Interview with Tariq Krim, Jolicloud CEO
From Silicon Valley reporter to high-flying entrepreneur. Tariq Krim, founder of Netvibes, is back with a great project that is raising huge expectations: Jolicloud, a new OS for netbooks based on Linux.
I had the chance of talking extensively with Krim about Jolicloud. The resulting article has been published today in El País. Don´t remember the last time I enjoyed so much interviewing an entrepreneur, so here´s an almost full transcript of the conversation. Long, but with great insight and vision from Tariq.
Q: You founded Netvibes in 2005. It all started from a personal tool you were using, right?
A: Yes, I always started a project for myself and eventually found that what I do could be useful for other people. I suffer from massive attention disorder. If I go on the web, I click on a page and then to another page, to another page… and I completely loose the notion of time. I think everyone in the Internet is like that. So Netvibes was a tool that allowed me to have access to everything I wanted to read in one page, like a dashboard.
Q: The world of feeds and widgets has evolved a lot since 2005. The big ones, Google, Yahoo… have most of the market now. It´s tough to go against them.
A: It´s true, but with Netvibes we had a clear idea in mind: to create a product that was truly disruptive. There was no sing-up necessary to access the product. Before you had to sing first to see how the product looked like, filling two-page forms with all the information. We let people play and if they were happy with the product, they would save the page and become a member. We had a no logo and a no advertising policy; we wanted the people to feel the service was theirs. Even if it´s almost four years since then, I think Netvibes is still in advantage compared to other services from Google and Yahoo.
Q: You stepped down as Netvibes CEO last may, why?
A: I wanted to build one of the strongest consumer brands on the Internet. As we were growing the company, one option for us was moving to do more B2B work, so working with other companies to provide a personalized page for them. I´m a consumer person. My goal was to make sure that the technology and the product was the best. As soon as we released the new version of Netvibes, I believed it was time for me to take some time off.
Q: Your new project, Jolicloud, has created huge expectations. Did the idea of an OS for netbooks come also from your personal experience?
A: I´ve been using ultralight notebooks, a small Sony Vaio, for the last 10-12 years. I was travelling a lot when I was at Netvibes, and I started observing, especially in Asia, how easy it would become to be online using 3G connectivity. When I saw the launch of the OLPC, I was very intrigued by the project, I went to see them at Harvard, at the MIT lab, and discussed how they were producing the computer.
When I bought my first netbook, I found the Linux OS there, and I didn´t find the system well thought. Everyone says is very simple, but I found it very ugly. Not because it was Linux, but because if I were to do an OS, I wouldn´t build something like that.
Q: Jolicloud is built on the Linux kernel, why?
A: I´m a true believer of open source. For me there are only two models now for software, software as a service, the Salesforce model in the US, and open source. I don´t think that what´s in the middle will exist in ten years.
When you think about OS, the two leaders right now are Apple and Microsoft. When I started using computers, in late 70s, the two leaders were also Microsoft and Apple. I just thought it´s funny to see that. These companies were built before the internet. They are not companies that are part of the Internet and Facebook generation, so if you want to do something on a new OSs, it has to integrate in the open source and Internet paradigm.
Q: What will be the key value added of Jolicloud compared to Linux or Windows XP… or even the planned Windows 7 for netbooks?
A: The same as always when I do a product: thinking of the user first, I´m not here to do a compromise on the user.
Q: How much hard drive space will it take?
A: We are working on it, but it´s a bit smaller than Ubuntu. It can be handled by the first generation of netbooks. If you have disk memory of 4GB or 2GB, it works perfectly.
Q: From the screenshots released, the interface resembles the iPhone interface, large icons and very simple… is that intentional?
A: What is intentional is in the way we are organizing the OS. We learn from all different UIs, the iPhone has done a very elegant interface, but there’s a lot more to add. What´s interesting in the iPhone is the choice of the icons, the typography, Apple is amazing doing all these. But we are trying to get the best from all different UIs, from the web, mobile…
Q: Will Jolicloud support touch-screen netbooks?
A: Yes, if the drivers are supporting Linux, there is no problem. We have done some tests with touch screen netbooks and they are working fine.
Q: Do you plan to launch a similar OS for smartphones or will you focus on netbooks?
A: No, we don´t have plans for that right now. We are focusing on bringing the experience to netbooks. We are targeting very affordable computers that can connect online via 3G or wifi. Those will become the primary computer.
Q: When will you launch a private beta of Jolicloud?
A: We haven’t disclosed, we hope to have something around July or August. We are already having a small alpha version, with what we call friends and family. Shortly we´ll have a version to test.
Q: ¿In how many countries will you launch?
A: Don’t know yet, but it will be something that could be international very fast, using the community. Depending on who is using it and where, we will adapt.
Q: I guess you´ve talked already to netbook manufacturers… what will be the business model, pre-installed as OEM, or for users to download it?
A: We haven´t disclosed that. Netbooks manufacturers are very interested because everyone is scared by the economy of the netbooks. Computers are so cheap that all traditional models don´t apply anymore. We´ll have a very straight model of distribution, leveraging what we learnt from the web. I can´t tell you more details rather than we´ll work on a downloadable, web 2.0 type of approach.
Q: But, don´t you think the success of Jolicloud will depend on manufacturers including it pre-installed?
A: The model of the computing industry is breaking down, there will be a lot of changes. The Microsoft and the Apple model don´t work anymore. The problem is that you have two models fighting: the $1.000 to $1.500 laptop, and you have the netbooks. The more people are using netbook the less they are willing to buy old type of computers. So you´ll start to see 13 inch, 14 inch computers for 400 dollars. And it´s already happening, Dell and MSI have started to show off computers with the same size of a notebook that costs three times less. Also, the role of the OS will be different. It is not about connecting people to applications or local, its about connecting you to the cloud and helping you navigate for the cloud.
Q: Competition will be tough, there are at least 3 other projects similar to Jolicloud. Are you worried about this?
A: Its good news when you have people doing the same thing, I would be crazy to be the only one doing it. What is important is that we are not coming from the computing industry, we are people from the web. We are building something for our generation, something to be happy with as a user. This approach is disruptive from the existing OS approach.
Q: Netbooks are a big hit now. Do you think they are here to stay?
A: I know one rule in business: when the price drops, is very hard to go back to the old price. Now is hard to justify the cost of a regular computer. The value proposition has to change.
Q: Do you believe Apple will enter the netbook market?
A: Apple will have to redesign it´s price strategy. It is the strongest brand, it has a really nice product and software. But with the financial crisis, people don´t believe anymore in the idea of a laptop being over 1000 dollars. They will have to adapt. I´m sure they will come out with something. And that´s the amazing thing.
Photo Tariq Krim: Rodrigo Sepúlveda Schulz