TECH TALK: A Presentation at PC Forum: Novatium

Here are excerpts from what Christina wrote about Novatium (with the tagline: Computing for the next billion) in the March issue of Release 1.0:

The idea of a $100 PC for citizens of developing nations has been popular for a few years now most notably with Nicholas Negropontes and MITs One Laptop Per Child organization. Novatium Solutions, headquartered in Chennai (Madras), is taking a slightly different approach from most: Instead of starting with a PC and stripping out functionality, explains co-founder Rajesh Jain, the company is developing a PC with the guts of a mobile phone.

We believe that the next iteration of computers must be affordable and manageable, says Jain. The opportunity for the next billion PC users almost all in developing nations is to skip the expensive desktop PC entirely. At the moment, he says, there are only 18 million computers in use in India: about 6 million in large enterprises, 6 million more in the 4 million small-to-medium-size businesses (SMB) and another 6 million in the 45 million homes in urban and semi-urban areas.

Jain offers two other reasons why Novatium will succeed where past attempts at popularizing thin-client systems have failed. First, he says, We are targeting the next set of users. Im not asking desktop users to give them up. Were targeting people who need these computers but cant afford them: SMBs, homes, schools and colleges, and rural areas. Second, he says, the connectivity part of the puzzle is beginning to be solved: Broadband availability is starting to spread in India there are a million broadband users, and the Indian government set a target of reaching 10 million connections by 2008. Plus, BSNL (the government-run telecom company) manages 45 million landlines, more than half of which are DSL-capable.

Novatium keeps costs low by using royalty-free software and processors designed for cell phones on the client side and Linux (or Windows, for an extra fee) on the terminal servers. The clients also include multimedia chips, which help the client mimic a desktop experience. Unlike past solutions like set-top boxes, where all they do is bundle a browser with the hardware, we are giving you a complete virtual desktop, he says. This means users can take advantage of all software innovations for the PC, including voice over IP and two-way multimedia.

Novatium plans to sell its PC for $100 ($75 extra for the monitor), plus a service offering the full functionality of a modern desktop PC for less than $10 per month. The company is exploring relationships with OEM partnerships in the thin-client market globally.

The company is also working with telcos to bundle Novatium PCs and services with their broadband-connection offerings. It also hopes to sell SMBs a server component with a stack of business applications (provided by partners) in addition to the thin clients.

With this as backdrop, I had to do a two-minute pitch in the main session (along with more than a dozen others) to get people to come to a 50-minute presentation later in the afternoon. I arrived in Carlsbad ready with my 2-minute pitch. Or so, I thought.

Tomorrow: The Preparation

TECH TALK A Presentation at PC Forum+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.