TECH TALK: Best of Tech Talk 2004: Rethinking Computing

Ever since I wrote my first Tech Talk column on creating a Mass Market Internet for India four years ago, a pet theme of mine has been about making computing affordable and manageable for the next billion users. My belief is that the current computing architecture and business model is only good for the top of the pyramid of India. The real opportunity in India and other emerging markets lies in creating a next-generation computing platform for the middle and bottom of the pyramid. To make this happen, we need to understand the realities of emerging markets as well as learn from the cellphone industry with two key innovations zero-management end-user devices, and a subscription-based business model. Taken together, the total cost of ownership for hardware, software, connectivity and services should start at no more than Rs 700 ($15) per user per month. To make this happen, a combination of thin clients, server-based computing and open-source software needs to be used as the building blocks. A number of columns over the year discussed these ideas in greater detail.

Reinventing Computing (Aug 2004): To reinvent computing, six challenges need to be overcome, five goals need to be met, and seven revolutions need to happen. This is what will start the next 12-year tech cycle which will bring in the billion users across the worlds emerging marketsThere are six important computing challenges that need to be tackled: Affordability, Desirability, Acessibility, Manageability, Security, Ubiquity. There are five goals which a new solution set in computing needs to meet: Solve the Six Challenges simultaneously, Make CommPuting as a Utility, Enable Human-centred Computing, Integrate with Cellphones, Construct the Memex. The seven rainbow revolutions that need to happen to address the five goals to meet the six challenges are: Grid, Virtual Computers, Ubiquitous Connectivity, Loosely Coupled Software, Two-Way Content, Humane Interface, Tech 7-11sBy taking a holistic view of the ecosystem and building a chain of integrated innovation, it will be finally possible to fulfill the dream of making computing accessible to every family, student and employee in every corner of the world. Only then will the true promise of the computer as a means to deliver solutions and services for the next users be realised. This is where the future of computing lies. This is why computing needs to be reinvented. This is where the next technology cycle will begin. This is the next big thing platform and opportunity entrepreneurs have been waiting for. This is a transformation that will take root first in the worlds emerging markets. This is what we need to make happen. This is the next computing Kumbh Mela.

The Network Computer (Oct 2004): The network computer that I am envisioning is a $60-$65 (Rs 3,000) device, excluding the display. In India, a refurbished colour monitor (about 3-4 years old) would cost about Rs 2,000, while a new monitor would cost about Rs 4,000. Thus, the network computer would cost about Rs 5,000-7,000 ($110-150). This is 50-65% lower than the equivalent cost of a personal computer today, and a little more than the cost of a mobile phoneThe network computer by itself will not make money for its makers. It needs to be part of a wider ecosystem where computing is proffered as a servicethe network computer company of tomorrow is more likely to resemble a utility company than a computer maker. By making computing a utility, users are also being provided with the flexibility of cancelling service anytime something that is not an option when computers are bought on installments. This is possible because the network computer is a device that really does not age and become obsoleteThe magical monthly fee for the computing service should be no more than Rs 700 ($15) What is on offer is a computer that looks and feels like a regular desktop computer but without some of the hassles associated with it. As a critical mass of these network computers gets deployed, software and content providers will be attracted to this platform since now they have a much more cost-effective way to deliver their offerings to users. This will in turn create a positive feedback loop for adoption.

Tomorrow: Rethinking Computing (continued)

Best of Tech Talk 2004+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.