The basic set of applications and tasks which are present on My First Computer are just the beginning. The cluster of these computers with the thick server in the enterprise can now be the base for a host of additional services. The Trojan Horse in this case is the thick server. Armed with its 80 GB (or higher capacity) hard disks and its presence on the LAN with a small pipe connecting it to the Internet, the thick server can now become the local distribution for a wide variety of information services and applications. Specialised content, training programmes, stock quotes, e-books, company portfolios and databases, self-development courses are some of the services which can be offered via the thick server.
The LAN presence overcomes a number of key limitations in todays web-centric world: low wide-area connection speeds in most emerging markets, unreliability of these connections, and billing. The thick server, in its avatar as the local content and applications repository, provide access at LAN-speeds, is always-on and facilitates the billing process by being able to add the appropriate charge to the monthly service bill for the user or the enterprise. Interestingly, the thick server is not limited in any way to offer services to just the thin clients any of the other users in the organisation can also do so. (That is why I termed it a Trojan Horse!)
How does one update the thick server with new content? This can be done in two ways. Content which needs to be accessed in near real-time like stock quotes can be updated as a stream on thick server and then distributed to users on their desktop. Other content can be distributed periodically via a CD, and can be copied over to the hard disk. Storage space is cheap and plentiful.
On the applications front, the thick server becomes the delivery point for the enterprise software applications which will be created by the domestic software developers. In addition, there is a huge base of open-source applications already available. After appropriate testing and debugging, these applications can be made available on the thick server, with the emphasis being on how they can make a difference to the users, and how they can be used. The software may be free, but some time and investment will need to put in by intermediaries on making these applications usable and task-centric, so that they just do not become an additional feature of the system.
As the critical mass of thick servers and thin clients and Tech 7-11s and My First Computers develops, we will find software companies coming forward to create specialised (and localised) applications. As these low-cost computers proliferate, the network effects will work positively for the solution and pass a tipping point. In addition, the same building blocks which can even spread computing in homes: a WiFi-enabled thin client (My First Wireless Computer) which connects to a neighbourhood Tech 7-11 can do the trick.
The ideas presented here present a framework for realizing the vision of a connected computer for every employee and every family. The result will be the creation of an alternative computing ecosystem for the developing countries, one which is affordable to the mass-market and whose evolution is driven by the community. These disruptive ideas are the bridges which will take computing across the digital divide to where computings next 500 million users await their turn for using one of the greatest inventions of the past century, and entering the Information (and Connection) Age.
TECH TALK Disruptive Bridges+T