TECH TALK: A Tale of Two Summers: 2004

Just as I had spent the two-and-a-half years prior to the summer of 1994 working on a variety of things in my first years as an entrepreneur, I have spent the past three years doing a similar set of varied activities in search of the vision for tomorrows world. I am one of those people who need to imagine a new world reasonably well to get started. Of course, part of the way of learning is to keep doing some things. Which is what we have been doing for the past few years. Thin clients, server-centric computing, weblogs, digital dashboard, messaging, security, collaboration softwarethere has been a lot of seemingly unrelated diverse activities. And out of these experiences, I knew, will emerge a vision for the future.

In some ways, the ideas have all been there how do make computing more affordable for the worlds next markets and users. This was a slight variation on my original idea in 1991 which was to make a low-cost eBusiness suite available for small- and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets only to discover that the primary problem that needed to be solved was that of making computers affordable enough so that every one in the business could afford to have one on their desk. It is hard for even an application as basic as email to make useful internally if only one in five of the staff have computers.

The past few months have helped in widening the scope of the problem and given enough pointers to the solution that needs to be put in place. Affordability is just one of the dimensions of the challenge. There are three other issues that need to be tackled desirability, accessibility and manageability. Taken together, these are the ADAM of computing (as I discussed in a recent article in Business Standard).

I set myself a goal: how do we make computing (or better still, commPuting) available as a utility for Rs 700 ($15) per month per user. This would make it close enough to the pricing of a mobile service. It would also mean taking a wholistic view and focusing on the total cost of ownership computing did not just need a rented computer (or a computer paid for on installments) or just connectivity. The full solution comprises of the access device (the computer), the software and the content that users need, broadband connectivity (512 Kbps or higher) and support.

This is a non-trivial challenge considering todays reality. PCs today cost Rs 15-25,000. Software is largely pirated which has limited in the applications that are available in the Indian context, always-on narrowband connectivity (64-128 Kbps) costs Rs 500-1,000 (and has data transfer limits), support is sketchy, and locally relevant content is largely missing.

This has been the vision of what I have called Emergic over the past couple years. Initially, the focus was narrower just hardware and software. My solution has been thin clients, server-centric computing, open-source software and remote server management. But as I contemplated these issues this summer, I realised that we would have to create nothing short of a completely new ecosystem for computing. Solving one or two of the challenges would not be enough all of them needed to be addressed simultaneously.

Tomorrow: Bridging Two Worlds

TECH TALK Tale of Two Summers+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.