The $100 PC is the Next Big Thing

Om Malik wrote in Business 2.0 about the other “Next Big Thing,” next to Nicholas Negroponte’s famous $100 laptop.

“Three floors up in one of the city’s numerous office towers, 38-year-old Rajesh Jain points to a table that holds, he’ll tell you repeatedly, personal computing’s next big thing.

The silver-and-black box is tiny, actually. At 8 inches by 6, it’s the size of a fat paperback. But plug it into a computer monitor or a television, and Jain’s boast begins to make some sense. A tap on a keyboard brings up an array of generic-looking applications you’d find on any PC–a Web browser, e-mail, and word-processing and spreadsheet programs. An MP3 player blasts “Dus Bahane,” the latest hit song from Bollywood.

All that software is open-source and free. Better yet, it runs on a distant back-office server instead of the little box, which itself sips less electricity than a child’s night-light, contains no hard drive, and doesn’t make a sound. But that’s not what gives the Nova NetPC–made by Novatium, Jain’s 10-month-old startup–its industry-altering potential. It’s the machine’s expected price tag: $100, including a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

The $100 PC has long been considered the hurdle to clear in order to reach technology’s biggest pot of gold–affordable computing for the masses in countries like Brazil, China, India, and Russia.

That’s why chipmaking goliath Intel is working on cheaper processors targeted overseas, why Microsoft has begun selling a $20 stripped-down version of its Windows operating system, why giants like Advanced Micro Devices and Google have partnered with maverick MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte to develop a $100 laptop.

Stay tuned to see what happens, one way or another the $100 computer is coming soon.