Entrepreneurs, philanthropists and established computer firms have for the better part of a decade invested millions of dollars to lower the cost of a desktop PC and develop cheaper alternatives. Intel has made its Eduwise laptop; AMD, a Personal Internet Communicator; Microsoft, the FonePlus. MIT computer guru Nicholas Negroponte’s Children’s Machine, now called the XO, is the most publicized recent attempt at converting the poor into computer users. But Negroponte’s idea is to spread computers to the poor, with the help of heavy subsidies from private and public philanthropy. His price is still about $140, too high for India. Indeed India rejected Negroponte’s offer of a million for cost reasons. Jain’s motive is different: he wants to make money.
And he knows India. Despite the country’s rise as an outsourcing hub, PCs are selling slowly—far more slowly than mobile phones or motorbikes—because 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 cost—and lowest risk. Jain plans to offer all this in lease deals that include easy-to-use hardware, Internet connection, application software and service—for $10 a month.