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Scientific American: Computers for the Third World

Sep 24, 2002, 20:30 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Fiona Harvey)


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"Simputer stands for 'simple, inexpensive, multilingual computer.' It was designed to meet the needs of rural villagers in countries such as India, Malaysia, Nigeria and Indonesia. Many of these potential users are illiterate and have never even seen a computer before. Loaded with some elementary software, the Simputer will sell for about $250 (or $300 for a model with a color screen). That's a sizable chunk of the yearly per capita income in many developing nations. But the Simputer's proponents argue that a single device could enable an entire village to access the Internet, perform transactions, keep track of agricultural prices and educate its children. Says Shreyas Patel, a consultant to Encore who has been setting up pilot tests of the Simputer in East Africa: 'This will bring computing power to isolated communities. It can have an enormous impact.'

"The Simputer was conceived by a team of computer scientists at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. To make the machine cheap enough to sell in poor regions, the developers kept the hardware requirements to a minimum. The Simputer's microprocessor is an Intel Strong-ARM chip, which is known for its low power consumption. The device will have as much as 64 megabytes of random-access memory and 32 megabytes of flash memory, as well as a modem that can connect to a telephone line. And the computer runs on the Linux operating system, which is available free of charge..."

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