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A Slightly Skeptical View on Usage of Open Source in Developing Countries


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 the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers

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 "If we can't afford the solution, then it's not a solution" ;-)

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Experts in advanced countries underestimate by a factor of two to four the ability of people in underdeveloped countries to do anything technical.

 Charles P Issawi

I would use the word "poor" instead of the politically correct word "developing". Moreover some poor (aka "developing") countries like Egypt and several Eastern European countries (Ukraine is one example) has rich millennium-old culture which in some aspects might be more sophisticated then in so called "industrialized"  countries, for example in the USA (especially in the south).

The first and the most important task for any school or university is to provide computers for students, teachers and educational institutions. In this respect high quality information about low cost hardware is of paramount importance. Software comes second. As for open source software the main question is "not why but how".   Open source software is important first of all due to the problem of brain drain.

Any investments on the part of developing countries in education, irrespective of the amount of resources spent, face the cold truth: a pretty large number of the graduates will move to find a better pay/living conditions/more rewarding jobs in rich Western countries. Thus the effects of the brain drain are pretty devastating as countries of former Soviet block learned pretty quickly.  And after the process started it became a powerful factor of maintaining of status quo. 

Eastern European and former USSR countries here can serve as a good example. After the people of those countries get rid of oppressive tyranny of the ideological sect, they expected raise of living of standards and freedom to the Western European standards. Instead they got a drastic drop of living standards, huge rise in inequality, explosive rise of organized crime, sex trade and trafficking of woman. As for freedom you not have much freedom if all you earn is not enough to buy food and cloth.  Actually "Latinamericanization" of Eastern Europe and xUSSR countries was quick and irreversible: dollarization of the region, creation of comprador elite, tragic impoverishment of the population and rapid grab of  resources by transnational corporations. The GINI income inequality and the GINI regional income inequality in the Eastern Europe and xUSSR countries are practically identical  to Latin America. Resulting "banana republics" became important source of qualified specialists for all major Western countries and Israel.  I think those countries lost substantial part of the most qualified personnel in major industries during the first decade of their independence and this process continues unabated. Especially in such areas where skills are pretty transferable for example, mathematics, medical professions, IT and software development. The USA continues to be the "most favored nation" for migrants with university or higher education, including Eastern European migrants.  In terms of standards of living and six UNDP indicators of human survival and absolute poverty, the US outperforms most EU-15 countries, including such popular migrant designations as the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal.

The intensity of the brain drain keeps changing for different professions in accordance with the market needs. Thus, if an electrical engineer or doctor moves from India, China, Brazil or Russia to the USA or UK, there is little that person does and can do in terms of development effort in his or her home country, apart from sending money to relatives. In software development he still can contribute his efforts helping people in his native country while living abroad.

But the situation is very complex and cannot be resolved with simplistic slogans. That means that easy and politically correct approach that is suggested by GNU (GPL license) can be wrong. More nuanced approach that includes usage of BSD licensed software (such as FreeBSD) and usage of Microsoft OSes is required. Of course it is very easy to  adopt extreme attitude to free software and sing GNU song. But extreme positions are always bad in any complex situation and "Gnu-way or highway" approach simply does not work due specific hardware used, the size of Microsoft software universe and high quality of certain software packages produced by Microsoft (Frontpage, Excel, etc; please note that MS Office is usually extremely overpriced ). 

It's extremely naive to think that OSS can solve all problems in developing countries. Lagging  internet connectivity and computerization is just a symptom of more serious problems such as backward infrastructure and poverty.  As Wayne Marshal wrote in the Linux Journal discussing all the pitfalls of technical aid to Africa:

In the developing world -- where most of the population still cook with firewood and carry water in buckets--the practical value of focusing foreign assistance on IT projects would seem negligible, if not ludicrous entirely. Given the more serious fundamental issues facing developing nations--health care (AIDS, TB and malaria), nutrition, sanitation, education, poverty, pollution and political corruption--providing the means to surf the Web should probably fall fairly low on any reasonable scale of human priorities.

First of all Microsoft is an important player in this region and should be treated as such. Although recently information about other OSes became more available, Microsoft dominated informational space. As PC hardware components are always compatible with Microsoft OSes and often come with windows drivers they can be used with preinstalled Windows, which actually is proced more or less reasonably in new PCs.  BTW we should not discard DOS. DOS is much simpler than Linux and generally is a better first operating system. Starting with complex Linux distribution like Red Hat can kill kid's interest in computers really quick. Also many developing nations are bypassing wired  telecommunications and moving straight to wireless, and Windows is much friendlier to wireless.

Also Windows XP Professional with open source software can be used as a server avoiding costly server license.

Windows XP Professional with open source software can be used as a WWW, FTP, and file server (including NSF via SFU 3.5).  In many ways this is equal to using Linux without the necessity of local Linux admin skills

The difference between Windows server and Windows workstation distributions is not that important for most purposes. In a similar line of reasoning it does not make any sense to pay Red Hat or Suse inflated costs of license and support for its enterprise line of products.  You can use Suse desktop or Debian or Ubuntu. Red Hat Enterprise Linux with its support cost structure is a sick joke for developing countries.

So there are several ways to bypass inflated Microsoft server and software prices and exorbitant Microsoft applications prices (they should be calculated relative to GDP, but so some reason Microsoft tries to extort from legit users the losses it suffers from piracy). Again the most important of them is not Linux -- just one of several free flavors of Unix, but to use Windows Workstation as a server with open source applications.

But the key way to find over inflated prices in those countries (I would say that Microsoft prices are very reasonable  for the USA, actually almost like shareware prices -- you can get Word 2000 for as low as $20) is to use open source applications especially those that are created by a cooperative of commercial users and thus has stable level of support. Microsoft should realize that there are a lot of good programmers in countries like Ukraine and that charging US prices in countries as poor as, say Ukraine, is suicidal. It already realized this in the USA and has special "student" editions of MS Office  and free development environment for developers.

Contrary to primitive understanding of this complex issue, software piracy is actually a positive marketing tool for Microsoft and other commercial software vendors and they should provide discounts for legalizing software because this way they save on marketing.  Currently Microsoft prices are pretty much obscene in those countries and putting pressure on Microsoft using open source software is a right thing to do. But putting pressure does not mean to lose a realistic approach. You need to s a big picture.  Also all cries of Microsoft about rampant piracy need a second look. See for example http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/09/26/piracy_unlimited/index.html ):

"It's ultimately a question of strategy," says Carlos A. Osorio, a Harvard researcher and author of a recent working paper examining the "Catch 22" facing proprietary software companies in developing markets. "For a closed-source company competing with open-source companies, the optimum strategy is often to use its illegal user base in addition to its legal user base."

As Tim O'Reilly aptly noted "Piracy is a kind of progressive taxation, which may shave a few percentage points off the sales of well-known artists (and I say "may" because even that point is not proven), in exchange for massive benefits to the far greater number for whom exposure may lead to increased revenues." [O'Relliy2002]. I would say that this is more like guerilla-style marketing: many users will eventually legalize their software. This is especially true of business users. 

Even individual user, who get an illegal copy of a friend's favorite program and often (especially if the program is used for business purposes) often like it enough to eventually buy it for the price twice of three time exceeding price of the same program in USA (just ask Microsoft how much they charge for the Office in developing countries, especially for the localized version of the Office).

Or maybe the person doesn't buy it, because its too expensive, but they will never buy a competitor's product either and that still provides a market for books, training, etc. This is largely how Microsoft Office became the standard in former USSR countries. Before Star/Open Office, Microsoft Office in this region just did not have a really dangerous competitors.

I would like to stress it again that it's not often wise to rush Linux deployment in developing countries, especially on the client side. Server side is the most promising. Linux is a reasonably good server, less stable then FreeBSD of Solaris but more rich as for the applications. Email server running Linux is OK. WEB servers are not that important unless you have really good connectivity usually limited to capitals and the biggest cities. Still they are an excellent intranet tool.  Open Office like many other major open source programs works on Windows 9x.

The problem is that Linux (like any Unix) might be too complex for the localized desktop environment. That create a need for local distributions. Other things equal using different open source packages in Windows (Unixification of Windows) is often a safer bet.

Older version of Windows like Windows 98 might be another approach as licenses can be bought very cheaply on the secondary market. Windows 2000 licenses on Ebay are also pretty reasonable. They key issue here is not to jump into local customarization bandwagon and resist local nationalism. Non-localized Windows is the only Windows that should be used in most cases and first of all in education. Application is completely another game and some of them (word processors, spreadsheets, etc) need to be customized. See Linux as a magic bullet for poor countries myth for more information

Actually hardware in developing countries is much more expensive (relatively to per capita income often 100 times more expensive) than in the US and preinstalled OS (Windows) often constitute a lesser part of the total cost consumer pays for the PC than in USA. Also such PC often have pretty obscure (cheap, but not necessary bad) components for which drivers may not exist in Linux. Very few device drivers are available for Linux today, especially for components used in developing countries. That may change in the future but that's how it is now and to close eyes of this fact is just stupid.

So unless you assemble hardware yourself from components that are known to be Linux compatible (which is not that difficult and costly in most developing countries, but still simply is not the case), Windows is probably a better choice for the desktop, at least for now. So not replacement of Windows but "unixification"  of Windows is more realistic option and much more attainable goal. In an extreme case Windows itself can be the only commercial software installed on the system. Only open source and free applications can be added to the Windows. 

Not the replacement of Windows but "unixification" of Windows
 is more realistic and more attainable goal.

At the same time MS Office is really too expensive and here OSS replacements might have an edge, especially for businesses (I doubt that Microsoft will prosecute private citizens of developing countries, who are using MS Office for personal purposes).  That means that for business (and may be for the government) Open Office is a very attractive alternative. WordPerfect is another option as then whole suit can be bought for $10 or so if you do not run for the latest and greatest version. It is actually more powerful set of programs than Open Office and more compatible with MS Office.

At the same time Linux, Solaris Open/FreeBSD, etc are definitely preferable on the server side. For small departmental server Windows 2000 Professional (or XP professional if you what to overpay for license) can be used as licenses are available on the secondary market. I would say that FreeBSD 4.x is a more stable server than Linux for both mailserver role and web server role,  but Linux is good enough too. 

Some open-source advocates promote lobbying radical solutions like that governments exclusively purchase and implement open-source technologies. Usually such people never lived in any developing country and have very fuzzy understanding of the real situation, real problems and the extent to which government intervention can harm the pace of development in a particular country :-(.  Here is one relevant quote:

Right on! Corruption is a *big* problem. (Score:2)
by sumana (sumanah@uclink4.berkeley.edu) on Sunday January 30, @05:34PM EST (#208)
(User Info)

I'm not sure how many natural-born US citizens actually realize the extent of what we would call corruption in Asian countries. It's a fact of life, a custom, a cost of doing business. If you want a phone or cable line hooked up, if you want a permit to do ANYTHING, if you want to get into a school, if you want anything, there's always baksheesh (the Indian term). There's always gotta be something to lubricate the palms. Here (northern California, to be exact), such a thing would result in investigation, 60 Minutes interviews, outrage, scandal, firings, etc. But who will investigate someone for only doing the same thing the investigator does?

Bureaucrats' wages are low; it's accepted and expected that they will compensate for those low wages via bribes. And, for anyone who's studied political science, remember that this is less a rational-legal relationship than a traditional one (in the Weberian sense) -- there are patron-client dyads everywhere, which are diffuse relationships, not limited ones.

To steal from one is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

Re:Yeah! (Score:0)
by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 30, @01:44PM EST (#96)

Given India's monstrous bureaucracy, who knows what will happen if Linux becomes the standard OS over there. Unfortunately, it would benefit everyone if there were a standard OS for everyone. It sounds crazy, but I think Windows it should be. Sorry.

One important point. It's rather dangerous and probably unfair to seek public funding of GPLed software (but this is OK for BSD software). That means that BSD-based OSes like FreeBSD are more suitable for developing nations than GPLed OSes like Linux.  Also free download is CD image via FTP is not that easy and can be quite costly in most part of the world:

From:	 Charlie Stross 
To:	 letters@lwn.net
Subject: Free downloads of CD images
Date:	 Thu, 12 Apr 2001 12:17:13 +0100


	

Apropos the lack of a SuSE 7.1 downloadable CD image ...

Here in the UK, I rent a colocated server. Bandwidth costs between Ј7 and Ј15 (i.e. $10-$22) per gigabyte per month. Thus, if I were to provide an FTP service, downloadable CD images would cost roughly $5-$10 a pop.

Of course, by buying bandwidth in bulk (my very own OC3 line!) I could probably cut the cost by an order of magnitude. And bandwidth costs in Europe are higher than in the US; again, it's an order of magnitude cheaper where you're standing.

Nevertheless, the key fact is that those distributors who provide FTP-able CD images are providing a service which costs them money to run. In the beginning, when they were poor, they sold CD's. Then they floated or otherwise became cash rich, and could afford to run FTP servers with enormous bandwidth. Now that the economy is looking gloomy, is it any surprise that they're seeking to transfer the burden of costs back onto the shoulders of the consumers (who are, after all, the people who used to pay them by purchasing CD's)?

There's a lot to be said for Tannenbaum's Law: "never underestimate the bandwidth of a pick-up truck travelling cross-country with a trunk full of magnetic tapes" -- or, in its contemporary incarnation, the bandwidth of a FedEx parcel full of DVD-ROMs.

NB: I just did the following:

  dd if=/dev/cdrom of=suse-7.1.1.iso
  bzip2 -9 suse-7.1.1.iso

This compressed the image file from 601,997,312 bytes to 507,265,922. Which suggests to me that there's still a bit of slack space in those filesystems full of oh-so-compressed RPMs. Given that enhanced compression would cut the cost (to the distributors!) of running a download service by up to 15%, maybe it's about time someone looked into the best way of providing a CDROM image. Maybe a tiny bootable Rock Ridge partition followed by a highly compressed filesystem?

-- Charlie Stross

Public funds can be stolen with or without OSS software and software firms that produce air can function perfectly well in the open software world. Monopoly of making money from Linux does not belong Western investment banks ;-) And bureaucrats in developing countries can give greedy Western venture funds capitalists a run for their money...

I already saw several relevant examples like taking substantial money for the fake project (possibly run by relatives or friends) for the creation a localized (magic bureaucratic word) Linux distribution and producing nothing :-(  Here I would definitely prefer that money would be spend on Microsoft software instead. It's stupid to assume that local bureaucrats cannot award a Linux contact to somebody who does not even have a computer. In this area they are much smarter and inventive than western observers usually assume...

Although some government might support GPLed OS, such discriminative actions can backfire. Paradoxically, but in some cases the total cost for consumers can be higher with GPLed OS. Generally this question is far from simple and some counterviews exists. 

Please remember that that catch phrase "GNU not Unix" can mean things quite different that RMS originally intended ;-). Actually a lot of commercial software both on Unix and Windows and first of all Oracle needs a reality check from open source. Switching to an open-source database can slash costs for one of the most expensive segments of the software budget by as much as 90%.  In such cases who cares is Oracle replaced with open source database (Postgres, Ingres, or MySQL) on Windows or on Unix as long as the result is reasonable reliability and lower costs.

Still I would like to stress three factors that one need to take into account are:

Those three change the playing field and are important factors that need to be calculated into equation. I suspect that a proper mixture of proprietary and OSS (BSD and GPLed) tools is usually a better mix that only proprietary or only OSS (and, especially, pure GPL) extremes that some advocates.

But one area really stands out -- education and especially computer education. Here open source can really improve the quality and lessen costs. That means that open source movement may  have a major impact on the improvement of the quality of education in developing countries.

We also need understand that learning is inherently social and that other parts of infrastructure, especially available books, are as well important as software tools.  I would like also stress that sharing is an important part of learning so participation in OSS projects is a natural form of growth for students. But, of course,  excessive zeal can be harmful and can distract students from studies. But again I would like to stress that BSD license based projects are much better choice here than GPLed projects.

Open source approach simplify architectural modularity and reuse and even on windows enables Unix-style small, focused, innovative applications based on open formats and protocols that may displace the large, integrated solutions that dominate markets. I believe that open source XML and HTML editors have a change to compete with MS Word, because paradoxically even within MS Office 2000 product line FrontPage is for certain tasks more convenient than MS Word. Direct access to underling HTML that is available in FrontPage simplify some complex tasks and make it more efficient despite the fact that MS Word is much more powerful and mature product.

This component transition has already occurred in most tiers of the computer hardware market. It is a vital feature of the automobile industry. May be open source software will help to move software development on a somewhat higher level -- the reusable components level. I see this trend as important trend on OS utilities level -- one now can assemble portable set of vital OS utilities for several different kernels including Linux, FreeBSD, BeOS, MS Windows and MacOS.

I hope that a significant open source movement for the creation of educational material will emerge, and this will might help to provide access to free educational books. At least average computer science textbooks.  Here Macmillan with its Inform It  and O'Reilly with its CD bookshelf were good starting efforts, efforts that unfortunately were abandoned.  Books freely available on the Internet can help to lessen the isolation of teachers in pure countries from their colleagues and may have the positive side effect of forming teams of talented teachers to work together in creating new exercises and other supplemental learning materials.

I would like to stress that so called "problem of digital divide" is much more complex than many help organization imagine.  There is a definite value of providing Internet connectivity and WEB access as it help to dissimilate knowledge. But this does not mean that those countries that the only way to achieve that is to try to implement universal Internet access as in developed countries. Internet connectivity might be better concentrated in companies educational institutions, libraries, medical institutions, etc and here it makes sense to fight for it. Access to individual (outside of email) might be provided via Internet café. Outside this scope the return on investment becomes less and less certain. 

As  Wayne Marshall  aptly observed in his paper LJ 86 Algorithms in Africa:

....Now, as I write this, bridging the digital divide has become one of the hottest trends in foreign assistance, and many aid organizations and corporate philanthropists have found publicity for their efforts. Simplistically, it seems, the gap in information technology has now come to be identified with access to the Internet. Thus, we have such programs as the USAID-funded Leland Initiative, designed to bring internet access to Africa; the Peace Corps announcing an information technology initiative in partnership with AOL; and a recently formed organization called Geekcorps sending its second group of volunteers on three-month stints designing web sites in Accra, the capital of Ghana in West Africa [see LJ April 2001 for more on the Geekcorps]. Naturally, the high-profile publicity given this issue has created an opportunity for many international aid organizations to develop projects and funding appeals for serving the digitally needy.

The New Tech Testament

Delivering the miracle of the Internet is the new zeal of the high-tech missionary. In what seems to be a rush to market--bringing the Internet to the developing world--sometimes projects are announced with only naïve regard to the technical issues and without full consideration of whether such projects are viable, appropriate, relevant and sustainable. Thus, one hears of a women's cooperative in Central America marketing their handcrafts over the Web; advocates describe the potential of ``telemedicine'' for delivering virtual health care to isolated areas; and the US State Department Global Technology Corps proclaims, ``We have seen farmers in Mexico using [the Internet] to check weather conditions and crop prices.''

...At the extreme, the new economy proselyte promotes the Internet as the solution for everything from education and health care to pollution, inequality and world peace. As though everyone who has access will be able to browse their way to nirvana, as though the path to heaven is paved with bandwidth. The satellite dish is the new icon of the digital evangelist, replacing the holy cross.

One of the implicit beliefs of this testament is that information, in and of itself, is sufficient to promote economy, remedy problems and narrow inequities. A corollary implication, the message from one side of the divide to the other, is that we have information and you don't, that our information is good and yours is useless. This is the lesson CNN preaches to its international audience when it tells us, ``The human without information is nothing.''

It should be clear that in this form, divide rhetoric is simply new raiment for the familiar old taxonomies of prejudice that have long sought to divide the world between believers and heathens, the enlightened and the savage. From a historical perspective, rather than helping, these kinds of belief systems have generally been devastating to their targets.

More importantly, the belief in the sufficiency of information and information technology is simply wrong. Information alone doesn't help people. If only this were true, doctors would be made from medical textbooks and entrepreneurs would be born from accounting manuals.

In fact, the developing world is littered with unused X-ray equipment, broken-down tractors and empty schoolrooms contributed over the years by well-intentioned and simpleminded donors. These resources are made useless not from missing user manuals or lack of web access, but by the lack of trained technicians, mechanics and teachers.

In short, what empowers people are skills.

Even in the US, this kind of awareness is emerging. In ``How Does the Empty Glass Fill? A Modern Philosophy of the Digital Divide'' (Educause Review, Nov/Dec 2000), Solveig Singleton and Lucas Mast write: ``From the standpoint of higher education, students who leave high school without exposure to digital learning tools such as the Internet will prove a much less serious problem than students who leave high school with inadequate reading or math skills.''

And the leading journal of free-market capitalism, the Economist, recently observed: 

The poor are not shunning the Internet because they cannot afford it: the problem is that they lack the skills to exploit it effectively. So it is difficult to see how connecting the poor to the Internet will improve their finances. It would make more sense to aim for universal literacy than universal Internet access.

It may be that, with the recent outbreak of dot-com bankruptcy and declines in the stock market, the tenets of the digital religion could be losing their currency. At a time when the mega-billion, IPO-funded ebiz stars like Amazon and Yahoo are having a tough go across the US and Europe, it's hard not to wonder how the promises of e-commerce could possibly prove viable and sustainable elsewhere, particularly in places where there aren't even good banking and credit systems. And for someone like me who has lived several years of the past decade in both rural and urban parts of the developing world--where most of the population still cook with firewood and carry water in buckets--the practical value of focusing foreign assistance on IT projects would seem negligible, if not ludicrous entirely. Given the more serious fundamental issues facing developing nations--health care (AIDS, TB and malaria), nutrition, sanitation, education, poverty, pollution and political corruption--providing the means to surf the Web should probably fall fairly low on any reasonable scale of human priorities.

So is there any way to make a difference, a real difference that improves people's lives? Is there any role for Linux and open-source advocacy in emerging markets? Are there ways of using technology for solving human problems in places like Africa, without trying to sell wool sweaters in the desert? I wouldn't be writing this article if there weren't.

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov


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[Mar 07, 2011]   Piracy In Developing Countries Driven By High Prices

Slashdot

langelgjm:

"The Social Science Research Council, an independent, non-profit organization, today released a major report on music, film and software piracy in developing economies. It's a product of three years of work, and the authors conclude that piracy is primarily driven by excessively high prices and that anti-piracy education and enforcement efforts have failed. Still, chief editor Joe Karaganis believes that businesses can survive in these high piracy environments. The report is free to readers in low-income countries, but behind a paywall for certain high-income countries, although the SSRC notes, 'For those who must have it for free anyway, you probably know where to look.'"

Anonymous:

The average person in Cambodia earns one dollar a day. Some kids collect scrape metal and if they collect $0.25 worth of them, they can go to school the next day (they are not only happy about it, but work to get to school!). Do you really think they're going to spend it on entertainment than costs more than they make in a month?

I was visiting there last year and unsurprisingly they did have stores with pirated goods. The largest mall in Phnom Penh has full floor of tv shows, movies, games, applications, everything you can think of. Games and movies cost $1-2 while all seasons of The Simpsons cost $10, all neatly packed and everything. The other series with less dvd's cost even less of course, and this was inside a big mall and they probably added some extra to the price since I was foreigner (they didn't list prices but you had to ask). Maybe you can get them even cheaper from street vendors.

And while speaking of Cambodia, it's quite nice place to visit, not your usual holiday place. Even in the cities some of the streets are just sand and when you go out all the tuk tuk drivers come asking you where you want to go. If you want to go for a few beers and a pizza, the driver takes you there and waits for you while you do your stuff and drink beer, even if it takes long time. Then you just give them like $5 for being your driver the whole night, and they're happy since they're still getting a lot more than people usually. That's why there isn't any shortage of tuk tuk drivers either. And yeah, girl bars (or ladyboy bars if you prefer that) are open 24/7 and there's happy pizzas with special ingredient ;-)

WrongSizeGlass (838941)

So it isn't necessarily 'high prices' but prices that prices aren't adjusted to the developing country's standard of living?

aBaldrich (1692238):

In developing countries the average cost of life is lower, but the average income is much lower. Where I live, Windows plus Office costs 2-3 average salaries. How can they seriously expect anyone to pay?

Even those who can afford it find it morally unacceptable to waste so much money on software. You can get it for free and donate the money.

sltd (1182933)

In Peru, there's pretty much no market for "original" CD's or DVD's. No one wants to pay full price for a movie, when there's people in every marketplace selling movies for $1.50. I knew someone who made a living selling burned DVD's - he got them from a place called Polvos Azules, practically for free. There's a place called Wilson that builds custom computers with cheap components. They preload Windows XP SP2 and loads of software that costs a lot in the US. A lot of people have PS2's and get them modded to be able to play "pirated" games and DVD's. You won't find shrink wrapped anything there. Everyone either knows how to circumvent the anti-piracy measures, or knows someone who does it for cheap.

Personally, I would rather see people in Peru encouraged to develop their own media. Instead of being reliant on the US for software and stuff, they could write their own solutions. In a nationalistic country like every one in South America, it would be easier for the people to support developers in their own country. I'd like to see them put their resourcefulness into writing new code. It would certainly be interesting.



 

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[Jan 18, 2008] Asus Offers Travelers Small, Mobile Eee PC, but It’s Too Cramped by  Walt Mossberg

Currently it is fashionable and greatly overpriced for the functionality provided (usable version with 8G flash drive is over $300.  But if price is right (let's say below $200 for base 8G disk and 512M RAM) it can be used both 'as is" and with external keyboard and mouse ($12-$20) and external screen is ($150). External USB drive is also a possibility. 

Asus doesn’t even call the Eee a computer, referring to it as a “mobile Internet gadget.” Instead of using Microsoft Windows as its operating system, the Eee uses a specially designed version of the open Linux operating system, and comes preloaded with a variety of open-source programs for Web browsing, performing office tasks, playing music and videos, running games and managing photos.

The Eee has a much smaller footprint than even the subnotebook category of laptop, such as the much-publicized MacBook Air unveiled by Apple this week (which I’ll review after I have thoroughly tested it), or subnotebooks from Sony and Lenovo. It weighs a mere two pounds, is just under 9 inches wide and just over 6 inches deep. It is thicker than the new Apple and some other subnotebooks, ranging from 0.79 inches at its thinnest point to 1.26 inches at its thickest. The overall effect is small, but stubby.

The Eee’s price is only a fraction of what typical subnotebooks cost — from $300 to $500, depending on configuration. The model I tested, called the Surf, is the base $300 entry. With its pastel blue lid, and tiny size, it looks like something Barbie might use. But it can perform real work, even though it comes with only 512 megabytes of memory and a scant two gigabytes of storage space.

One reason the device costs and weighs so little is that there is no hard disk. Files are stored on memory chips. It is possible to add storage by popping in a flash memory card or by connecting a USB drive to one of the three USB ports.

Comments

  1. Walt,
    Yes, you are correct that the Eee PC is not a business class machine, but it is nonetheless an excellent machine.
    I purchased one of these as a gift for my wife this past Christmas in part because I knew she’d love its size and especially how light weight it is (remember, this was pre-MacBook Air). She’s also had no problems with the keyboard and uses the laptop mostly for what it is best at — Web surfing.
    I have used the machine to build a spreadsheet and it is a bit cumbersome, but nonetheless possible.
    For serious work, a full-size keyboard (such as the desktop I am typing on right now) is much to be preferred.
    You give credit to Asus for its price and that is well deserved praise. The Eee PC is not going to be your main computer, but at $299, this is an excellent deal for a reliable, stable product, to have if your main desire is to surf the Web, and at times do some office work on it.

    Posted by Adolfo Mendez at January 17th, 2008 at 6:00 am
     

  2. I also just bought an EEE PC, and I agree that you have to evaluate it based on its intended usage. I was looking for a convenient reader for all the pdfs, text files, postscript files, etc I have lying around—most of these are large, technical documents. None of the ebook readers out there are up to the task—either they are too slow turning pages, they only support proprietary formats, they don’t support pdf at all (or only in some poor way), they’re too expensive (like the Iliad), etc. The EEE PC is a full computer so it reads all these formats perfectly and the display is large enough to comfortably read all the fine techincal details. At the same time, because it’s a PC, I can bring up a text editor and be making notes as I’m reading, plus I can surf the web and download new docs at will and read email if I want to (a bonus feature as far as I’m concerned). All this for less than some dedicated ebook readers (like the Kindle) and providing vastly more. So yes, if this is supposed to be your primary workhorse, this is not a good choice—but for the flexibility of carrying around essentially a paperback book that has a reasonable screen (much bigger than the iPhone or any other PDA) in which you can do every computing task you need…well, I think it’s outstanding.

    Posted by Jeff Billeter at January 17th, 2008 at 6:24 am

  3. It wasn’t long ago that our laptops had 800 by 480 resolution and we got plenty of work done. Not long before that we were productive with that resolution on our desktops. Eee looks like the machine I have been waiting to travel with. (ps. I suspect if Apple had released the same item and called it the iSmall, Mr Mossberg would be drooling).

    Posted by Harry Mangurian at January 17th, 2008 at 7:52 am

  4. “cramped” does not mean “useless”, quite the contrary as the EEE can go anywhere, heck fits into my [cargo-pant] pocket! (also note the charger is no larger than a phone charger - no big brick to lug).

    It’s also a quite capable machine, 1GHz and 512MB of RAM, when connected to an external monitor it’s a dream.

    Plus, I can toss it in my pocket and read articles anywhere rather than waste my time waiting in line.

    Posted by Hugh Bert at January 17th, 2008 at 8:31 am

[Jan 11, 2008] One Pornographic Image Per Nigerian Child by Wayan Vota

See also Silicon Valley Sleuth OLPC blog draws fire for failure to disclose. I am also highly critical about OLPC project as overhyped (selling point is for children and IMHO they are the last to benefit from such a computer; while students definitely can) and to a certain extent creating unrealistic expectation  and behaviors (as in redistributing scarse resources in the countries that agree to support it to support Negroponte flawed vision) but for sure I am in no way associated with Intel ;-).  As for Negroponte self-promotion mania this is a completely distinct from the value of OLPC laptops problem.  See also OLPC: the technology scam of the century?  for a very interesting point of view from India (it is also cached in this page). actually the best thing Negroponte achieved so fare is to force Intel and Microsoft to do something "ultra-cheap"/ultraportable category. 

July 19, 2007 |  OLPC News

While I've discounted the OLPC child pornography fears of others and we've explored adult OLPC XO uses, I haven't spoken about the potent mix of Internet access and the natural curiosity of children, especially those reaching puberty, to go looking for images others may not want them to see.

Of course, the worst kept secret for any telecenter or cybercafe is what happens when you mix Internet access and young men: porn. I've seen whole computer rooms turn into porno galleries as boobie-gazing men replace women and children as the primary customers of a center. Yes, its sad, but its also human nature.

And human nature just bit One Laptop Per Child on its naked ass, according to Reuters Africa:

!
Nigerian schoolchildren who received laptops from a U.S. aid organisation have used them to explore pornographic sites on the Internet, the official News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported on Thursday. NAN said its reporter had seen pornographic images stored on several of the children's laptops.

"Efforts to promote learning with laptops in a primary school in Abuja have gone awry as the pupils freely browse adult sites with explicit sexual materials," NAN said.

Now I am not surprised that teenagers or even younger were getting a eyeful of "hot coffee" through WiFi mesh networking, exploring a whole new medical OLPC application, I can even see little XO icons grouping around navigators with the best "money shot" angles, I am only surprised that the NAN reporter wrote about it.

Usually, everyone glosses over the issue, like the New York Times did. To focus on it this much means that the reporter really wanted a headline grabbing story or is against the project on a personal level.

No matter which, OLPC Nigeria reacted quickly and XO computers will now be fitted with filters. No word on exactly how those very filters will work since even lazy Americans have found multiple ways around them. Porn surfing is not a technical problem to be solved with filters, it's a human nature issue addressed through a comprehensive cultural integration process.

[Jan 4, 2008] Eee Could Have Meant Excellent - Faster Forward

Looks like an excellent laptop for students.  Not suitable foer a child: the relavant question is  "Will your child be safe carrying around a hot consumer electronics gadget"

       From reader comments:

Dude, you've been much too hard on this cool little box. Your speculation on potential limitations is way off base. I have the 4GB EeePC, and loaded XPHome. Couldn't be an easier install. Asus included XP drivers on disk in the retail box. XP self-configures to adapt to screen size and hardware. No muss no fuss. I increased RAM to 2GB RAM and added a 4MB SD Card for more storage. Don't let the specs fool you, the 900Ghz processor will play DIVX movies and MP3s without missing a beat. Works like a charm and I'm very happy.

Gave my daughter my 1.6 Ghz Intel MacBook and I never looked back. Only improvement I would like to see is a bigger screen. This should be do-able without increasing the size of the laptop. The 7inch screen is flanked by two 2" speakers. I'd vote for using the entire area for screen, taking out the speakers and let folks use ear-buds.

===

Jerry, I am certainly not a fan of Microsoft and avoid using any of their product - software and hardware - at all costs. However, the old expresion of "pay Cesar what is due" applies here.

Posted by: Larry | January 5, 2008 06:22 PM

=== ... Go to Ebay buy an IBM X21 vintage super portable laptop. Price USD 200. 20 GB hard drive, great keyboard, full 1024 resolution, runs even a regular Ubuntu pleasantly with everything working out of the box.
Let's rather recycle old computers. It's Linux that makes these weak machines do miracles.

Posted by: Dionea | January 5, 2008 06:48 PM

[Dec 20, 2007] allAfrica.com Kenya Poor Counries Must Not Be Left Behind in Technological Growth (Page 1 of 1)

Questionable statement but still interesting...

Telephone exchanges imported to India tend to have high-capacity lines and therefore are not viable in the rural areas.

When they realised that small-capacity telephone exchanges were hard to come by, Indians made digital ones that would carry as low as 100 lines.

The modified digital equipment would also be resistant to the country's heat and humidity, unlike the electromechanical analog switches.

The Indian innovators have lately adapted the wireless local loop (WLL) technology (using CDMA like those of Telkom, Flashcom and Popote Wireless) and came up with a product called corDect, which is expected to be affordable for rural India ( www.tenet.res .in/cordect.html).

[Dec 20, 2007] OLPC heralds era of low-cost computing - LinuxWorld

The question of serviceability remains and it is unclear if screwdriver assembly is not a better way. Still that's true that Negroponte efforts served as a catalyst for low cost mobile market: "Ultra-low-cost mobile PCs are likely to have an impact on the component supply chain going forward, said Jamie Wang, computing analyst at Gartner. In addition, the average price of mainstream mobile PCs will probably be driven down to compete with the new breed of low-cost notebooks". Despite Negroponte vision they are useful mostly for college students, not schoolchildren as he assumed. For children especially younger children they are either useless (as in broken laptop) or harmful (waste of funds which should be better spend on other needs; providing game and porno console instead of real educational help).

Critics of the One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) Project like to point out that it has not yet lived up to its goal of putting $100 notebooks in the hands of millions of kids in poor countries, but that's a short-sighted view considering the impact it's already having on the computer industry

OLPC's XO laptop and the dream of the $100 notebook PC have driven down the cost of computing and highlighted the issue of the lack of computing resources in developing nations.

It has inspired an entirely new class of low-cost laptop, which already includes two rival devices in the Eee PC and Classmate PC and will have many more by the end of 2008, according to research company IDC. The laptop has also roused big technology companies to join the fray with research dollars and plans for the future.

Intel and Microsoft, for example, are hard at work tweaking chips (Diamondville) and software ($3 for XP, Office and a suite of additional software) for this low-cost segment of the laptop industry.

"There's a lot of potential, because everyone is looking at this market," said Richard Shim, research manager for personal computing at IDC.

A number of trends are occurring due to the low-cost laptop drive, he said. Prices are falling and companies are branching out with new laptop designs. The Eee PC, for example, is ultra-portable, weighing less than a kilogram and carrying a small, 7-inch screen.

Shim says he has already seen new low-cost laptops that have yet to be unveiled, and said "all the major guys" are looking into such devices, but he declined to reveal further information due to nondisclosure agreements.

To be sure, laptop PC prices were already falling prior to the launch of OLPC's XO laptop, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. The proliferation of LCDs in laptops, desktop monitors and other devices has pushed down the price of such screens to below that of older, CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitors in some cases, and iPods and other digital music players have helped lower the price of hard disk drives and flash memory storage.

But the challenge OLPC Chairman Nicholas Negroponte raised a few years ago, to design a $100 laptop computer for kids in developing countries, crystalized the need for lower-cost computers and unleashed new energy for the effort, he added.

In microprocessors, for example, not only has Intel stepped up its efforts to lower costs and increase power efficiency, but other processor makers are challenging the company by winning designs in the low-cost area as well, including Via Technologies.

The competition is prodding processor makers to improve their designs and lower prices, according to market researcher iSuppli. That's important because the microprocessor is normally the most expensive component in a computer, or second only to the LCD screen in some cases.

Ultra-low-cost mobile PCs are likely to have an impact on the component supply chain going forward, said Jamie Wang, computing analyst at Gartner. In addition, the average price of mainstream mobile PCs will probably be driven down to compete with the new breed of low-cost notebooks.

Still, people interested in buying a low-cost mobile device should beware, the analysts warned. In the electronics business, you often get what you pay for.

"You're making very severe trade-offs to get these costs," said Enderle. "You can't have too many trade-offs, or you lose the usefulness."

While products such as the XO and the Eee PC can be had for under $250, there are mainstream laptops with far better performance available for $500, he said.

There's also the problem of creating such devices for developing nations, where poor infrastructure such as a lack of electricity and Internet access make computing a far more difficult issue than just providing laptops, say Matt Wilkins and Peter Lin, analysts from iSuppli.

But the groups promoting low-cost laptops for developing countries are trying to take care of some of these infrastructure issues, and the devices could help narrow the digital divide in countries where development is already in full swing and electricity and Internet connectivity are more available, such as India and China.

[Dec 20, 2007] One Laptop per Child Doesn't Change the World - Columns by PC Magazine by John C. Dvorak

Laptops are not bad but definitely not for children.  Why spoil childhood with all this computer crap? :-) For university students they might be better then nothing. I like the rhetoric question "What African kid doesn't want access to Slashdot?" It displays the level of naivety that is dominant in discussion of this topic.
Hands Across America, Live AID, the Concert for Bangladesh, and so on. The American (and world) public has witnessed one feel-good event (and the ensuing scandals) after another. Each one manages to assuage our guilt about the world's problems, at least a little. Now these folks think that any sort of participation in these events, or even their good thoughts about world poverty and starvation, actually help. Now they can sleep at night. It doesn't matter that nothing has really changed.

This is how I view the cute, little One Laptop per Child (OLPC) XO-1 computer, technology designed for the impoverished children of Africa and Alabama. This machine, which is the brainchild of onetime MIT media lab honcho Nick Negroponte, will save the world. His vision is to supply every child with what amounts to an advertising delivery mechanism. Hence the boys at Google are big investors.

Before you cheer for the good guys, ponder a few of these facts taken from a world hunger Web site. In the Asian, African, and Latin American countries, well over 500 million people are living in what the World Bank has called "absolute poverty." Every year, 15 million children die of hunger. For the price of one missile, a school full of hungry children could eat lunch every day for five years. Throughout the decade, more than 100 million children will die from illness and starvation. The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is well fed, one-third is underfed, and one-third is starving. Since you've entered this site, at least 200 people have died of starvation. One in 12 people worldwide is malnourished, including 160 million children under the age of 5. Nearly one in four people, or 1.3 billion—a majority of humanity—live on less than $1 per day, while the world's 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world's people. Let's include Negroponte and the Google billionaires.

So what to do? Let's give these kids these little green computers. That will do it! That will solve the poverty problem and everything else, for that matter. Does anyone but me see this as an insulting "let them eat cake" sort of message to the world's poor?

"Sir, our village has no water!" "Jenkins, get these people some glassware!"

But, wait. Think of how cool it would be! Think of how many families will get to experience the friendly spam-ridden Information Super Ad-way laced with Nigerian scams, hoaxes, porn, blogs, wikis, spam, urban folklore, misinformation, sites selling junk from China, bomb-making instructions, jihad initiatives, communist propaganda, Nazi propaganda, exhortations, movie clips of cats playing the piano, advertising, advertising, and more advertising. Do you now feel better about the world's problems, knowing that some poor tribesman's child has a laptop? What African kid doesn't want access to Slashdot?

Of course, it might be a problem if there is no classroom and he can't read. The literacy rate in Niger is 13 percent, for example. Hey, give them a computer! And even if someone can read, how many Web sites and wikis are written in SiSwati or isiZulu? Feh. These are just details to ignore.

he's got a point. (Score:4, Insightful)

by yagu (721525) * <yayagu.gmail@com> on Sunday December 09, @03:22PM (#21633487)
(Last Journal: Friday November 16, @09:48AM)

It's a hard point to argue if you had only two options, food, or a laptop, the food seems a better choice. Of course there's no reason it can't be both. I think his point is worth thinking on, there are people for whom getting a computer is not much more than some diversion before they die of whatever disease they're slated to die from if they're lucky enough not to die of starvation (or unlucky enough, pick your idealogical slant).

True that no matter how much money you send, it's never going to be enough, but also true, for the lucky ones if they manage to survive their poverty, exposure to something like a computer may offer them a starting point.

He also raises good points... computers are hardly more than advertising pipelines, and unless you're already savvy, it's hard to suppress an rid the experience of the deluge of ads. Also, how many sites are in SiSwati or isiZulu these days?

Heck, I've seen and read of schools investing millions in computers with no tangible results in students' scores, grades, or even elevated interests in learning. The big problem is actually teaching something at all, ever, no matter the tools selected for education.

Yeah, sometimes Dvorak's nothing more than a grumpy old man who rants. I see him in this article as a grumpy old thoughtful and compassionate man. Kudos to him for raising the issue.

The Western way (Score:5, Informative)

by markov_chain (202465) on Sunday December 09, @04:52PM (#21634467)

1. Teach a man how to fish
2. Lend him a crapload of money under the condition that he buys the fishing boat, fishing equipment and fuel from you
3. Wait until man can't pay off the debt due to disastrous interest rates, and invoke the default clauses such as taking ownership of his business, and diverting the fish to a Western market
4. Profit!

Luxuries Versus Necessities (Score:5, Insightful)

by reporter (666905) on Sunday December 09, @03:51PM (#21633815)

John C. Dvorak gives a specific example of a core problem: buying luxuries in the absence of satisfying basic needs.

One of the characteristics of a failed 3rd-world nation is that its people spend money on projects that are not directly related to providing basic necessities. To understand this issue, first look at a highly successful people who transformed themselves from a 3rd-world nation into a 1st-world economic superpower. Consider the case of Japan.

At the end of 1945, Japan was impoverished. Allied forces had bombed it back into barren rock, of which some became radioactive. In the ensuing 35 years, the Japanese people focused on the basics: building the infrastructure (e.g., railroads and public schools), acquiring industrial technology (e.g., transistors from the Americans) to expand its industrial base, etc. Specifically, Tokyo invested almost no money in military forces, space adventures, etc. By 1980, Japan became a 1st-world nation -- and the #2 economic superpower.

Now, consider India. Its people are wasting money on a space race [slashdot.org] and nuclear weapons. This activity only impoverishes the impoverished people, who are the majority of the Indian population. The result is that the prospects for India [slashdot.org] are quite poor.

Forget laptops. Forget space ships. Above all, forget nuclear weapons. If you are a citizen of an impoverished nation, focus on the basics: reading, writing, mathematics, science (includng agriculture), and free markets. If you can succeed at the basics (and everyone can succeed at the basics), then your nation will naturally prosper.

.... .... ....

On having been to Africa (Score:3, Insightful)

by QX-Mat (460729) on Sunday December 09, @05:46PM (#21635029)

On having been to Africa, I'm in complete agreement.

What a lot of people don't realise is that most African's are fairly happy, and fairly adapted to their way of life. A computer won't help kids. A computer only helps administrators, and typists.

One of the projects I did while in Zambia was to help renovate a school. African's would rather have more materials for their schools, working radios they can teach with, or more access to simple life saving treatment such as blood or TB vaccines.

A rural teacher who I met simply wanted bars in the windows (holes) of his Oxfam built school so kids wouldn't climb in a steal what little supplied he had. Paper and pens were far far more useful than computers.

We have to look at India and China. They're becoming the world Math and Scientific elite. Employing an education system Britain abandoned 40 years ago in favor of modernizing. Educations works.

Even though I dislike most religions and the dangerous ideologies they breed, religion in many developing countries is a key focus point for community driven development - people like to pitch in where there is a support structure; but support structures need money! Even if it's just food to sustain some of the 80% unemployed in Zimbabwe so they don't take to looting, hostage taking or drugs.

There are better things to donate money to: such as anti-corruption schemes or Médecins Sans Frontières.

Take your pick, GO TO A DEVELOPING COUNTRY AND SPONSOR A VILLAGE FOR AS LITTLE AS £50/m, just don't get a piece of technology for a child who can't charge it.

Re:Slashdot overreaction in... (Score:2)

by someone300 (891284) on Sunday December 09, @03:49PM (#21633799)

They need lots of things, and a laptop can certainly help with some of the things you mentioned.

educational/vocational/agricultural training.

didn't have the money for basic materials like pencils for lessons in reading and writing

The OLPC project is targetted at those who are in a situation where they've got food, and life's necessities but now need help becoming self sustaining ... this is done through education. With these fancy laptops, it's possible that they won't need to spend nearly as much on paper and resources, as well as providing a great educational link to the internet.

[Nov 28, 2007] Technology Glimpsing Nigeria's digital lifeline By Jonathan Fildes

Without access to Internet laptop has limited value...  Rollout is extremely expensive and drains limited funds quickly. Theft and misuse are large problems.  We are talking about at least $10K of additional costs per year for infrastructure. 

November 28, 2007BBC NEWS

...more than 40 of the prototype machines have either been lost, stolen or broken since March. This has knock-on consequences, meaning that that not every child has a laptop on which to follow lessons.

In addition, the laptops can be a distraction - often pupils play games on their computer rather than follow the class.

It is also apparent from visiting Galadima the level of support a large-scale roll out of the programme would require.

Teachers would need to be trained, technicians would need to be on hand to troubleshoot problems and the laptops and its peripherals would also need maintenance.

Some of the children have learnt how to fix broken keyboards and remove the screens and batteries. They act as engineers for the whole of the school - fixing friends laptops as and when needs arise. But software and infrastructure problems may be more tricky.

For example, the solar chargers strapped to the roof of Galadima school had been not set up correctly - we were told they were "misaligned" - and are useless.

...Earlier this year, some of the pupils were found to be accessing pornography through the laptops

"VSAT is still very expensive," said Mr Olanrewaju Oke of internet service provider Accelon.

"For a 1.2m dish and a one watt radio it comes in at about $2,500."

In addition, a 128Kbps connection - around a quarter of the speed of a typical broadband connection - is around $350 per month, or $4,200 per year. That is on top of the cost of the laptops - currently $188 apiece.

During the trial, Accelon provided the connection for free but now the school is on its own and as a result, the link has been cut - although OLPC Nigeria had asked for the internet to be restored during our visit.

... ... ....

At the moment the laptops are used to augment the text books and black boards rather than replace them.

"One of the biggest uses of the laptop is for note-taking in class," said Mr Kusamotu.

In addition, he said, teachers use the preloaded encyclopaedia to teach classes.

During our visit we saw a lesson on the mammalian eye based on the preloaded content along with maths lessons that used the calculator.

[Nov 23, 2007] Joseph Stiglitz: "Financial Hypocrisy"

From reader comments "... I'm struck by the contrast between the emerging response to THIS banking crisis and the conventional wisdom heard in Washington and on Wall Street during Japan's banking crisis of the early '90s. Then, the mantra was that Japan's Ministry of Finance had to break up the "convoy" system, force the banks to work out or liquidate their bad debts and let the market pick the winners and losers -- as quickly as possible. Now, what are Paulson and company trying to do? Organize a convoy. I think what often amazes the rest of the world isn't the level of hypocrisy in American culture and policy, but the fact that so many Americans are so stunningly blind to it."
Joseph Stiglitz, who was chief economist of the World Bank during the emerging markets crisis a decade ago, discusses in a Project Syndicate article (hat tip Mark Thoma) how the US is now unwilling to take the harsh medicine it prescribed back then. While this may be a revelation to some US readers, this inconsistency is well known overseas and cause for quiet consternation.

But Stiglitz takes the case of the nations subject to the tough US/World Bank requirements one step further. He argues that href="http://www.stabroeknews.com/index.pl/article_daily_features?id=56533502"> the standard recommendation of financial market liberalization is wrong; it increases instability without increasing growth. It merely serves Wall Street Stiglitz quite bluntly points out what people in polite society here seem unable to admit, that the Treasury is the financial industry's advocate. It has merely become glaringly obvious with Paulson.

This second line of thinking – that US Treasury/IMF policies are not in the best interests of the nations subject to them – is also a widely held view abroad, but too often is dismissed in policy circles as conspiracy theory. Having someone like Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist who also had a seat at the table. support that view puts an entirely different coloration on it.

From Project Syndicate:
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the East Asia crisis....There were many other innocent victims, including countries that had not even engaged in the international capital flows that were at the root of the crisis. Indeed, Laos was among the worst-affected countries....It was the worst global crisis since the Great Depression....

Looking back at the crisis a decade later, we can see more clearly how wrong the diagnosis, prescription, and prognosis of the IMF and United States Treasury were. The fundamental problem was premature capital market liberalization. It is therefore ironic to see the US Treasury Secretary once again pushing for capital market liberalization in India - one of the two major developing countries (along with China) to emerge unscathed from the 1997 crisis.

It is no accident that these countries that had not fully liberalized their capital markets have done so well. Subsequent research by the IMF has confirmed what every serious study had shown: capital market liberalization brings instability, but not necessarily growth. (India and China have, by the same token, been the fastest-growing economies.)

Of course, Wall Street (whose interests the US Treasury represents) profits from capital market liberalization: they make money as capital flows in, as it flows out, and in the restructuring that occurs in the resulting havoc. In South Korea, the IMF urged the sale of the country's banks to American investors, even though Koreans had managed their own economy impressively for four decades, with higher growth, more stability, and without the systemic scandals that have marked US financial markets with such frequency.

In some cases, US firms bought the banks, held on to them until Korea recovered, and then resold them, reaping billions in capital gains. In its rush to have westerners buy the banks, the IMF forgot one detail: to ensure that South Korea could recapture at least a fraction of those gains through taxation. Whether US investors had greater expertise in banking in emerging markets may be debatable; that they had greater expertise in tax avoidance is not.

The contrast between the IMF/US Treasury advice to East Asia and what has happened in the current sub-prime debacle is glaring. East Asian countries were told to raise their interest rates, in some cases to 25%, 40%, or higher, causing a rash of defaults. In the current crisis, the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank cut interest rates.

Similarly, the countries caught up in the East Asia crisis were lectured on the need for greater transparency and better regulation.

But lack of transparency played a central role in this past summer's credit crunch; toxic mortgages were sliced and diced, spread around the world, packaged with better products, and hidden away as collateral, so no one could be sure who was holding what.

And there is now a chorus of caution about new regulations, which supposedly might hamper financial markets (including their exploitation of uninformed borrowers, which lay at the root of the problem.) Finally, despite all the warnings about moral hazard, Western banks have been partly bailed out of their bad investments.

Following the 1997 crisis, there was a consensus that fundamental reform of the global financial architecture was needed.

But, while the current system may lead to unnecessary instability, and impose huge costs on developing countries, it serves some interests well. It is not surprising, then, that ten years later, there has been no fundamental reform. Nor, therefore, is it surprising that the world is once again facing a period of global financial instability, with uncertain outcomes for the world's economies.

[Nov 23, 2007] ASUS EEE PC 4G - GALAXY BLACK - Weighs only 2 pounds!

Buy.com selleing those for $399. Which is too much. Price should be half of that and at $150-$200 this might be a good deal.  Vostro now costs $499 on Dell website and is a much better deal.

Asus Eee Pc Super Mobile Internet Device, Color: Galaxy Black. 7" Wide Lcd. 800 X 480 Wvga. 512mb Ddr2 Memory On Board. 4gb Solid State Disk Storage. Preloaded With Linux- Intel UMA Mobile Chipset (Windows Xp Compatible, Drivers Included).

If the fact that Asus uses Linux is a concern for you, then don't worry. Asus recently announced that they are teaming up with Microsoft to release a version of the Eee PC that will come preloaded with Windows in 2008. Neither company specified which version of Windows will find its way onto the Eee PC, but given the 4GB SSD and low voltage processor Windows XP is the obvious choice. Whether or not Windows will help or hurt the performance of the Eee PC remains to be seen. In any case, you can expect the cost of a Windows-based Eee PC to be higher...

If you open the bottom panel on the Eee PC (which may void the two-year warranty) you'll find a standard DDR2 RAM slot and a PCI-E mini card slot for possible future expansion. We tested the Eee PC with both the standard 512MB memory and a 1GB memory module. Theoretically, a 2GB module of RAM should fit in the slot just as easily as a 1GB module did ... but we didn't have a 2GB module available in the office.

In the end, the Eee PC is the single most impressive notebook we've seen priced below $400. The technical specs might look sub par, but the usability and overall performance of the Eee PC rivals notebooks costing several thousand dollars more....

read the full review

[Jul 18, 2007] Dell's Vostro aims to ease PC use for SMBs InfoWorld News 2007-07-10 By Ben Ames and Marc Ferranti, IDG News Service

Used PC and laptops provide better value.

Dell pointed out that MIT had recently raised its price to $170 and that a better way to get cheap PCs in the hands of schoolchildren would be to re-use the 125 million PCs discarded each year by users in western nations.

[Jul 14, 2007] World Bank Report on Governing Finds Level Playing Field - New York Times

The report, released yesterday and based on the most comprehensive data on governance in more than 200 countries, found that not just poor countries struggled with corruption and flawed government.

The report’s rating of corruption in the United States, for example, has significantly worsened in the last decade, and last year Chile, a developing country, performed as well on this measure as the United States. A dozen emerging economies, including those in Chile, Botswana, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Latvia and Lithuania, scored higher on the rule of law and corruption than two industrialized countries, Italy and Greece.

“It shows the power of data,” said Daniel Kaufmann, an author of the report and director of global programs at the World Bank Institute, a knowledge-sharing and training arm of the bank. “It begins to challenge these long-held popular notions — that the rich world has reached nirvana in governance.”

The World Bank was mired in a governance scandal of its own this year when its president, Paul D. Wolfowitz, faced charges of favoritism for his companion, who worked at the bank. Mr. Kaufmann was one of a handful of bank officials who wrote a tough letter in April saying that the crisis was a test of the bank’s commitment to high standards of governance. About 800 of the bank’s 13,000 staff members signed it. Mr. Wolfowitz, who had made corruption his signature issue, resigned in May.

Mr. Kaufmann said countries rightly asked the bank: “What right do you have of rating the world when you first have to rate yourselves? It has to start at home.”

The database, compiled from information provided by 30 organizations, is itself a measure of the bank’s evolution on the centrality of governing — not just in its most obvious dimensions of corruption and electoral democracy, but in respect for civil liberties, press freedom, human rights and government transparency, among others.

Mr. Kaufmann, a Chilean citizen, became a leader of the decade-long endeavor to document the effects of bad governance on economic development and the well-being of poor people. The effort began with the support of James D. Wolfensohn, a former bank president, who in 1996 condemned what he called the “cancer of corruption,” then a largely forbidden subject at the World Bank.

The report, “Governance Matters, 2007: Worldwide Governance Indicators 1996-2006,” was written by Mr. Kaufmann and the World Bank researchers Aart Kraay and Massimo Mastruzzi. It was posted on the Internet at www.govindicators.org. Data came from an ideologically diverse array of groups that included Freedom House, Transparency International, the Heritage Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and the State Department.

“This is the best data source on governance now,” said Steven Radelet, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington research group. “It is of huge importance in development. Ten years ago, there was no data. Fifteen years ago, we didn’t talk about this stuff.”

Such information fuels debate in the field of development, and includes arguments over the chicken-or-egg question of whether prosperity leads to good governing or vice versa. Some of the indicators developed by the bank have been vital to the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a federal agency created in 2004 that dispenses American aid to poor countries based on how well they are governed.

A booklet that accompanied the report said that the data undermined what it called “Afro-pessimism.”

“The governance indicators can be used to challenge simplistic, and often negative, generalizations about a whole continent, revealing instead a rich variation across countries,” it said.

Beyond Africa, the report documents how other countries have progressed or regressed. Those making significant gains included Indonesia, Ukraine, Colombia, Turkey and Afghanistan. The backsliders included Bangladesh, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Pakistan.

The report found that the gains and losses balanced out such that the average quality of governance worldwide over the past decade was little improved.

[Jul 13, 2007] Slashdot

"A Wired piece informs us that Intel and the OLPC project have put their bickering behind them. They have joined forces to ensure 'the maximum number of laptops will reach children'. '"What happened in the past has happened," said Will Swope of Intel. "But going forward, this allows the two organisations to go do a better job and have better impact for what we are both very eager to do which is help kids around the world." "Intel joins the OLPC board as a world leader in technology, helping reach the world's children. Collaboration with Intel means that the maximum number of laptops will reach children," said Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop per Child. The new agreement means that Intel will sit alongside companies such as Google and Red Hat as partners in the OLPC scheme.'"

[Jul 11, 2007] A brief hands-on with the Intel Classmate PC (with Linux) by Troy Unrau 

July 08, 2007  (arstechnica.com )

The hardware consisted of a number of Intel-powered chips, ranging from the Intel Celeron 900 processor to the Intel Mobile graphics and wireless chipsets. It was loaded up with 256MB of RAM, which in my usage was more than enough for powering Mandriva. The internal NAND flash drive for storage is only 1GB in size, but that was more than enough for the machine. In fact, Mandriva was also handing out Linux installations on USB flash drives, and it seemed to me that the Mandriva installation on the Classmate PC was more or less the same thing. With the exception of the battery monitor applet reporting the charge incorrectly, every element of this system was fully supported by open source Linux drivers.

The machine booted fairly quickly, or at least as quickly as a computer using a Celeron 900 chip can boot. It may have actually been faster than a typical laptop of this speed on account of the fact that there were no hard-disk seeking delays from the flash disk.

The form factor of the computer is indeed small. It's like a small text book with a handle attached to the back side of the computer. There were no ports at the back of the computer, only on the sides. It was not particularly heavy and would be comparable to carrying around two or three paperback novels. The fact that it comes with a soft handle makes it much more comfortable to carry.

The Classmate PC also contained two USB ports, one on each side, as well as an RJ45 Ethernet port and two audio jacks. These ports are not covered in any way, and considering its proposed usage scenarios, manufacturers should consider adding covers to keep the internals nice and clean.

The highly compact keyboard was difficult to type on for an adult since the keys are smaller than normal, presumably optimized for a child's hands. Using the circular touch pad was not a hindrance and felt fairly smooth. The screen had a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels, low by the standards of a modern computer, but the screen was usable for word processing.  Since most web pages are no longer optimized for only 800 pixels of width, web browsing might be more challenging. However, the color and quality of the screen was good, and higher resolution may not even be desirable, given that the screen size is only about 7 inches across.

The screen seemed durable. The only changes made to Mandriva to accommodate the screen size were to default to smaller icons and use a style that reduced the width or height of certain interface elements such as the window titles and scroll bars to provide a little extra real estate. The company also provided a set of program launchers for the desktop to make launching the most common applications straightforward for the target audience.

Overall, I was very impressed with this effort. The computer was fast enough to run even the more power-hungry applications, and the speed at which programs launched from the flash drive was quite good. OpenOffice loaded in a reasonable time, but for impatient children who don't need Microsoft Word compatibility, perhaps KOffice would be a better solution.

[Jun 7, 2007] XO-1 (laptop) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Critique of Negroponte pipe dream. Instead of "children's PC" you should think about university student's PC.

Good use of money

At the UN conference in Tunisia, several African officials, most notably Marthe Dansokho of Cameroon and Mohammed Diop of Mali were suspicious of the motives of the project, and claimed that the project was using an overly American mindset that presented solutions not applicable to specifically African problems. Dansokho said the project demonstrated misplaced priorities, stating that clean water and schools were more important for African women, who, he stated, would not have time to use the computers to research new crops to grow, and Diop specifically attacked the project as an attempt to exploit the governments of poor nations by making them pay for hundreds of millions of machines.[44] Additionally, the price of $175/unit does not include the cost of setup, maintenance, teachers training, and Internet access. Countries adopting the XO-1 must budget for these costs as well.

One criticism has been that the money of purchasing the laptops could be more favorably spent on libraries and schools. John Wood, founder of Room to Read, has emphasized what is affordable and can scale over high-tech solutions. While in favor of the One Laptop per Child initiative for providing education to children in the developing world at a cheaper rate, he has pointed out that a $2000 library can serve 400 children, costing just $5 a child to bring access to a wide range of books in the local languages (such as Khmer or Nepali) and English; also a $10,000 school can serve 400–500 children ($20–$25 a child). According to Wood, these are more appropriate solutions for education in the dense forests of Vietnam or rural Cambodia.[45]

According to the OLPC wiki:

It should be mentioned that a common criticism of the project is to say, “What poor people need is food and shelter, not laptops.” This comment, however, is ignorant of conditions in impoverished nations around the world. While it is true there are many people in the world who definitely need food and shelter, there are multitudes of people who live in rural or sub-urban areas and have plenty to eat and reasonable accommodations. What these people don't have is a decent shot at a good education.

Theft and resale

The OLPC originally planned to restrict the sale of the laptop to governments, meaning that private individuals would not be able to purchase it. This led to the fears of arbitrage. If XO-1 is only made available in certain areas and to certain parties, a parallel black market for the laptops may develop. An arbitrageur could find a way to obtain the laptops for the going rate and resell them in the black market for a higher price.

The presence of a black market could also encourage the intended owners to sell their laptops. Negroponte addressed this concern during his presentation in the Emerging technologies Conference in September 2005:

The grey market is a very serious issue. I don't want to be dismissive of it for a moment, and there are three ways of addressing it. Way number one is to have no market at all for it. I mean you can't sell it, who could buy it, and that isn't bullet proof. That's a little bit dreaming, but it's part of the equation. The second is to put the technologies into the device that help stop that. [The laptops distributed to middle schoolers in Maine are Apple iBooks] so they are not only great stuff to steal and we don't necessarily have corruption of that kind, but it's pretty transferable technology. They've put little things so the machine disables itself after a while if it hasn't connected to the school. You can put GPS in it, you can put all sorts of stuff. But then the third one, which I'm doing and I like is to make this machine so distinctive that it is socially a stigma to be carrying one if you are not a child or a teacher. Now you can obviously take it down to your basement, but I hope your spouse will even say: “Oh God! Honey! What did you do?” [...] So those three combined will I hope at least limit this to one percent or two percent.[47]

[Jun 06, 2007] One Laptop Per Child News on Prototypes - XO by Wayan Vota

Nicholas Negroponte picked an amazing marketing meme to express his dream's affordability: "$100 laptop". Later Negroponte subverted his original idea. Gone was an educational tool for children. In its place was the idea of an adult computer for $100. But laptops for teenagers and adults who need low cost computers are now produced by Intel and ASUS. And in a way they are better for this purpose then Negroponte design. ASUS Eee PC and it doesn't even pretend to be a pure education play. This is not a computer for children. This is One Low-Cost Laptop For Everyone.

Back when he first introduced his grand dream to the world - improving education through Constructionism, personified in a laptop for every child to learn and play with - Nicholas Negroponte picked an amazing marketing meme to express his dream's affordability: "$100 laptop".

In doing so, Negroponte subverted his original idea in the minds of many. Gone was an educational tool for children. In its place was the idea of an adult computer for $100. So while the One Laptop Per Child team was focused on a primary school student-centric design, everyone else was thinking about teenagers and adults using low cost computers.

This second, more mainstream idea is now coming back around to One Laptop Per Child in the form of competition from Intel. First there was the Classmate PC, which is a quick OLPC catch-up computer that sacrifices much to make a sub-$300 price point but at least pays lip service to Dr. Negroponte's original education idea, even as the OLPC pot called the Intel kettle black.

Now there is the ASUS Eee PC and it doesn't even pretend to be a pure education play. Oh yes, it does borrow heavily from OLPC with its tagline of "Easy to Learn, Work and Play" but do not be fooled. This is not a computer for children. This is One Low-Cost Laptop For Everyone.

[Jun 6, 2007] Asus stuns Computex with £100 laptop

Might signify the end of Netgoponte pipe dream. Good university student's PC for $180 !!!

Asus chairman Jonney Shih sprang a surprise during Intel's Computex keynote today with the announcement of a $189 laptop.

The notebook measures roughly 120 x 100 x 30mm (WDH) and weighs only 900g. We saw the notebook boot in 15 seconds from its solid-state hard disk. The huge auditorium then burst into applause as Shih revealed the astounding price tag. Dubbed the 3ePC, Shih claimed the notebook is the 'lowest cost and easiest PC to use'. As the crowds rushed the stage, we sneaked off to the Asus stand to take a closer look.

The notebook uses a custom-written Linux operating system, much like the OLPC, though unlike the OLPC, Asus has chosen a more conventional interface. The desktop looked fairly similar to Windows and we saw Firefox running on one 3ePC. A spokesperson from Asus told us that the notebook would come with "an office suite that's compatible with MS Office", though he refused to confirm or deny whether that meant OpenOffice. 

He claimed the 3ePC would be available in all areas of the world, not only developing nations.

The low price comes from some interesting design choices, primarily the flash-based hard disk. A disk of today's standard capacity would cost more than notebook itself as we saw with the 32GB Samsung disk, but Asus uses a 2GB disk. We were not allowed to touch the 3ePC so couldn't tell how much of this is left after the bespoke OS is installed.

The CPU also remains a mystery, though Shih said the version on show did have 512MB of RAM. Another version will be available for $299, but nobody could tell us what the difference between the two models is.

For all the latest news and developments from Computex 2007 see: www.pcpro.co.uk/html/computex2007

Which laptop per child Technology Guardian Unlimited Technology

Competition is good, monopoly is bad and it's funny that Intel destroyed the monopoly ;-). Neither laptop can be compared in functionality to Dell C610 on EBay which is around $150.  Still Intel's laptop makes a good university student laptop, while Negroponte's does not.  Also Intel's laptop has a choice of OSes: Windows or Linux
Craig Barrett, the Intel chairman, who really stuck the knife in.

"Mr Negroponte has called it a $100 laptop - I think a more realistic title should be the $100 gadget," Barrett told reporters in 2005. His predictions for the machine were scathing. "The problem is that gadgets have not been successful ... it turns out what people are looking for is something that has the full functionality of a PC. We work in the area of low-cost, affordable PCs, but full-function PCs, not handheld devices and not gadgets."

Battle of the laptops  (see Wikipedia for more current specs)

Operating system: Linux or Windows XP Embedded
Memory: 256MB RAM
Media: 2GB flash, built-in microphone
Processor: 900MHz Intel Celeron M
Screen: 7" color display
Wireless: 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
Today's price: $285
XO-1 Intel Classmate
Operating system: Linux
Memory: 256MB RAM
Media: 1GB flash, USB and SD slots, built-in video camera
Processor: 435MHz AMD Geode
Screen: 7.5" dual-mode 19.1 cm/7.5" diagonal TFT LCD 1200×900
Wireless: 802.11b/g/s Wi-Fi, mesh networking
Today's price: $175

 

[Apr 28, 2007] Intel vs. OLPC A Battle of Good Wills - LAPTOP Magazine

In view of Microsoft initiatives, Intel laptop has the future. It's a good university student's laptop for developing countries. For $200 you get a pretty decent deal.  Also it has a choice of OSes: Windows or Linux

These different approaches have resulted in dissimilar devices. The Classmate PC has a powerful processor, support for unmodified Windows and Linux software, and costs about $250, although Intel expects the price to drop about $50 by the end of the year. OLPC's XO laptop offers a new Linux-based software platform called Sugar, as well as special features like a built-in video camera, high-resolution dual-mode screen, longer battery life, and innovative charging options for about $175. OLPC aims for this model, with these components, to be priced at $100 within three years. (Check out the side-by-side chart comparing these two laptops).

... ... ...

Last month the Intel-powered Classmate PC started volume shipment to emerging markets, while the OLPC machine remains in testing mode in countries including Chile, Brazil, and Nigeria.

[Apr 19, 2007] Microsoft aims to reach next billion PC users CNET News.com

Microsoft $3 innovation suit is a really nice present to students all over the world.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is using a speech in Beijing to unveil a new low-cost bundle of Office and Windows, one of several new initiatives aimed at getting PCs into the hands of more people in emerging markets.

The software maker will offer the $3 Student Innovation Suite to governments that agree to directly purchase PCs for students to use in their schoolwork and at home. Gates plans to announce the program at a company-sponsored forum for government leaders.

The collection of software, which will start shipping in the second half of this year, includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Office Home and Student 2007, Windows Live Mail Desktop and several educational products. The $3 price includes the software license, while backup discs and documentation will cost extra. In order to be eligible, governments must pick up at least half the tab for the PC, though the software can also be used on refurbished computers, which can cost as little as $50, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is hoping this program and others will help the company reach more of the 5 billion people who have yet to benefit from the PC revolution.

"We've set an internal goal that by 2015 we will help to reach the first billion of the next 5 billion that have been underserved," said Will Poole, the corporate vice president who heads Microsoft's market expansion group.

Poole said that in the developed world Microsoft has largely reached its goal of a PC on every desktop and in every home. "The PC is an expected appliance in the home for access to information, for schoolwork," Poole said. But, he said, that still leaves five out of every six people on the planet without a PC.

Although many poor governments may not be able to afford to buy computers for their student populations, Poole said there are nations that have expressed interest in doing just that. Mexico, for example, has a program that puts computers in the hands of top students.

"This is a new trend we are trying to embrace," Poole said. "We expect there will be some number of many tens if not single hundreds of thousands of PCs purchased under programs like this over the next 12 months."

Although Microsoft is aiming the PCs at students, it understands that they may get used more broadly by the families who get them.

[Apr 18, 2007] A friendly criticism of the One Laptop Per Child project  by Jorge Aranda

April 18, 2007 (Catenary)

... ... ...

It’s not a gift, it’s a laptop/textbooks trade-off: Even at $100US per laptop, giving one to every kid in a country requires a substantial amount of money. Where will it come from? From the education budget of participating countries. But since participating countries are usually cash-strapped, the money will go to the laptops instead of going somewhere else –and if I got my facts straight, that “somewhere else” is going to be textbooks. That is, children will get a laptop instead of getting five years’ worth of textbooks. It’s not that they won’t get their textbooks’ materials (which will be stored in their laptops), just the actual dead-tree books. At least in theory, children won’t lose anything. But, as I’ll explain, it’s important to keep the trade-off in mind.

It’s a rather expensive textbook to misplace, destroy, or steal: The first ugly implication of the laptop/textbook trade-off comes with the laptop’s relative value against any single textbook. A child misplacing his laptop will result in either a high financial stress for his family (as I highly doubt the government will pay for a kid’s laptop twice), or in no laptop (and hence no textbooks) for at least the rest of his school years. And I find it very hard to imagine a brainy kid in a Mexican slum successfully protecting her highly visible laptop (she needs to bring it school every single day) from bullies and thieves for the entire span of her school years. One careless moment is all it takes.

It’s a bulky textbook to work with: This one is minor, but worth considering. For many learning tasks, nothing yet comes close to paper and pencil. Not even TabletPCs beat paper in my opinion; it’s doubtful that a device with less capabilities will.

It will be big in the black market: I predict that as the shipments of $100 laptops increase, their presence in local black markets will blossom, at a reduced price and with patches to circumvent security mechanisms. Most laptops on sale there will be thefts, of course. For parents in urgent need of replacing a misplaced laptop, this will be their only alternative ($100US is more than a month’s salary for most people), and the whole activity will generate a perverse cycle of theft.

It will garner many enemies: The laptop is designed to be the kid’s own domain –he’ll be able to do with it as he pleases, without adult intervention. Its designers seem proud of that. Now, I don’t have a problem with this –in fact I would have loved such freedom as a kid myself. But several groups will have a problem, and they’ll make sure we listen to them. In conservative societies, and in a few liberal ones, the idea that kids have a stash of pornography in their laptops, and that parents can’t do anything about that, will be enough to propel them into swift action against their Education ministry and the whole OLPC project. Teachers may react negatively too, as those that are computationally illiterate are pushed to the sidelines and those that remain feel their control over kids waning. Expect the laptops to be called tools of imperialistic control by many academics, and some governments retreating under the pressure.

It’s a case of mismatched objectives: There is a common criticism thrown to the OLPC: You want to give laptops to kids that really need food or shelter. As the OLPC wiki responds, this criticism reflects an ignorance of the conditions of many developing countries, which have enough food and shelter, but not enough learning opportunities. Unfortunately, the software developers with the OLPC seem to have made an assumption as mistaken as that of the project’s critics: that what children in developing countries need is what our geeky selves would want if we were kids again. Instead of striving to design the best educational tool possible (and, remember, the best textbook substitute), they want to design a kid-hacker’s dream: Browseable and modifiable code (one should be able to see the code that runs any part of any application easily), private access (your laptop is your temple), extensibility. The software design seems to come from the geek in us, not from the pedagogue in us. Why would an average 6-year-old be interested in such features is beyond me.

I can’t help but think of “The Nightmare before Christmas“. If you haven’t seen the movie: The inhabitants of the Town of Halloween discover Christmastown and decide they want to organize Christmas too. But their own nature conspires against them and they get it all wrong: their carols sound somber, their gifts are spooky –definitely not what the children were expecting on Christmas Eve!

This is, in my opinion, the most critical of all the issues. It is essential that the developers understand the real priorities of their project:

... ... ....

[Aug. 23, 2006]Tiny, sub-$100 PC runs Puppy Linux

A Bangkok-based company is shipping a tiny, sub-$100 PC capable of running Puppy and other lightweight Linux distributions. NorhTec's MicroClient Jr. measures 4.5 inches square, draws 8 Watts, and has a 166MHz Pentium-compatible processor with three integer units. It targets thin-client, kiosk, and electronic signage applications.
 

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The MicroClient Jr. appears to the smallest of several extremely small, energy efficient PCs and servers offered by NorhTec, which in four years of operation, has supplied PCs to such big-name clients as McDonalds of Canada, according to its founder, Michael C. Barnes. Barnes says he built the company specifically to produce sub-$100 PCs, explaining, "When I founded NorhTec, I knew that in a short period, computers would drop below $100.00 USD. When that happens, it will shake up the industry because none of the major players are set up to afford their infrastructure selling computers at $100 each."

The MicroClient Jr. saves cost in part by booting from CompactFlash, rather than a hard drive. Barnes explains, "We have been selling a product called the MicroServer General Purpose for four years now. The unit was revolutionary when it was introduced, but the price point is a bit too high because of its reliance on hard disks. Most of our customers use very little drive space, and we were spending $80.00 just to boot the system."

Barnes adds, "We also wanted to be able to add components such as WiFi, RS232 ports, and an additional NIC."

MicroClient Jr. features, specs

The MicroClient Jr. is based on an SIS550 from Silicon Integrated Systems (SiS). The chip integrates a complete PC chipset -- including a 166MHz Pentium (MMX-capable x86) processor with three integer units (IUs), northbridge, southbridge, DRAM controller, AGP 4x VGA graphics controller, sound, software modem, and CIR controller. The complete chip dissipates a maximum of about two Watts, according to Barnes.

According to Barnes, the MicroClient Jr. is based on an embedded board supplied by an unspecified Asian OEM. The board is described as an "industrial quality" product capable of operating at temperatures up to 126 degrees F (70 degrees C). It has 128MB of soldered-on (non-upgradeable) RAM. NorhTec designs its own cases and power supplies, Barnes said. The OEM that supplies the MicroClient's board mainly supports Microsoft OSes on it, Barnes says, including Windows 98/ME, Windows CE, and Windows XP Embedded. However, NorhTec supports Linux, Barnes says, because "we believe [Linux] is easier to use, and better focused for people wanting a thin client."

Barnes says the MicroClient Jr. supports most any version of Linux not based on Gnome, KDE, or other heavy desktop frameworks. He suggests using FWM95, ICEWM, XFce, or Fluxbox instead, along with free video drivers from Wini Schhofer, and sound drivers from the LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project). Those of us who remember installing Linux on brand new Pentium I's may be tempted to put in a good word here for the highly configurable fvwm and/or fvwm2.

In particular, the MicroClient Jr. supports Puppy Linux, an ultra-lightweight Linux distribution designed to run on a ramdisk, according to Barnes.

Puppy on the MicroClient Jr.

Barnes says he successfully installed Puppy Linux on the MicroClient Jr. with help from the Puppy Linux Project's interim chairman, Raffy Mananghaya. Mananghaya describes the process as follows:
I was eager to test the device, and on August 10, having arrived in Bangkok, I contacted Michael immediately. I instructed him by phone to install Puppy Linux Barebones 2.01r2 (47 MB) to a CompactFlash device (installing it via Puppy's Universal Installer as "CF to be used later as IDE"). I chose "barebones," as it is small enough for the 128 MB memory of the device.
 

NorhTec Founder Michael C. Barnes, and Puppy Linux Project Interim Chairman Raffy Mananghaya

By noon [the next day], Michael's assistant was inviting me to their office, advising that Michael was expected to be in the office, too. When I arrived there, it turned out that Michael had just bought a CF device from downtown Bangkok and installed Puppy on it following my instructions.

We plugged accessories to the device: a US keyboard, a USB mouse, a CRT monitor, and the thin client's external power supply (an ordinary-looking black adapter). Michael turned the device on initially, and tried to set the screen to a high resolution (as he says he's used to high LCD resolutions) [before settling for] 1024x768. Then he tested the Internet connection via LAN, which went live quickly.

Then we started to take a video with me starting the device. Michael exclaimed "32 seconds!" when the GUI screen showed up (and I believed him, as the loading of Puppy from the CF was fast). Then I ran the network wizard immediately and was able to connect to the Internet a full minute after I pushed the [power-on] button.

(Now the sad part of the story is that Michael kept the video. Or, technically, he tried to give me a copy but my copy did not work. :) But am enclosing our pictures together with Bangkok City in the background.

The Puppy Linux site currently suggests using the MicroClient Jr. as a "woopwoop" PC, a term derived from an aboriginal word for "remote."

Mananghaya concludes, "Considering that most of the time, these devices will not be crunching numbers, but [will] simply move data in/out of servers/Internet and display/output them, the SiS configuration of low processor speed but high display and data pipelining is attractive. And with Puppy residing in memory (thus removing data fetching from storage), there is less demand on the processor."

Availability

The MicroClient Jr. is available now, priced at $120, or $90 in quantities of a thousand or more. Barnes adds, "We hope that we can even get below that if we can get to much larger quantities."

For further details, visit the company's website.

SImpaCT

"The US$ 100 price will be true when volumes touch close to a hundred million...  Not only that, he will wait till he accumulates fully paid orders for at least about 10 to 15 million before he will commence production... That sharing of resources is a key necessity of survival in every developing country has been
completely ignored"
June 12, 2006

I have been waiting to see if there are other unbiased minds out there that will stand up and call the bluff. But looks like the marketing juggernaut of Prof. Negroponte is rolling on. I heard from a reliable source that he even made a presentation to the Planning Commission of India to rope them to support his project. But before we proceed, let us get some background material.

The OLPC, or One Laptop Per Child, project was proclaimed by Prof. Negroponte in Davos in 2005, as the ultimate solution to the digital divide that is keeping technology away from the deserving kids in the under-developed world. To the uninitiated, this is the self-same Prof. Negroponte of MIT Media Lab that sold the white elephant by the name of Media Lab Asia a few years ago to the Government of India, that cost the taxpayers upwards of Rs 75 crores, spent in a year with no results to show. Bolstered by the positive experience (positive, from his perspective, since the Media Lab at MIT got a cool few million dollars of Indian tax payer's money as royalty from the Government of India, in a period were Media Lab was starved of funds from its traditional sources in the US industry), Prof. Negroponte has now gone global. His scheme is as follows: the whiz-kids working with Prof. Negroponte come up with a laptop that includes bright colored boxes, with some crank shaft for powering the machine, and a nice color display, and Linux (or some other open source) as OS, priced at, hold your breath, US$ 100! But there is a string attached. In fact it is so long and large that string is an understatement.

Here is the attachment. The US$ 100 price will be true when volumes touch close to a hundred million. So who will buy the first thousand and at what price. Here is where Prof. Negroponte is creative, and based on his marketing might, bold: he is applying his magic on gullible countries around the world to entrap nations to committing to buy a minimum of one million units, and pay the money in advance. Not only that, he will wait till he accumulates fully paid orders for at least about 10 to 15 million before he will commence production. If you read the assorted items on the web about the status of the hardware, you hear periods ranging from late 2006 to early 2007, for 'first generation' version, and the second generation being planned with future chipsets from AMD as well as future screen technology.

Let us do a simple arithmetic: 1 million units is "the entry ticket" (as proclaimed by Prof. Negroponte), and at the quoted price of US$100, a government has to shell out a cool $100 Million dollars in advance and await shipment.

And if he succeeds in convincing governments of "China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, Thailand, and other countries", and gets orders for about 10 million units, he is sitting on a US$ 1 Billion pile. If it takes a year or two to deliver the machines after the payment is made, the cost per device is already 250$ to the governments.

No mention has been made as to what software will ship with the machine, what applications will be appropriate and useful for the one million children to whom the OLPC are to be given "free of cost" by the said government, how will teachers integrate the presence of such an intrusive device in the school, what content is avaialble in what language and what time frame to justify the introduction of such a machine in the daily life of a student, and a host of other issues, that anyone who is familiar with the environment in the schools of a country like India will easily come up with, after ten minutes of thinking. However, the hype is on the "100-dollar laptop". If I was part of MIT, I will be deeply worried and embarrassed by such snake-oil marketing from one of its faculty. Fortunately, I am told that Prof. Negroponte has already left MIT to be full time with the non-profit that he has launched for this effort.

There are so many assumptions, claims and presumptions in this marketing mela that one is hardpressed to select a facet to criticize. That is probably why there are no sceptical voices
out there yet: people are simply dumbstruck by the audacity of the claims.

I certainly need a series of posts to back up my strong criticism. Let me try to separate the factors into two: technical and non-technical. Technical, not from hardcore technology, but from the point of technology for education, and in particular whether OLPC is the appropriate technology for the intended end result. I will discuss this in subsequent posts. In this post, let me hint at the non-technical objections to the OLPC.

Let me start of with the basic assumption: one laptop per child. This assumption comes with so much baggage that it is extremely hard to counter. The assumption that ownership, especially individual ownership, is key, even if the individual in question is a child, is so natural for anyone in the US that it is assumed that it is true for everyone else. The example quoted by Prof. Negroponte in justification for ownership is especially striking: ¨Have you ever washed a rented car?¨ Individual ownership of cars was pushed so heavily by car manufacturers in the US in the early twentieth century, so successfully, that ownership of a car is a key element of the American dream. This success has had tremendous negative impact on public transportation, the environment, and the economy of the US. We are now looking at OLPC!

That sharing of resources is a key necessity of survival in every developing country has been
completely ignored
, but it is obviously so since neither Prof. Negroponte nor any of the whiz kids building the devices have any idea about the ground reality at the countries where they are targeting their design. This is of course not to question the commitment and passion of the developers to the cause or their obvious technical brilliance.

Second, if OLPC is so good, why is the target audience entirely in the so called developing world? Is OLPC not good enough for the kids in the US or have we already achieved the aim of providing one lap top per every child in the US? My suspicion is that so many schools and school districts have burnt their fingers by investing unsuccessfully in computer technology over the past decade that they are extremely wary of such blatant hype and so Prof. Negroponte is focussing on the gullible market.

Third, one million OLPC units is a drop in the ocean for a country like India. The big question then emerges; Which one million children will suddenly become owners of this brigtly colored devices? The glib assumption is that the government of India (if it falls far this trap) is responsible for distributing these units to the children in India. Given the abysmal track record of governments in India over the past sixty years in disbursing ANY benefit with any sense of equality and social justice, OLPC will just add one more explosive into the already
charged atmosphere. Having been an Indian all these years, I can tell you what will happen: US$ 100 Million worth of OLPCs will be in some warehouse while a series of highpower committees decide the complex arithmetic that will decide how these units will be distributed. The arithmetic will have region, language, caste, economic status, monthly income of parents, number of PCs in the household etc., as parameters and will require that the beneficiary child produce a set of documents in triplicate attested by the Gasholder before the OLPC is issued. There will also be a state level monitoring committee.... You get the picture. Now what were the OLPCs supposed to do? ... Hmm..., Oh, help the kid shine in school.

I suspect the situation is similar or much worse (for eg. in South Africa) in all the other countries that are the first level target of this marketing juggernaut. More soon...

Disclosure: I have strong reasons to be biased against the MediaLab: The money taken away by the Media Lab Asia project was ten times more than the funding that we were asking the Ministry of ICT for the Simputer project at the same time. The entire pie was given away to the MLA project, depriving funding for the Simputer project at a critical stage.

[Jul 28, 2006] India rejects One Laptop Per Child The Register -- Indians are really clever people ! This laptop's value (it can be called "Crank" reflecting one early early design feature as well as the fact that it is a non-standard, untested platform :-) in real life probably will be limited to an expensive ebook reader and most money will be wasted due to reliability problems.  Why just not to give each child a $30 smartphone with ebook capabilities and SD card with a certain amount of minutes free each month for three-five years ? "The Indian Ministry of Education dismissed the laptop as 'pedagogically suspect'. Education Secretary Sudeep Banerjee said: 'We cannot visualize a situation for decades when we can go beyond the pilot stage. We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools.'".

India has decided against getting involved in Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child scheme - which aims to provide kids in developing countries with a simple $100 machine.

The success of the project depends on support, and big orders, from governments. The loss of such a potentially huge, and relatively technically sophisticated market, will be a serious blow.

The Indian Ministry of Education dismissed the laptop as "pedagogically suspect". Education Secretary Sudeep Banerjee said: "We cannot visualise a situation for decades when we can go beyone the pilot stage. We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools."

Banerjee said if money were available it would be better spent on existing education plans.

Banerjee told the Hindu: "We do not think that the idea of Prof Negroponte is mature enough to be taken seriously at this stage and no major country is presently following this. Even inside America, there is not much enthusiasm about this."

OLPC's original schedule was to deliver machines by the end of 2006, but it will not start production until it has received orders, and payment, for between five and ten million machines.

But in better news it also emerged earlier this month that Nigeria is ordering one million machines. Allafrica.com has the story here.

The idea is backed by AMD, Google, MIT, Nortel and Red Hat.

China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand were all named by the OLPC organisation as governments which had expressed an interest.

$100 laptop project is 'fundamentally flawed' - ZDNet UK News

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) scheme is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the IT industry, according to Tony Roberts, chief executive and founder of UK charity Computer Aid International.

Speaking to ZDNet UK last week, Roberts claimed that although he would be delighted if the OLPC scheme proved a success, he had severe reservations about the strategy underpinning the project.

"The real reason that this won't be successful is a misunderstanding of the history of technology. They are looking to introduce a non-standard, untested platform... which they will only sell to governments," he said. "The decision to buy will be made by politicians who are elected every five years, and politicians generally don't take the decision to risk their political future on non-standard technology."

The project aims to develop a portable PC for use by children in the developing world for around $100 (£50). The price has risen since the scheme was first announced to around $135 to $140.

Speaking at the Red Hat Summit earlier this month, the head of the OLPC project, Nicholas Negroponte, said that past attempts to give children in developing countries access to PCs have failed because the children did not see the computers as their own, and as a result did not engage with them as expected.

"People say, 'We just gave a hundred thousand PCs to schools, and they are still sitting in their boxes.' The problem is that you gave them to the wrong people — the kids don't think they are theirs, and see them as government property, or they are locked up after school," Negroponte said.

But Roberts, who as well as heading up Computer Aid spent time as an academic lecturing on the historical introduction of new technologies into societies, said that the OLPC project was also distracting attention from other worthwhile technology projects in the developing world. "At the UN World Summit [where the OLPC prototype was first displayed last year] there were so many exciting projects that didn't get any attention because all eyes were on the OLPC," said Roberts.

Computer Aid has just celebrated shipping its 70,000 PC to the developing world. The organisation, founded in 1998, refurbishes used PCs, routers, printers and other technology. It then ships them to a network of organisations in the developing world where they are distributed to schools, universities and community groups.

The organisation is looking to expand its remit to include working with local health clinics to provide e-learning systems for nurses, and tele-medicine capabilities. Medical specialists in the developing world are often limited to the capital city, so by providing more detailed patient information, medical staff can reduce the need to move critical patients.

Computer Aid is also involved in a joint project with the UK Met Office to create the infrastructure to allow weather information to be collected and analysed locally in the developing world. At the moment, information collected from local weather stations is sent to a central office to be analysed and the information is then fed back.

But, according to Roberts, the centralised system takes too long, so Computer Aid is helping to equip the local stations with the means to interpret the information and relay it to the community more rapidly. "This information is critical, it can be the difference between life or death or someone's livelihood but at the moment, the systems just don't work," he said.

Computer Aid is also planning a charity bike ride next February in Kenya to raise awareness of the organisation's work in that country.

If you would like to donate your businesses PCs you can find more information through the Bridge the Digital Divide project being run by Computer Aid and ZDNet UK's parent company, CNET Networks.

 Licence fees and GDP per capita: The case for open source in developing countries

There is a strong case for free software (also known as open source or libre software) being deployed widely in developing countries. As argued in this note, the open source development community provides an environment of intensive interactive skills development at little explicit cost, which is particularly useful for local development of skills, especially in economically disadvantaged regions. Further, this note argues that the controversy over total costs of ownership (TCO) of free vs. proprietary software is not applicable to developing countries and other regions with low labor costs, where the TCO advantage lies with open source, and the share of license fees in TCO is much higher than in high labor cost countries. The note concludes with a table comparing license fees for proprietary software against GDP per capita for 176 countries.

[Jun 04, 2006] Greenstone finalist of Stockholm Challenge Award The Open Source Greenstone Digital Library project has been retained as a finalist in the education category of the Stockholm Challenge intended to award the best ICT projects for social and economical development

Greenstone is a suite of software for building and distributing digital library collections. Not being a digital library in itself, but a tool for building them, it provides a new way of organizing information and publishing it on the Internet in the form of fully-searchable, metadata-driven digital collections.

Greenstone is produced by the New Zealand Digital Library Project at the University of Waikato, in cooperation with UNESCO and the Human Info NGO in Belgium. It is an open-source, multilingual software, issued under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

The developers of Greenstone received the 2004 IFIP Namur award for "contributions to the awareness of social implications of information technology, and the need for a holistic approach in the use of information technology that takes account of social implications."

The 151 teams from 53 countries that have been designated as finalist in the Stockholm Challenge, are all invited to come to Stockholm and participate in the final event on May 8-11. The winners in each category will be announced during the prize celebrations in the Stockholm City Hall on May 11.

Unesco Free & Open Source Software Portal

[Jul 20, 2006] ONLamp.com -- Free and Open Source Software at the United Nations by David Boswell
 

Advances in technology have revolutionized the way people live, learn and work, but these benefits have not spread around the world evenly. A digital divide exists between communities in their access to computers, the Internet, and other technologies. The United Nations is aware of the importance of including technology development as part of a larger effort to bridge this global digital divide. This article looks at how various United Nations agencies use free and open source software to meet the goal of putting technology at the service of people around the world.

The Millennium Development Goals

The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of eight targets to help end extreme poverty worldwide by 2015. The United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force, created in March 2001, has worked to advance the development goals and targets of the UN, in particular those set by the Millennium Declaration. The Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) group replaced UNICTTF, and now has the task of providing an open policy dialogue on the role of information and communication technologies in development.

In their report The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Global Development: Analyses and Policy Recommendations, the Task Force states that information and communication technologies will increasingly become one of the main enablers in the pursuit of poverty alleviation and wealth creation in developed and developing countries alike. It's easy to overlook the importance of technology in development, though. When people are starving and don't have access to clean water, does it matter if they have access to the Internet? Technology is not an end in itself in these situations, but it is a tool to achieve wider goals such as eradicating hunger and achieving universal primary education.

To help raise awareness of the potential for free and open source software in this area, various UN organizations and nonprofits have created the FOSS: Policy and Development Implications (FOSS-PDI) initiative. Part of this initiative consists of a mailing list that discusses specific FOSS applications that address the different MDGs, information about how different countries are using open source software, and coordination for events being planned around the world.

International Open Source Network

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) created the International Open Source Network (IOSN) with the goal of helping developing countries in the Asia-Pacific Region achieve rapid and sustained economic and social development by using free and open source software. To achieve this goal, the IOSN acts as an open source information repository, maintains a database of FOSS programmers and experts, offers technical support and training, and provides research and development grants to programmers to work on localization efforts and local font development. IOSN also organizes and sponsors events to help advocate on behalf of FOSS and creates primers and guides for the use of FOSS in education, government, and other areas.

IOSN hosts information about how different countries are getting involved in the open source community. The IOSN country report for Sri Lanka has information about how local developers quickly built the Sahana Disaster Management System to help coordinate the relief effort after the country was hit by a tsunami in 2004. Other IOSN Sri Lanka contributions include several Sinhala-enabled Linux distributions and a Linux download accelerator. There are additional country reports for Cambodia, China, India, and Malaysia.

Although the IOSN effort works only within the Asia-Pacific region, the UNDP is promoting the use of FOSS in other developing countries. For example, there is an initiative to support local e-government projects in South-Eastern Europe. The pilot



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