I was sitting on the train to Sudabaaag and reading a computer magazine, when I suddenly realized what had bugged me during my work at the WRMA in Kenya.

As a consequence of this sometimes unsuitable development aid by foreign donors, a simple IT structure and office furnitures for use in the regional and subregional offices were procured in the past. By that time, emphasis – it seems – was put on getting these offices into operation, so someone just procured a few HP desktop computers with WindowsXP & MS Office, as well as an access point to enable a wireless network. For printing needs, a networked TOSHIBA printer was bought and installed – which even supports scanning to a local file. Nice!

And then you are confronted with the prevailing circumstances in a rural area. And this “rural area” stands for anything else but the normal IT environments.

There’s no computer shop in the area that deals with hardware or software (although there are many IT users in rural towns like Embu); there are frequent power failures + unstable power supplies which make the use of Uninterrupted Power Supplies (UPS) unavoidable; there’s lots of dust and other climatic influences; people aren’t properly trained how to handle IT ….and then there’s MS Windows XP – an operating system which gives each user lots of freedom and is in use all over the world. Despite of numerous viruses which often affect MS products thus hindering ppl from effective work on their computers, MS asks for an activation of their products either by telephone or over the internet. Now, internet isn’t available all over the world, and when I was confronted with the task of activating MS products such as Windows XP & Office 2003, fellow blogger Steve adviced me to send him the numbers instead so that he could call his local MS distributor in North America (thx!) and ask for the registration code. Fortunately, I was able to unlock the copies over the internet (as both computers came with an internal dial-up modem), and also managed to obtain the telephone number you have to dial in Kenya (0202868800) once there’s no internet.

Now, there might be a reason for complicated activation procedures, but the point is that MS – and this software manufacturer is just a good example – clearly missed the market and its needs. Whereas it makes sense to have a unique standard world wide which also enables exchange of data, there’s no need of having WindowsXP computers in an office of a Government Authority if other systems (hardware & software combinations) are much more effective and also much more reliable.
What we need are simple but reliable solutions to very basic but also unexpected problems.

Think of an (expensive) SUN workstation and its (cheaper) terminals, think of open software that does the same job as MS products, think of free operating systems that offer much more reliabilty and security, think of IT hardware that consumes less energy and has less movable parts (which could brake).

We blogged about this solar computer the other day with Lady AfroM, we often talk about the US-$100 laptop and we see more and more open source & free of charge software being available over the internet. The technology is there, and all we need is a durable computer that just does the normal jobs (office, browser, email, voip, photo editing).

As far as I remember, there are in fact a few smart people out there who have already come up with such an IT structure – only: I can’t see them on the market. And neither did the guy who procured those HP desktop computers.

Could it be that Microsoft personal computers are dominating the market just because the competition has such a lousy marketing?

I don’t know. What I do know is that being forced to work with such sensitive and vulnerable systems as those based on MS software is like eating Githerii (beans&maize) with chopsticks. It could be so much simpler.

As for this OLPC initiative and the US-$100 laptop – I am very curious to see what kind of reverse engineering and further use of these machines we’ll see in future. At least, these simple computers deliver most basic needs for computer users, and I think that a similar – restricted – technology should be used in government offices (where ppl are jeopardizing the IT with their USB flash sticks and games, but that’s another story…). What I would like to see are “ready to buy” and simple but effective computers that just provide a stable environment with basic tools for every day use. Something that just works – 24/7/365.

Why? Because there’s a market out there.

4 comments » Write a comment

  1. I hear you. Currently, I see Open source merely as a ngo movement. There hasn’t been any OpenSource related business spinoffs. As a result, there is minimal marketing of opensource software, and even less so, training and support for the software. The other problem is, being a ‘community initiative’ there tends to be lack of standards, I mean the fact that there are so many distros/distributions and so on.
    On the issue of Microsoft Software, I don’t see why everyone has to install the most current version, just because it has been released? Most organisations as you say, only require the basic needs that MS Office or Openoffice can fulfill. Why not make do with Windows 98, which will meet the need at hand, and has no severe requirements such as registation/activating the product, not to mention intensive memory requirements.
    My laptop is only 3 years old yet i cannot install vista, without adding more memory! It’s crazy. 2.5 yrs ago, I had a top on the range laptop, now it is near obsolete..

    oops sorry for the long comment

  2. Good points JKE!, is just me or in one of your pics you were loading edubuntu? I am yet to fiddle with it, sadly, i use MS products alot, wacha i get VMWare or parallels so i can run both XP and Linux concurrently…

  3. I would like to say that I am done with Microsoft but sadly, I cannot not. I work for an organization that uses Microsoft products and while they are pretty cool, I cannot justify spending what they cost to myself while I can find the same tools on LINUX.

    So, I am stuck with dual booting my laptop – Microsoft Windows & stuff for work and Linux for home.

    I think that all these products and services have their place which is what appropriate technology is all about – making sure that you sell products that your customer actually needs and can actually use. Like software that does not need to be activated over the internet or advising your customers to use water which is all they really need rather than coolant if they are in the tropics.

    Its not going to happen though, there is too much money in making people doing things your way for business to stop dictating what people can and cannot do with their products.