Thick-and-Cheap Linux Desktop

Writes Gary Krakow (MSNBC): “ is now selling a computer made by Microtel which retails for $199.86. As you might expect, the computer is on the bare-bones side. Microtel also uses a new, free version of the Linux OS instead of Microsoft Windows to save money. Thats where the story gets interesting. The operating system is called Lindows. Add to the Via 800 MHz C3 chip: 128 MB of RAM (expandable to 1 GB), 10 GB hard drive, 52x CD-ROM, 10/100 Ethernet connection (a modem is $30 additional), keyboard, two-button wheel mouse, and a small pair of powered speakers and you get the new $199 Microtel SYSMAR 710.”

Where it gets interesting is the addition of the AOL programs: “Think of Lindows 2.0 as the AOLs new Netscape OS. Actually, if you dig hard enough on the Lindows Web site, youll be able to find a preview version of an AOL 7.0 client for Lindows. No Windows needed, no Macintosh needed just AOL. Thats something AOL has been trying to do for years. This time they might succeed.” The USD 200 computer can be thought of an AOL PC, according to Gary.

The other interesting element here is Lindows’ ability to run (some) Windows applications: “Lindows was originally touted as being able to run Microsoft Windows programs. Guess what? IT CAN. I was able to take my old, now unused Office 2000 disk, insert it into the Lindows computer and watch in amazement as it installed easily. Theyre now working on getting Office XP to install. The Lindows OS always included reader software for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but now the full programs can be installed.” This is because of a Windows emulation program called WINE (which is open source and contains no Windows code).

Slashdot thread

I have been thinking how these USD 200 PCs can make a different to our Thin Client-Thick Server project. Some thoughts:

– the computer cost of USD 200 (excluding monitor) would translate to about Rs 16,000 in India (USD 320). This is still at least twice as expensive as what an old PC would cost. Getting the PC cost to less than Rs 6-7,000 in India is critical for mass market adoption (even by corporates).

– by doing all the processing locally on the desktop, one now needs to worry about administration. The TC-TS architecture simplifies this by centralising storage and processing.

– The stand-alone Linux desktop has its market. The TC-TS solution needs about 7-10 TCs to justify the increased cost of the server. It also needs a 100 Mbps LAN between the clients and the server. This eliminates it from various markets (especially, the home segment, kiosks, small branches, etc.) That is where the stand-alone Linux PC can be used.

– In other words, the bigger picture for us needs to address two markets: the “thin client” (which needs a thick server) and the “thick-and-cheap” client (which can be stand-alone). Together, they provide the artillery for an assault on the computer market which can dramatically bring down costs and increase penetration in emerging markets.

For now, we will focus on the first of these markets (TC-TS), and build on software like the Digital Dashboard which can add value when we target the second set of users. We are reasonably agnostic to the hardware – our focus is on the software and the value-added services that can be provided on top of that.

There are some very interesting opportunities for the cheap, stand-alone Linux desktop, and I’ll talk about this in a more elaborate post later.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.