Business Line Front Page

Our Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) idea made it to the front page of Business Line, a story written by Chitra Phadnis and entitled “5K PC to bridge the digital divide”:

In two weeks’ time, the marketing strategy for a new PC, which costs a little over around Rs 5,000, should be ready.

Two companies – Via Technologies and NetCore (promoted by Mr Rajesh Jain of the India World fame) are jointly making this possible by bringing down prices of hardware and software respectively. The 5KPC, as Mr Jain calls it, is expected to revolutionise the usage of computers.

Today, price is the biggest factor hindering PC penetration, and the 5KPC, which is targeted at the mass market, should help bridge the digital divide, said the two companies. It is not a replacement for the desktop, so much as a device that will open up markets that did not exist till now, said Mr Jain.

The Via machine is a thin client, with a motherboard and processor but no hard disk or floppy drives. Marketed with a full OS – Netcore’s Emergic Freedom, based on Linux – it offers e-mail, browser, office suite, instant messenger and supports specialised Windows applications through add-on software.

“Several hundred” of these machines have already been sold in India, said Mr Ravi Pradhan, Country Manager – India, Via, at initial prices slightly over Rs 5,000.

Mr Pradhan, who exhibited the product in Bangalore recently, said that hardware costs had been beaten down by designing and manufacturing in Taiwan.

Profit margins for the distributors have been kept deliberately low and the company is betting on volumes for growth. A low-cost Via C3 CPU, compatible with Celeron and Pentium 3, has also helped reduce costs.

Software prices are lower, thanks to Netcore’s Linux-based Emergic Freedom operating system. Mr Jain calculates that the total spend on software could come down by 75 per cent.

The 5KPC works in a way similar to the cell phone or a television, coming “alive” only in the presence of a network. Users can simply log onto a network and start working. The server would provide the software applications.

An organisation or a small area (say a village), a single desktop would be the server and users with individual 5KPCs could connect to it. One hitch is that the users need to always stay connected to the network.

However, Mr Jain believes that the cable network and the emerging wireless connectivity (prices of which are expected to drop this year) could make this affordable.

The pluses are the TCO (total cost of ownership) comes down significantly. There is no need to upgrade software – one upgrade on the central server is enough. The hardware is low maintenance and there is no need to upgrade it at all. The Via and Netcore joint product is being seen as the computing platform for the “next 500 million consumers” in the world, offering the “other 90 per cent” a chance to use technology to improve their lives.

On a separate note, there is also a snippet about Netcore in today’s Economic Times. I couldn’t find a link online.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.