There are several aspects of this discussion that are important:
Although I agree with Dr. Morrison, generally, that simple and durable
systems are best, simplicity and its virtues can been seen from several
perspectives. In addition, new tools are called for to meet new needs
and to make new/appropriate technologies available in otherwise
underserved areas.

On simplicity: Although laptops are durable and feature low power
requirements, they're more expensive and much more difficult to service.
In school computer labs, teachers and students often become adept at
scavenging parts to repair desktop computers. Such activities, although
arising out of need, become one of the "benefits" of participating in
school computers clubs. Such activities are _much_ more difficult with
laptops. In Zimbabwe, at least through 1998, servicing of a laptop
required that the machine be shipped to South Africa.

On new technologies: Several features of Matthew Grant's proposed server
design have already proven valuable for the Virtual Didactic Lab
education project in Sao Paulo -- and could be of similar value to other
projects that require heavy e-mail / Internet use in regions that are
infrastructure-poor or poorly regulated.

The LabVirt project engages secondary-school students in the design of
physics simulations, which are then built in Java by graduate students
at University of Sao Paulo, and uploaded to a central repository for use
as teaching/learning tools. Schools involved in the project, located in
underserved communities throughout the state of Sao Paulo, generally
have 10-computer labs, with machines on the order of Pentium 1s and 2s.
The project has designed and built a "blackbox server," which sits on
one of the school's 10 workstations. This server links the computers in
a LAN, giving them all access to the printer and maximizing the lab's
limited hard-drive space.

Critically, in a project that involves students uploading graphics and
downloading Java applets, the server uses call-scheduling to optimize
all email transactions -- processing these when the lab is unused and
when the city's phone lines have the least traffic. If the phones are
down or the connection is poor, the task is re-scheduled.

(The LabVirt project has completed its second year -- I'm unaware of any
publicly accessible "web artifacts.")

One could argue, as well, that _any_ Linux-based proposal for developing
countries should be given serious consideration as part of an effort to
reduce the future costs and constraints of participation in an otherwise
exclusionary networked society. Linux has already become much more user
friendly, with graphical interfaces (not unlike Windows) and simpler
distributions. It continues to run well on older computers (e.g., 486s),
and provides good Internet-browsing capabilities even on those machines.
And integration of Linux into development projects is one way to ensure
that this collaboratively created alternative evolves to better meet the
needs of developing-country users.

In an alternative view of the future, Microsoft is releasing its new
developers' toolkit (C-Sharp) this week, intended to compete with Java
[open-source, free], and to integrate with Microsoft's dot-Net and
Passport services -- all of these are designed to create greater
dependency on Microsoft's proprietary software and Internet services.


Edmond Gaible

350 Townsend Street, ste 312
San Francisco CA 94107
+1.415.543.6643 / fax 863.6398


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