Monday, 20 February 2012

Subscription-based Computing (Raised March 2007)

As mentioned in a previous post, another aim of this blog is to share my ideas...I have finally mustered up some courage and guts to start the process of showcasing some of the ideas I've had in the past, as well as ideas currently germinating -- opening up to public scrutiny, in the hope that people leave constructive feedback, or get in touch to jointly pursue ideas going forward -- ultimate dream is to latch onto an idea promising start-up possibilities.  This is partly due to Jeff Jarvis's influence as I'm currently reading his recent book Public Parts, having first read What Would Google Do which inspired me to create this blog in the first place!

I am also wary that my ideas at the time was raised whilst working for a company that is quite secretive and security-conscious. But I'm taking the risk in so far as only sharing my ideas that were raised that lead to nothing, zero, zilch: topic was raised, discussed and not taken forward. Hence I'm confident there are no existing IP-infringements on what I'm about to disclose now as well as in future posts.  After-all, these in fact were my own ideas that were submitted for review to an ideas committee but nothing really materialised mostly because the ideas were not relevant to the core business at the time... I had personally kept a record of all my ideas submitted for reasons such as this post...

Why am I still taking the risk then??  Well, I have a bee in my bonnet really - but I'm not stupid, I've edited our company-sensitive info.  I know that deep down inside of my I've got the entrepreneurial spirit, the mind of a thinker, a rebel and a desire to take risks, disruptive -- although I've not really taken most of my ideas past the initial stages, i.e. move from Idea to concept, to prototype (I have actually pushed one through to completion though, which you'll get to know of on a future post, "Talking TV"). You might think me crazy, but the more I dabble with ideas, the more I read about start-ups and entrepreneurship, the more closer I feel I am to latching on to something for's a feeling I can't shake off, call it instinct, time will tell - I'm only 34, there's years in my yet to be inspirational...

I also want to prove to people out there, especially companies seeking like-minded-people such as myself, that my ideas are not just nuts, because there are companies that are indeed making similar products.  So unlike some folks who say "well I wish I would've thought of that", I am saying that "Dude, I did have the very same idea!" and can show you the proof as well...I want to be noticed (Google, please find me). I want to work for Tech Giants, the likes of Google / Apple / Microsoft - that's no secret, I would love to go to Silicon Valley / Redmond one day to experience the excitement of managing a start-up or working with a start-up...what's wrong with dreaming hey??

You don't have to believe me - it's the truth - that's about it.  I want to share the ideas I had in the past that are actually becoming real now, to not only prove to you that I do have innovative ideas but also to strengthen my case for offering professional technical consultancy...

Here goes:  I'm kicking off my first public idea by provoking some possible contention.  I had the notion of a WebOS, replacing the classic PC OS with an all-in-one-simple-device back in 2007 before Google or HP mentioned ChromeOS or HP/Palm's WebOS.  Of course those giants might've have seeded the ideas around the same time as me, but according to Wikipedia, Google first started work on ChromeOS in early 2009; HP also took forward Palm's WebOS around the same time in 2009.  So I keep telling myself I was two years ahead of these guys....

My idea went further in that Service Providers will have provided boxed, branded-units that basically just worked, was always online and met the basic technical/PC needs of the average PC consumer...Basically I predicted exactly this as portrayed by Google themselves (see video below).   Personally, I still think there is mileage in pursuing this going forward - most probably make a business on the back of ChromeOS - why? Because people still need to customize their applications and environment, ChromeOS doesn't yet offer you stress-free, seamless subscription-based computing. My bet is people will still want something that works out-of-the box, first time, without fuss (no wiring, no wireless contracts - it just works)....


Below is a thread of discussions of how the idea unfolded and was left dangling in the air:

Subscription-Based Computing, Idea was raised on21 March 2007

I am wondering why a subscription-based model to PC computing hasn't taken off, or perhaps has it even been considered?
I'm questioning the need for having a PC in households. The majority of people are not techies, and will never be techies. People want things that just work, without needing any special knowledge, etc. With these assumptions, the requirements are simple:
1. I want to connect to the internet (and I don't care how it happens - it should just work)
2. I want to send email (and I don't want to know anything about POP, SMTP, User name, password, etc)
3. I want to write a document (and I don't care about integrated features)
4. I want to maintain a simple spreadsheet to manage my accounts
5. I want to be able to share photos (and I don't care about drivers, photo software, etc. My service provider can sort this out)
6. I want to watch TV (anything I fancy and no fixed schedule please)
7. I want to play games
8. I don't want to worry about Firewall protection, antivirus, anti-spyware, malware,etc.
9. I want access to my data anywhere, any time.
10. I just want my pc to work out-of-the-box, hassle-free.
And the most interesting part is: I am willing to pay a subscription to a service provider (BSkyB in 30 years time maybe?) I just don't care about the cheapest broadband service, the best AV, the best hardware, I don't want to manage OS upgrades, etc, etc - I want my service provider to do all of this for me - hassle-free - computing!
A PC is supposed to be general-purpose - but is it really that general? What do the majority of users do with their PCs? It would be interesting to learn if any surveys are available in this area...
Can such a system be realised? The consumer just subscribes for the services, and the service provider just serves? Can this semi-closed system survive? Will people be interested in this?
What I'm questioning is the need for people to buy PCs and for people to have the know-how to configure and operate them. The majority of people just want to use the internet, send email, view pictures and watch movies.
So, just as we have a subscription model for mobile phones, digital tv, etc - could the future provide a similar service for computers? For example, I purchase a subscription from Sky. A SkyPC is delivered, it may need installation as usual. But once installed, I have all my basic computing needs satisfied.
This device is still a PC, but a Sky-branded one - not a STB.
The device could be so dumb, it wouldn't even have a hard drive - a simple client connecting to a terminal. The terminal serves the needs of all clients. Ignore the physical limitations of this idea right now, and assume the infrastructure is present in 30-50 years time....
If this can fly, then the winner will truly dominate house-holds... 
Threads of discussion:

Sorry for bringing up this old thread again – but I was wondering if we were continuing to do anything in this area? Vodacom SA has released an offering that is not dissimilar to my original idea:

Basically looking capitalising on the cloud, web apps, and web OS, offering a tightly controlled interface (as we do for EPGs) but still providing a portal to the internet (monitored), offering basic necessities of a browser, messenger, skype, etc. Everything is plug and play, the user basically doesn’t have to be technical.

Have we looked into the idea of being a Data Service Aggregator/Mediator? Why are devices exposing yet another interface for connectivity – 3g/4g sim cards? What if there was a mediator that deals with the likes of Virgin, O2, T-mobile, Orange, etc. I purchase a huge data bundle from all these providers. Consumers sign up with me for data services, they don’t care about the underlying platform offering, they just want to be online. I have a setup, just as current mobile operators do with their management systems, but my system intelligently handles handover of the data service from one operator to another, example – when a user is in an area known for poor coverage from Orange, but excellent coverage by Vodafone – because of my relationship with these operators, the user will seamlessly switch from one operator to the other, guaranteeing a sustained level of quality.
With this relationship and system in place, I can offer always on connectivity to subscribers without them worrying about where they get the data from. This could be extended to hot-spots as well, my system could negotiate deals automatically with hotspot providers without consumers having to worry about local payments, and configuring the connectivity…

This is interesting news indeed. I've tried to get the gist of the EasyNeuf (using Babelfish translation - why didn't the French colonize South Africa so I could've learnt French instead :-)

I am interested to learn more about that company; and if that project has had much success. Looking at the press releases, there seems to be some recent publications.

Although the idea of having 3 versions of the interfaces, taking the user from beginner to intermediate and then to advanced level sounds good (as it is empowering the users) - that's not the approach I had in mind originally - as I was targeting the segment of people who just want a box to do the basic stuff - non-technical users: parents, grandparents, or even younger middle-aged individuals who just couldn't be bothered with all the fancy applications - but just want to use their email, surf the net, shop online, socialise, do a bit of budgeting, shopping lists, downloading content, playing movies, listening to music, access to TV, etc, etc. That would be the entry level. The moment we grant freedom to advanced level - then people would want to experiment, tweak, configure, enhance, etc. That shouldn't be allowed - get a PC to do that :-)

Besides, if after paying a subscription of 40 euros (in addition to a 150 euro down payment) - after 2-3 years, the amount spent on subscriptions may well have amounted to the cost of a new laptop, without having to hassle with subscriptions. Having said that, the value add must be so good that consumers stick to their subscriptions because of their peace of mind, ease of use, flexibility, security, maintenance-free and mobility - that can be offered by such a device.

Yes, such as system presents a plethora of technical challenges: network infrastructure (routing, wi-fi, adsl, 3g, etc), Operating System (local OS or thin client), packaged applications, interoperability, etc, etc.

But I share Ronnie's view in that I just cannot see this not happening in the medium to long term future; and quite certainly a disruptive technology.

I will point at a french stuff that is exactly what Muhammad is talking about: it was announced last year by Neuf Telecom, and has been launched since then.

They call it ‘’easy neuf’’ and came with a surprising microwave-ish form factor !

Below is a related article in French:

The commercial site is

It is based on Intel M600 + 852GM, 512 M RAM, 512 M Flash, linux 2.6.17, firefox, Gimp image soft, multimedia player and a small productivity suite (spreadsheet, text …).

No internal HDD (to be extended with external USB2 disc or memory stick)

Note that the product offers 3 level of UI: easy, ergo and expert (see picture above).

I have no idea where they are today and if they are successful. The price starts at 149 euros for the central unit (oven). See the ‘’tarif’’ (pricing) section on the commercial site.

Funny, even though I share the feeling that there is still something to dig here.

Yes  - of course! The more comments the better…I really think subscription-based computing is not that impossible - especially when remote storage is becoming cheaper, web technologies providing not only online office apps, but video editing tools as well…there will come a time when the need for a monolithic local OS will disappear - and everything will be managed remotely and distributed…And assuming the problem of getting TV over the internet is solved, you not only have your personalised mobile "PC" but also access to TV…The best part is, no pains of security alerts, upgrades, etc…complete trust in your service provider! Who knows, we may travel full circle going back to the days of thin terminals….
Thanks again for replying. Perhaps the word "PC" is conveying the wrong meaning - I envision a closed device (could be a laptop, could be your STB Gateway, or STB itself) with a wireless keyboard (so you could use your HD tele) or indeed - a laptop-like device.

The device can only be tweaked and configured by the service provider, like [ServiceProvider]. Call it the "[ServiceProvider] Explorer" box - that meets all your internet or computer needs…

Think about it - how many people really use their PCs to their full potential? There should be some research to back this up: Mostly browse the internet, check email, online shopping, a bit of Word processing, and a bit of spreadsheets. No more than that. So a box that is always on, does not need tweaking, can interconnect with other devices (printers, cameras, etc) - and provides not only the security for online shopping - but also peace of mind because of [ServiceProvider]'s reputation with parental controls ( XXX's business)…

[ServiceProvider] could even have their own secure payment system ( XXX to provide the technology of course)
[ServiceProvider] would have to have their own OS (Linux or Fusion) - ( XXX to provide of course)…
[ServiceProvider] will need headend control -  XXX to provide of course… :-))

What a stir this would cause to Microsoft and other OEMS :-))

I'm sure you're probably getting loads of emails for review of ideas - I just thought I share this one more idea with you - and if you could provide your comments/feedback/gut-feel - that'll be great :-)

At a very high level: Provide box-standard, packaged solution - of a personal computer - providing:
- always on access to the internet (email, chat, browser, etc)
- office applications
- security (viruses, malware, etc)
- parental controls (filtered view of the internet) - using some sort of entitlements
- unlimited remote storage
- free maintenance, support, upgrades, etc
- usual share photos, content, etc - USB, plug and play, etc…
[Nick>]  Don't you think that people like HP, Dell and others already aspire to this?

Picture this: [ServiceProvider] offering the [ServiceProvider]PC. Engineer comes home, and installs the box. You don't need to worry about broadband tariffs, ISPS, Viruses, Software, Phone line, etc, etc. You have a box standard, all the tools one needs to meet the basic computing needs…offered by service provider.
[Nick>]  I agree completely with your proposition, and I think this is where [ServiceProvider] would like to go. The reason that they might shy away from it just now is a) most PCs are very user configurable, and this can lead to some very nasty support call headaches. With PCs (and even Macs), there isn't a viable business in supporting home users.

The closest I have seen anyone come to this is the One Laptop per Child project (OLPC). If we could reproduce PC functionality with STB levels of reliability (you may laugh, but they are much more reliable in practice), then you might get close to your vision.

It works for TV, mobile phones - why can't this model work for the PCs.
[Nick>]  Because its very easy to mess them up as a user.

The majority of people just want something that works - not technical gurus - they don't want to control their pc environment - it's a headache really…
[Nick>]  So how about something which is more like a PC latop then, or more like an embedded device, and heavily cost reduced. Maybe very carbon efficient too.

What about parental controls for the internet?? Surely  XXX can offer something in this space?
[Nick>]  Looks like a good idea

I've blogged about this here: http://XXX

What do you think?
[Nick>]  We need to think about what the functionality as a user would really need to be, to provide something that would need little or no user support.


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