Newsweek Cover Story on Novatium

Newsweek (International Editions) feature the $100 PC on their cover, with a major focus on Novatium and what we are doing.

If Rajesh Jain is successful, the NetTV, which hooks up to any television, could be the first in a family of devices that connect the next billion people to the Internet. Jain, 39, is cofounder and chairman of Novatium, the Chennai-based company that makes NetTV and NetPC, a similar product that uses a normal computer monitor. Both are based on cheap cell-phone chips and come without the hard-disk drive, extensive memory and prepackaged software that add hundreds of dollars to the cost of regular PCs. Instead, they are little more than a keyboard, a screen and a couple of USB portsand use a central network server to run software applications and store data. Novatium already sells the NetPC for only $100just within reach of India’s growing middle classand Jain believes he can soon drive the price down to $70.

Despite [India’s] rise as an outsourcing hub, PCs are selling slowlyfar more slowly than mobile phones or motorbikesbecause they are too expensive, too complicated to use and too difficult to maintain. What people have been waiting for, some experts think, is a new approach to computing that boils the essence of Internet access down to its lowest costand lowest risk. Jain plans to offer all this in lease deals that include easy-to-use hardware, Internet connection, application software and servicefor $10 a month.

In case you’d like to write to me, email me at You can also email Alok Singh, the Novatium CEO, at

PS: My son, Abhishek, is also featured in one of the photos. His father took 30+ years to feature in a Time/Newsweek (Time did a story on me in early 2000), while he has managed it in less than 2!

Thin Clients

‘WSJ writes:

Since the early 1980s, corporate computing power has shifted away from the big central computers that were hooked to “dumb terminals” on employees’ desks and toward increasingly powerful desktop and laptop computers. Now, there are signs the tide is turning back.

A new generation of simplified devices — most often called “thin clients” or “simple terminals” — is gaining popularity with an increasing number of companies and other computer users in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The stripped-down machines from Wyse Technology Inc., Neoware Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and others let users perform such tasks as word processing or accessing the Internet at their desks just as they did with their personal computers.

Novatium’s Thin Clients

The Hindu Business Line writes about Novatium (which I have helped co-found):

A customer subscribes to Novatium’s “computing service” offered by a local operator, paying an upfront amount and later a monthly “pay-as-you consume” fee, according to its CEO, Mr Alok Singh.

Nova netPC is like an appliance. The operator gives the subscriber a keyboard, mouse, monitor and `Nova netPC.’ A cable is drawn into the house and connected to the Nova netPC.

With the account already provided by the operator, once the customer types username and password, they are ready to use the PC and explore the Internet, he told Business Line.

The device is easy to use – just switch it on and off. It is secure – no local storage, no local programme.

Besides, it offers total access user control as well as control over peripherals; central data storage; and low obsolescence (client device life of eight years).

For a monthly fee, a subscriber is offered a package that includes applications, such as Word, Excel and Media Player. More applications can be had for additional payment.

$100 Laptop Project

Technology Review has a multi-part essay by James Surowiecki:

The $100 laptop sprang from the fertile, utopian mind of tech guru Nicholas Negroponte, who is the cofounder and chairman emeritus of the MIT Media Lab, a successful venture capitalist, and the author of Being Digital, the 1995 paean to the digital economy. The concept behind the project, which Negroponte unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, less than two years ago, is as simple as its name: give all children in the developing world laptop computers of their own. If we achieved that, he believes, we could bridge what’s usually termed the “digital divide.” The laptops would offer children everywhere the opportunity to benefit from the Internet and would enable them to work with and learn from each other in new ways. OLPC, the nonprofit organization that Negroponte set up to manage the project, has taken responsibility for designing the computer and engaging an outside manufacturer to produce it. But the nonprofit is not going to buy the computers. That, at least for now, is the responsibility of governments, and Negroponte has said that the $100 laptop will not go into production until he has firm commitments from governments to buy at least five million units. Would (or should) any government be willing to lay out the cash? Negroponte answers that question with characteristic bluntness. “Look at the math: even the poorest country spends about $200 per year per child. We’ve estimated what a connected, unlimited-Internet-access $100 laptop will cost to own and run: $30 per year. That has got to be the very best investment you can make. Period.”

OLPC Debate

The New York Times discusses the merits and demerits oF the $100 laptop:

Seymour Papert, a computer scientist and educator who is an adviser to the project, has argued that if young people are given computers and allowed to explore, they will learn how to learn. That, Mr. Papert argues, is a more valuable skill than traditional teaching strategies that focus on memorization and testing.

The idea is also that children can take on much of the responsibility for maintaining the systems, rather than relying on or creating bureaucracies to do so.

We believe you have to leverage the kids themselves, Ms. Jepsen said. Theyre learning machines. As an example, she pointed to the backlight used by the laptop. Although it is designed to last five years, if it fails it can be replaced as simply as batteries are replaced in a flashlight. It is something a child can do, she said.

LinuxPC and Broadband

Om Malik writes:

Unlike US, PC penetration is not that high even in many developed countries, such as France, thereby limiting growth opportunities for broadband service providers. Neuf Cegetel, a French ISP, thinks low cost Linux PCs are the answer. The company has come up with Easy Gate, a device that looks like a yogurt maker, but is a stripped down PC that runs Linux.

The ISP which plans to go public is targeting technophobes with this device1, that will be bundled free with a 40 Euros a month broadband connection and unlimited calls to landlines in France. Users can buy a screen, keyboard and webcam for about 99. This will help the company grow its user base, especially since it faces a lot of competition from Free and France Telecom.

In Novatium, we have been doing home pilots in India with our multimedia network computers.

PCs and Mobiles

The Economist writes: “What is the best way to make the benefits of technology more widely available to people in poor countries? Mobile phones are spreading fast even in the poorest parts of the world, thanks to the combination of microcredit loans and pre-paid billing plans, but they cannot do everything that PCs can. For their part, PCs are far more powerful than phones, but they are also much more expensive and complicated. If only there was a way to split the difference between the two: a device as capable as a PC, but as affordable and accessible as a mobile phone. Several initiatives to bridge this gap are under way. The hope is that the right combination of technologies and business models could dramatically broaden access to computers and the internet.”

OLPC Debate

Ethan Zuckerman writes [in response to a post from Atanu Dey]:

The larger problem is the problem of educational priorities. For the laptop project to make sense, it needs to be in the context of widespread educational reform in developing nations. The project carries the hope that schools in developing nations can train students at the same level as schools in wealthier countries, giving students a chance to use computers at least as much as students in the north. This is a radical idea, and one that demands thinking beyond the paradigm of textbook replacement that OLPC has been using to open conversations in developing nations. Yes, the funding the laptop demands will be counterbalanced, in part, by reduced textbook costs. But embracing the potential of the project requires increasing educational spending so you can attack the problems Atanu talks about, as well as the problems of training teachers to utilize this new tool in the classroom.

Ive got high hopes that debate over the laptop will soon change from whether it is technically suited for use in developing nations (it is, certainly to a greater extent than any other machine Ive seen at a price point below consumer devices in the US) to conversations on the sorts of issues Atanu brings up. And I hope that my friends in Cambridge will bring in interested critics like Dr. Dey to ensure theyve got answers for the hard questions hes asking, as well as questions like how can we make this machine use only 2 watts of power?


Paul Boutin (Slate) writes about a new offering:

YouOS is the fledgling startup of four recent college grads with a bit of angel funding. Its simplicity makes it a great demo. Anyone who logs on can instantly spot the big idea: You don’t need Windows! You don’t even need a PC! You can login and work from anywhere using any gadget with a screen and a keyboard.

Just because the demo and the name are cool doesn’t mean YouOS will replace Windows. It does, however, serve as a proof-of-concept for people who doubt the viability of Web-based operating systems. Check out YouOS for 10 minutes, then imagine the same project on a billion-dollar budget. Now do you think the mythical Google PC that’s allegedly being secretly developed in Silicon Valleyor in China or on a Ukrainian IRC channelwill become reality?

NComputing’s Thin Client

Business Week writes:

NComputing’s gizmothis one, the unsexily named L100 modelonce attached to a mouse, keyboard, and monitor, can be used to tap into a PC somewhere else, across the room or across the continent, at a far lower cost than owning a PC yourself. Dukker’s cost is less than $50 per user, vs. $250 for a cut-rate desktop PC. And if volumes rise as he hopes, that price could fall below $10. “Pretty soon, we’ll have reached the point that the hardware is essentially free,” says Dukker.

Despite having no real sales or marketing effort, NComputing has sold more than 100,000 units since 2004, and is on pace to sell nearly that many in the remainder of the year. Most are going to small companies and school districts in places like Brazil, Thailand, and Ghana. But interest is picking up with U.S. schools as well.