[Fsf-friends] Re: QUERY: FLOSS and the digital divide

K Raghu Prasad raghuprasad@softhome.net
Sat Aug 14 06:14:12 IST 2004

> I'm looking out for some good examples of how Free/Libre and Open Source
> Software could help bridge the "digital divide", particularly in the
> context of the less-affluent countries. Specially in South Asia or the
> rest of Asia.
One of the major problem being faced by south asian countries like India
is bringing PCs to the rural schools. Schools in our villages
do not have resources to purchase computers even at a rate of Rs.15k per
piece. So we find most of them using second hand machines. I had read
somewhere few years back that the OEM license of Windows did not allow
you to sell the OS along with your PC? I don't know whether still that
clause is present or not. If so, a second hand PC is worth nothing
unless you load it with a newly purchased Windows or a pirated copy of it.
Even then, a licensed version of XP may not run on it due to the lack of
hardware power required for it.

So "GNU/Linux" or "* BSD" are the best options for them. Besides that,
with free/libre OS comes hundreds of packages with varying degrees of
choices thrown up at the user. All at no extra cost. This is not the case
with the other OS.

Another area of interest is the open standard of document formats available
in free/libre word processor and spreadsheet software. This is very
important not only for rural public, but also for the urban masses.
With an open standard based document repository, your knowledge base
is never going to be obsolete. That means you need not indulge in
expensive data conversion tasks every year or pay through you nose
to get new versions of compatible software.

> In particular, the issue of computer obsolence seems to be a critical
> subject. But what with quite a few GNU/Linux distros seemingly going the
> bloatware way? Regards, FN
This is due to an ongoing effort from GNU/Linux distros to please or
convert Windows users into its fold. This makes a lot of business sense.
Unless a Windows user finds the system user friendly as per his/her
definition of it, he/she is not going to use Red Hat or SuSE distros.
This comes naturally with some additional costs. If you want all the
bells and whistles of latest KDE and GNOME, you need to spend a lot of
CPU power and RAM. We need to remember that the target of these distros
are new users with almost new hardware. Rural public or their systems are
off their radar screen as there is not much revenue coming from those
areas at present. We can't blame the distros either as you need good
revenue generation to sustain yourself in this market.

But there is a silver lining. Since everything is free and open we are
as powerful as a business house when it comes to customizing our
solutions. GNOME and KDE are not the end of all GUIs. There are other
faster window managers with less features or less bloat, depending on
which side of the fence you are. Xfce (http://www.xfce.org) is one of
them. The Freeduc CD used Xfce-3 which was very fast to use and
provided good functionalities. The latest Xfce is built with GTK2 and
is capable of supporting all the languages already supported by GNOME.

I think selection of packages for rural public is a critical part of
the game. The packages which run faster on slower hardware is the way
to go. But I am not sure whether current Mozilla or OpenOffice.org will
make into that list. Well, one can use dillo (or links-hacked) and
abiword (or lyx) as substitutes with lesser features.


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