TECH TALK: The Digital Divide: The USD 100 Desktop Computer

1. The USD 100 Desktop Computer

It is an idea I have talked about before. The computer may not be the panacea, but it is a very important component of the technology world. It is an extremely versatile device. In the last 20 years, the installed base of computers has exceeded 500 million. The majority of these computers are in the developed world – in companies, government and homes. In countries like the US, whoever needed a computer has one now. With the price of a computer being a fraction of the monthly salary of a person, the computer has made huge inroads as a productivity and entertainment platform.

Computers are critical components in the entire enterprise value chain at every stage. This is not the case yet in many of the developing markets. In most enterprises, no more than 1 in 20 people uses a computer. This needs to change. This means that the price of the computer has to be a fraction of the monthly salary of a person – in local currency.

We still see 10-year-old cars on the roads. Companies buy second hand manufacturing plants. But somehow, with technology, we always want things new. I don’t see why this has to be the case. The Wintel combination and their partners have done a great marketing job in creating a demand for the newest machines and software they keep coming up with it.

The result is that it is impossible to find a 486-based system or Windows 98 or Microsoft Office 97 being sold in the market even though they may be adequate for many of our needs. The industry’s interest is in moving us forward. That may be true for a small fraction of users on the wrong side of the digital divide but certainly not for the masses.

To make computing an integral part of business and personal lives, the price point for the next 500 million computers needs to be reset to USD 100. This is not going to happen by creating new computers (which means RD expenditure and time) but through the use of discarded computers from the developed markets. As the developed countries upgrade their systems, the older computers can be moved to the emerging markets. The base price of the system now becomes a handful of dollars, to which gets added shipping, distribution and support costs.

Computers have become an environmental problem for the developed markets. Disposing and recycling computers – most of which are in perfectly working condition – is not easy in countries like USA and Japan. Not only would sending these 3-4 year-old machines to the emerging markets solve the disposal problem, it would also create a potentially bigger market for the entire industry in a few years as the bottom of the pyramid tastes computing.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.