jain, 39, is cofounder and chairman of Novatium, the Chennai-based company that makes NetTV and NetPC, a similar product that uses a normal computer monitor. Both are based on cheap cell-phone chips and come without the hard-disk drive, extensive memory and prepackaged software that add hundreds of dollars to the cost of regular PCs. Instead, they are little more than a keyboard, a screen and a couple of USB portsand use a central network server to run software applications and store data. Novatium already sells the NetPC for only $100just within reach of India’s growing middle classand Jain believes he can soon drive the price down to $70.

Despite [India’s] rise as an outsourcing hub, PCs are selling slowlyfar more slowly than mobile phones or motorbikesbecause they are too expensive, too complicated to use and too difficult to maintain. What people have been waiting for, some experts think, is a new approach to computing that boils the essence of Internet access down to its lowest costand lowest risk. Jain plans to offer all this in lease deals that include easy-to-use hardware, Internet connection, application software and servicefor $10 a month.

In case you’d like to write to me, email me at rajeshATnetcore.co.in. You can also email Alok Singh, the Novatium CEO, at alokATnovatium.com.

PS: My son, Abhishek, is also featured in one of the photos. His father took 30+ years to feature in a Time/Newsweek (Time did a story on me in early 2000), while he has managed it in less than 2!

Thin Clients

‘WSJ writes:

Since the early 1980s, corporate computing power has shifted away from the big central computers that were hooked to “dumb terminals” on employees’ desks and toward increasingly powerful desktop and laptop computers. Now, there are signs the tide is turning back.

A new generation of simplified devices — most often called “thin clients” or “simple terminals” — is gaining popularity with an increasing number of companies and other computer users in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The stripped-down machines from Wyse Technology Inc., Neoware Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and others let users perform such tasks as word processing or accessing the Internet at their desks just as they did with their personal computers.

Novatium’s Thin Clients

The Hindu Business Line writes about Novatium (which I have helped co-found):

A customer subscribes to Novatium’s “computing service” offered by a local operator, paying an upfront amount and later a monthly “pay-as-you consume” fee, according to its CEO, Mr Alok Singh.

Nova netPC is like an appliance. The operator gives the subscriber a keyboard, mouse, monitor and `Nova netPC.’ A cable is drawn into the house and connected to the Nova netPC.

With the account already provided by the operator, once the customer types username and password, they are ready to use the PC and explore the Internet, he told Business Line.

The device is easy to use – just switch it on and off. It is secure – no local storage, no local programme.

Besides, it offers total access user control as well as control over peripherals; central data storage; and low obsolescence (client device life of eight years).

For a monthly fee, a subscriber is offered a package that includes applications, such as Word, Excel and Media Player. More applications can be had for additional payment.

$100 Laptop Project

Technology Review has a multi-part essay by James Surowiecki:

The $100 laptop sprang from the fertile, utopian mind of tech guru Nicholas Negroponte, who is the cofounder and chairman emeritus of the MIT Media Lab, a successful venture capitalist, and the author of Being Digital, the 1995 paean to the digital economy. The concept behind the project, which Negroponte unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, less than two years ago, is as simple as its name: give all children in the developing world laptop computers of their own. If we achieved that, he believes, we could bridge what’s usually termed the “digital divide.” The laptops would offer children everywhere the opportunity to benefit from the Internet and would enable them to work with and learn from each other in new ways. OLPC, the nonprofit organization that Negroponte set up to manage the project, has taken responsibility for designing the computer and engaging an outside manufacturer to produce it. But the nonprofit is not going to buy the computers. That, at least for now, is the responsibility of governments, and Negroponte has said that the $100 laptop will not go into production until he has firm commitments from governments to buy at least five million units. Would (or should) any government be willing to lay out the cash? Negroponte answers that question with characteristic bluntness. “Look at the math: even the poorest country spends about $200 per year per child. We’ve estimated what a connected, unlimited-Internet-access $100 laptop will cost to own and run: $30 per year. That has got to be the very best investment you can make. Period.”

OLPC Debate

The New York Times discusses the merits and demerits oF the $100 laptop:

Seymour Papert, a computer scientist and educator who is an adviser to the project, has argued that if young people are given computers and allowed to explore, they will learn how to learn. That, Mr. Papert argues, is a more valuable skill than traditional teaching strategies that focus on memorization and testing.

The idea is also that children can take on much of the responsibility for maintaining the systems, rather than relying on or creating bureaucracies to do so.

We believe you have to leverage the kids themselves, Ms. Jepsen said. Theyre learning machines. As an example, she pointed to the backlight used by the laptop. Although it is designed to last five years, if it fails it can be replaced as simply as batteries are replaced in a flashlight. It is something a child can do, she said.

LinuxPC and Broadband

Om Malik writes:

Unlike US, PC penetration is not that high even in many developed countries, such as France, thereby limiting growth opportunities for broadband service providers. Neuf Cegetel, a French ISP, thinks low cost Linux PCs are the answer. The company has come up with Easy Gate, a device that looks like a yogurt maker, but is a stripped down PC that runs Linux.

The ISP which plans to go public is targeting technophobes with this device1, that will be bundled free with a 40 Euros a month broadband connection and unlimited calls to landlines in France. Users can buy a screen, keyboard and webcam for about 99. This will help the company grow its user base, especially since it faces a lot of competition from Free and France Telecom.

In Novatium, we have been doing home pilots in India with our multimedia network computers.

PCs and Mobiles

The Economist writes: “What is the best way to make the benefits of technology more widely available to people in poor countries? Mobile phones are spreading fast even in the poorest parts of the world, thanks to the combination of microcredit loans and pre-paid billing plans, but they cannot do everything that PCs can. For their part, PCs are far more powerful than phones, but they are also much more expensive and complicated. If only there was a way to split the difference between the two: a device as capable as a PC, but as affordable and accessible as a mobile phone. Several initiatives to bridge this gap are under way. The hope is that the right combination of technologies and business models could dramatically broaden access to computers and the internet.”

OLPC Debate

Ethan Zuckerman writes [in response to a post from Atanu Dey]:

The larger problem is the problem of educational priorities. For the laptop project to make sense, it needs to be in the context of widespread educational reform in developing nations. The project carries the hope that schools in developing nations can train students at the same level as schools in wealthier countries, giving students a chance to use computers at least as much as students in the north. This is a radical idea, and one that demands thinking beyond the paradigm of textbook replacement that OLPC has been using to open conversations in developing nations. Yes, the funding the laptop demands will be counterbalanced, in part, by reduced textbook costs. But embracing the potential of the project requires increasing educational spending so you can attack the problems Atanu talks about, as well as the problems of training teachers to utilize this new tool in the classroom.

Ive got high hopes that debate over the laptop will soon change from whether it is technically suited for use in developing nations (it is, certainly to a greater extent than any other machine Ive seen at a price point below consumer devices in the US) to conversations on the sorts of issues Atanu brings up. And I hope that my friends in Cambridge will bring in interested critics like Dr. Dey to ensure theyve got answers for the hard questions hes asking, as well as questions like how can we make this machine use only 2 watts of power?

YouOS

Paul Boutin (Slate) writes about a new offering:

YouOS is the fledgling startup of four recent college grads with a bit of angel funding. Its simplicity makes it a great demo. Anyone who logs on can instantly spot the big idea: You don’t need Windows! You don’t even need a PC! You can login and work from anywhere using any gadget with a screen and a keyboard.

Just because the demo and the name are cool doesn’t mean YouOS will replace Windows. It does, however, serve as a proof-of-concept for people who doubt the viability of Web-based operating systems. Check out YouOS for 10 minutes, then imagine the same project on a billion-dollar budget. Now do you think the mythical Google PC that’s allegedly being secretly developed in Silicon Valleyor in China or on a Ukrainian IRC channelwill become reality?

NComputing’s Thin Client

Business Week writes:

NComputing’s gizmothis one, the unsexily named L100 modelonce attached to a mouse, keyboard, and monitor, can be used to tap into a PC somewhere else, across the room or across the continent, at a far lower cost than owning a PC yourself. Dukker’s cost is less than $50 per user, vs. $250 for a cut-rate desktop PC. And if volumes rise as he hopes, that price could fall below $10. “Pretty soon, we’ll have reached the point that the hardware is essentially free,” says Dukker.

Despite having no real sales or marketing effort, NComputing has sold more than 100,000 units since 2004, and is on pace to sell nearly that many in the remainder of the year. Most are going to small companies and school districts in places like Brazil, Thailand, and Ghana. But interest is picking up with U.S. schools as well.