Novatium Solutions Ltd, an ambitious Indian computer maker, aims to have around one million customers by 2009 for its recently-launched ‘thin client’ computer, and is banking on alliances such as the one announced on Monday with Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL).

MTNL, the state-run phone service provider in New Delhi and Mumbai, will bundle the computer with its broadband service.

Dialling growth: Alok Singh, chief executive of Novatium. The company has already run pilot projects of the service across 60 homes in New Delhi, and plans to expand into Mumbai as well

These PCs, being manufactured by Mysore-based Wipro e-Peripherals Ltd, consist of a monitor and keyboard, with all software and hard disk space hosted on MTNL central computer servers. With thin clients, most of the computing software, Internet, security updates and software upgrades are delivered from a central server with an aim to save costs for home andbusiness users.

Novatium, which has been running a experiment of its thin client PCs for almost a year across 300 homes in a Chennai suburb, received undisclosed venture funding from US-based New Enterprise Associates last week.

The Chennai-based Novatium aims to make “computing a utility for the Indian homes by allowing customers to run different applications without having to worry about maintaining their systems or buying computers that cost at least Rs25,000," said Alok Singh, Novatium’s chief executive, adding that the company is targeting around 25,000 customers in New Delhi by March.

MTNL, which has already run pilot projects of the service across 60 homes in New Delhi, plans to expand into Mumbai as well. Launching the thin client-based service, Union minister for information technology and telecommunications A. Raja said he expected products such as Novatium’s Novanet PC to help improve computer penetration and broadband adoption in the country. “We still have around 2-3% PC penetration compared to almost 52% in the US," he noted.

Customers of the MTNL broadband service will be charged a one-time fee of Rs5,000 for monitor and keyboard, apart from a monthly rental of Rs399, which includes 300 megabytes of storage and 30 hours of Internet access. Additional storage will be billed at Rs50 for every 100MB used. “We have reduced the cost by shifting software applications and other complexities to a central server," said Rajesh Jain, founder-chairman of Novatium.

So is this another attempt at making a $100 computer available to emerging markets? “Not exactly," said Singh. “We have focused a lot more on making it a commercial proposition rather than talking only about social impact."

Novatium’s computer will compete with XO, launched by One Laptop Per Child organization, founded by Nicholas Negroponte of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, apart from other thin client makers such as San Jose, California-based Wyse Technology Inc. “Many companies such as Sun Microsystems started talking about networking computing many years ago, but they chose the wrong markets," said Jain.