Given the opportunity, Indians can innovate or adjust to
any conditions. Network Magazine takes a look at this unique side of us which
is once again on display in our approach to low-cost computing. By Kumar
Dawada and Vinutha V
computer prices plummet, individuals and organisations are adopting technology
in a big way. These are the people who were left out of the first wave of the
IT revolution, mainly due to financial constraints. They are now able to transform
their organisations and improve their productivity and efficiency by the use
of low-cost computing solutions.
Whether a person is an individual, entrepreneur, CEO, CIO, CFO or the head of
an NGO or government organisation, he is looking for the most cost-effective
and yet productive method of using technology.
The Simputer Approach
Simputer is short for Simple, Inexpensive, Multi-lingual Computer.
It is a handheld device that looks like a Palm personal digital assistant. Costing
about Rs 9,000, it is projected as a computing device that promises to bring
in a new era of computing for the masses who were earlier unable to afford access
to computers. It also aims to bridge the digital divide in India, where despite
a booming software sector, 35 percent of citizens cannot read or write. The
brain-child of Vinay Deshpande, a Stanford-educated software entrepreneur, the
Simputer is primarily meant for users such as farmers who need to know the latest
prices of their crops, fishermen who want weather reports before venturing into
the sea, health workers who want to collect medical data, and rural bank agents
who have to enter data regarding the money they have collected.
At present, Simputer technology is developed by the Simputer Trusta non-profit
organisation comprising individuals from the software industry in Bangalore.
The trust also sells the design and licence to make the Simputer. Two Bangalore-based
bodies are responsible for the development and production of the SimputerEncore,
an IT company, and BEL-PicoPeta. The Simputer has been used in pilot projects
in Karnataka and Chhattisgarh with promising results but is not yet available
in retail outlets.
The Simputer interface is, well, simple, and special applications are utilised
so that even illiterate people can use these devices. A software called Dhvani
converts the text to speech, and it is then read out to the user in one of several
Indian languages. It uses IML (Information Markup Language) so that new software
can be developed on either Windows or Linux.
If prices of the Mobilis family plummet like those of
PCs, then it can potentially be a household product like a TV or a mobile
Encores Vice-president for Advanced Projects, Shashank
Garg, has been a busy man. After making Simputers give PDAs a run for their
money, Encore has decided to tackle the notebook market. A new product called
Mobilis has been unleashed as a low-cost computing solution for those who cannot
afford conventional notebook computers.
The Mobilis, touted as a mobile Desktop PC, looks more like a Tablet PC. It
has a 15-inch LCD screen, 128 MB RAM, and instead of a hard disk it uses 128
MB of flash memory. This actually makes the product compact and lightweightit
weighs only 750 grams. By comparison, most notebooks weigh in at over two kilos.
The computer has a local language interface and features text to speech as well
as common applications such as word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software,
Web browser and address book.
Encore is coming out with three models of Mobilis. The entry-level model costs
Rs 10,000. The second model has a carry case which opens up to resemble a desktop
stand. It has a keyboard that can be rolled up and kept in the pouch of the
carry bag. This intermediate-level model costs Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000. The top-of-the-line
model is called Mobilis Wireless. It has a built-in GPS receiver and allows
attachment of a GPRS wireless modem. It costs Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000.
Running Linux, these devices make use of open source software to ensure flexibility
and customisation for all types of applications and services. The power source
is a battery which can last for up to six hours before it needs a recharge.
Mobilis has built-in Ethernet, analog modem, and optional built-in fingertip
sensor for use as a kiosk terminal. Due to its touch-screen capability, it can
actually replace the heavy, bulky and costly kiosks which are currently being
used at village panchayats.
Since it can virtually act as a laptop computer, Mobilis is ideal for industrial
applications such as sales force automation, e-governance, healthcare, tele-medicine
and education, or any other field where limited finance prevents the use of
high-end products but a feature-rich product is still required for enhanced
productivity and efficiency.
With our experience in the Simputer, PC architecture and other forms of
computing, we were aiming to come up with a device that bridges the gap between
PDAs and notebooks. The reliability of the product is high as it can be used
in all weather conditions and rugged work environments, informs Garg.
Chairman & CEO
Encore has its eyes set on the mainstream computing market
including household computing, small business computing, and professionals including
lawyers, chartered accountants and doctors. It also intends to target Mobilis
at the field staff of different industries including pharmaceuticals, insurance
and banking. Book-lovers and students can use Mobilis as an e-book reader, and
have a virtual library at their disposal wherever they go.
If prices of the Mobilis follow the trend of the plummeting costs of PCs, then
it may have the potential of becoming a household product like TVs and mobiles.
Linux: Empowering The Law
One of the main factors which reduces computer access is the prohibitively high
cost of software, especially Microsofts Windows-based applications. But,
like the Mumbai High Court, some are finding a way out by using Linux.
Under the current Chief Justice Dalveer Bhandari, the Mumbai High Court, its
benches at Aurangabad, Nagpur and Goa, and all the district and taluka court
have become computerised. While buying computers for the High Court, technical
factors as well as cost-effectiveness were kept in mind. These courts invested
in low-cost computers, or in more costly computer hardware but saved overall
costs by using Linux and other open source software. As a result, they are now
able to afford legal software.
Mohan Krishnan, the Technical Director of NIC for the Mumbai High Court, reveals
that the court uses dual CPU Xeon servers running Linux. The court is networked.
The PC available with every judge is a client, and is connected to the main
server. The court has seven servers including the main server, Web server and
the application server. The RDBMS is also Linux-based. The court uses Apache
Web server, the backend is mySQL, and the front-end used is PHP.
A major problem faced by NIC was to get the court staff adjusted to IT. There
was a limitation of expansion, a limited budget, and an ever-looming financial
Nevertheless, thanks to low-cost computing solutions, there
is now a constant monitoring of caseshow many cases are pending, what
is the rate of disposal of cases, are old cases being attended to or not, etc.
E-mail contact is regularly kept with district courts as this is faster than
sending physical letters to them through a court official.
The Mumbai High Court has provided an information
centre on its ground floor for litigants. The screen acts as an interface
to access information about a pending case. All the litigant has to do
is to enter the case number or name of the party, and the status of the
case and the next hearing date is immediately displayed. One benefit is
that this cuts the cost of maintaining extra staff only for providing
information. Another benefit is that litigants no longer have to contact
their lawyer or court clerk or court officer to find out the status of
their case. Certified copies of judgements or orders which earlier used
to take weeks to procure are nowadays available in a few hours.