The year 2005 will go down in India's annals as the year of cheap computing. Manufacturers would, of course, prefer to call what's involved "inexpensive," "low-cost," or "affordable." But it all comes down to the same bottom line: some laptops and PCs that were selling for as little as 10 000 rupees at the beginning of the year were going for less than half that by year's end, or approximately US $100 for a network machine.
Admittedly, the $100 Nova NetPC offered by the year-old start-up Novatium Solutions Ltd. [see " "] is a thin-client server that depends on external support from Internet service providers or cable companies for most of its data processing and applications. But if its maker is to be believed, the NetPC breaks ground in terms of both manufacturing quality and capabilities.
"Most Net PCs or thin clients available today are stripped-down versions of PCs that run on the same hardware architecture," says CEO Alok Singh. "But we have built a complete motherboard and a new platform, and we're looking to the triple play of audio, video, and computing. There's no compromise on the computing experience."
In July, when HCL Infosystems, headquartered near New Delhi and India's largest computer maker, launched its PC for India, it made similar claims. "Most of the existing low-cost PCs are either stripped-down versions or made of poor quality or counterfeit components," claimed CEO Ajai Chowdhry. He said that HCL's machine broke the 10 000-rupee barrier without compromising quality or functionality.
Arguably the first through that barrier was Xenitis Infotech's Aamar PC, which has been issued with variant names for regional appeal. Xenitis says it has been selling more than 10 000 units per month at around $225.
All those introducing inexpensive computers are betting on economies of scale. In a country of more than 1 billion people in which fewer than 1 percent own computers, that isn't much of a gamble. Encore Software, which has introduced Mobilis, a line of devices that straddle the worlds of laptops and PDAs, hopes to sell 50 000 to 100 000 units in a year.
To reduce costs and maximize function, several of the PC makers are steering away from the Windows/Intel world: HCL, for example, has turned to the Taiwanese company Via Technologies Inc., in Taipei, for the 1-gigahertz processor in its PC for India, and it uses the Linux operating system. Via itself has introduced a $230 computer, the Terra PC, which relies on Linux rather than Windows and runs its operating system on flash memory.