TECH TALK: The Indianised Linux Desktop: The Solution (Part 2)

  1. Integrate with the Mobile Internet: The solution may be built using lag technologies, but its important to look at what the world will be in the coming years. The creation of a pervasive wireless network is perhaps the most important development that is taking place – via cellular technologies like 2.5G (GPRS) and 3G, and Ethernet-based extensions like 802.11b and 802.11a. This helps bridge the information to the user at all times, creating the foundation for the real-time, event-driven enterprise. As a starting point, by integrating with SMS (Short Message Service, available on GSM cellphones), it now becomes possible to deliver emails, alerts, notifications and other information to the user. By making the cellphone can work as an extension of the desktop for time-sensitive information, much greater value is created for the users.
  2. Deliver Software and Content to the LAN: Bandwidth is a big challenge in India. Enterprises will need both information and software on an ongoing basis. While a centralised model with everything on servers on the Internet may work fine, it may be worth exploring alternative models which deliver software and content to a server nearer the enterprise (or on the LAN itself) for onward distribution to the users. At the other extreme, a CD could be delivered periodically with hundreds of megabytes of data which can then be copied on to the server storage. If newspapers can be delivered daily to our homes and offices, surely a CD can be delivered periodically to enterprises. This solution helps bypass the big gap we see in LAN-WAN speeds in countries like India, where anything beyond 64 Kbps connectivity to the Internet is, for most enterprises, still a dream.
  3. Target First-Time Users: The mistake that is made in most of the Linux-as-a-failed-desktop-alternative arguments is that the effort is being made to switch existing Windows users to Linux. Once people get into a comfort zone, the switching costs become very high as they look for identical replacements of everything they are doing. However, since we are targeting first-time users, there is no such barrier. This is like Amul’s Rs 20 Pizza: a new generation of users is being targeted, one which has yet to taste computing.
  4. Subscription Business Model: So, we now have the hardware costing no more than Rs 15,000 (USD 300) and software which is predominantly built out of open source components. One pricing strategy: Rs 2,000 in upfront payment for the software and Rs 1,000 for quarterly updates. Even adding a 15% maintenance fee for the hardware in the second year of operation, the costs come to Rs 18,000 in the first year and Rs 3,250 in the second year, a total of Rs 21,250 over two years. However, instead of selling the computer, one should look at renting it out to the enterprises for Rs 1,500 per month. Over two years, collections total to Rs 36,000. Obviously, some financing will be needed to make this work. A subscription model lowers the entry barrier and makes the enterprise oblivious to the technologies underneath and focusing on using the solution for its business. It also creates a billing relationship which can serve as a platform for additional services.
  5. Push from the Government: The Government can play a positive role in the deployment and build-out of the computing infrastructure. Government offices have huge information which both individuals and enterprises need to file and fetch. By making this information available electronically in multiple languages and making it mandatory for entities to submit information electronically, the government can play the role of a catalyst in this entire process.

With technology, one always yearns for the latest and greatest. But in India and countries like India, cost and not the generation (of technology) is more important. Most of the software we use has not been designed for use in India. The companies who understand the needs best (the local Independent Software Vendors) have little incentive to create since there is a very small domestic market. Yet, this is what needs to be altered. By getting the base system cost down and making it available in multiple languages, it will be possible to build a critical mass which can attract local developers. This can start a positive feedback loop, as uptake of the systems and applications complements each other.

It is time we stopped looking Westward and looked inward to create solutions relevant in the Indian context. To build out computing as a utility, the Indianised Linux Desktop is the first stop.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.