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Letter From Silicon Valley

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Letter From Silicon Valley
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COMPETITIVE CONCEPTS

OVER one in three American homes has a personal computer (PC). Over 90 per cent of these run Microsoft’s Windows programmes and use Intel microprocessors, often called the Wintel monopoly. And Bill Gates, chairman and co-founder of Microsoft, is the world’s richest man with a net worth of $18 billion. The enhanced capabilities of audio, video, graphics and games are crammed into today’s high-end PC. But prices are yet to be commonly affordable. And before the "every home needs a PC, if you don’t your child’s education will suffer" marketing mantra gets out of hand, opponents have got into action.

Enter the network computer (NC), a low cost computer with no storage that grabs programmes from the network as opposed to the local hard disk (the PC’s storage device). A concept driven by Microsoft arch rivals—IBM, workstation maker Sun Microsystems and database behemoth Oracle, to name a few. But, how feasible is it? Sun recently demonstrated a working prototype called the Javastation. But the difficult part is to develop software that can adapt to this network paradigm and at least in the foreseeable future, the PC is here to stay. The NC could be a low cost alternative to those who don’t need the power and storage of a PC. But Intel and Microsoft have now announced a ‘NetPC’, a stripped-down low-cost PC. The battlelines have been drawn.

KING ENTREPRENEUR

MASTER entrepreneur Prabhu Goel has done it again. He founded Gateway Design Automation, a firm that developed software tools for engineers designing integrated circuits, in the early ’80s. In 1990, Gateway was acquired by Cadence Design Systems, a leading US software firm, for a whopping $60 million. Goel then invested in several start-up ventures, as venture capitalist and founder. Recently, his second brainchild, Frontline Design Automation was acquired by Avanti! Corporation, arch rival of Cadence, for $65 million. Goel has established software development centres in India for most of his companies. Cadence, since acquiring Gateway, has expanded the Indian centre based in Noida near New Delhi, to 150 employees. Goel is now chairman of Duet Technologies, a software firm which employs 200 people in India and the US. "There is tremendous software potential in India," says Goel. "But, it’s difficult to find experienced software engineers, though there is a large pool of inexperienced engineers who can be trained." Goel has also established Foundation for Excellence, a fund to assist in educating children in India, besides other philanthropic endeavours.

TAPPING THE DESI CRAZES

NO matter which part of the planet Indians travel to, the favourite pastimes are films and cricket. Tapping into this mania is Shiraz Jiwani, a Pakistani immigrant and owner of Naaz Cinema, a theatre in Fremont, northern California. The theatre shows Hindi films daily, and Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil films once a month. Since the regional films are so infrequent, they are often sold out. Besides, the theatre has live telecasts of popular cricket matches like the Titan Cup final, the World Cup and Sharjah Cup matches. The 12-hour time difference and the Silicon Valley work pressure are no impediments. Several hundred fans spend the night watching cricket and head to work the next day. The theatre is also the venue for concerts by Indian and Pakistani singers. Naaz has become a trendsetter of sorts, with three more theatres springing up in the area. Its success is also evident in its diversification. Neighbouring the theatre is now an Indian restaurant-cum-video store! Advertising is on local radio, through desi e-mail networks, the World Wide Web and through word of mouth.

 CHICKEN BURGER WITH A CD-ROM

APPLE Computer is now licensing its name to a chain of restaurants or cyber cafes. In return, these ‘cool hangouts’ will showcase the latest in Apple technology, blending it with the needs of a restaurant. Mega Bytes International, a London-based restaurant development firm will establish and run the restaurants. The clients can surf the web, sample CD-ROMs and videoconference with neighbouring tables and maybe even the cook. The first restaurant is to be launched in Los Angeles. Future locations include Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and Sydney.

ON-LINE BOOKSTORE

NO inventory, no shelves, just cyberspace. This, in short, is the first on-line bookstore: amazon.com. The store has over a million books listed, all of which can be searched by author, title and field. It also has facilities for authors to comment on their work, and for readers to post their reviews. Besides, visitors can complete an on-line pro-file of themselves, so they can be informed via e-mail about new books in their areas of interest. So how does the store make money? You search for a book and add it to your on-line shopping cart through a click of your computer mouse. Then fill an on-line form giving your address and other details. You can pay by credit card or by a cheque in the mail. The store gives discounts of up to 30 per cent on books.

Even with shipping and handling charges, the price can be lower than at regular bookstores. If you’re looking for a specific book, this is a great way to shop. But to simulate the true feeling of visiting a ‘real’ bookstore, amazon.com has a long way to go.

Founded in July 1995, amazon.com has been extremely successful. The cyberbookstore is believed to have annual sales of $17 million. Backing the company is Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.

(Pran Kurup is the president of Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association. He can be reached at contact @sipa.org.)

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