Empowering poor people with Linux


In today’s issue of Samedi Plus, one tiny article caught one of my eyes:

E-Inclusion Foundation: aubaine ou piège?

Le ministère de l’informatique a récemment mis sur pied un programme intitulé “E-Inclusion Foundation”. Destiné aux familles pauvres, il s’agit d’un programme de distribution d’ordinateurs “refurbished” qui ne sont plus utilisés par des pays développés.

Certains, pourtant, se demandent si une personne “computer illiterate” ne se retrouvera pris dans un engrenage négatif, dans le sens qu’il apprendra à travers des méthodes dépassées, qui ne sont plus utilisées dans le domaine de l’informatique.

I agree. But not because the computer is old as hinted.


The reason why I think this is not a good idea is that the computer is not important anymore. What is essential now is an Internet connection.

I wonder how many of those computer illiterates buying refurbished computers are rich enough to afford paying for a monthly ADSL subscription (please don’t mention 56k…)? Does it make sense to have a PC if you do not have an Internet connection? No! We’re in 2009 and everything interesting and valuable is online now.

One possibility

In a certain way, I prefer the Net PC from Mauritius Telecom. It’s available at Rs 4300 with a monthly subscription of Rs 490. Thirty hours of broadband Internet connection are available monthly (and this is much better than nothing.) Unfortunately, it comes with Windows, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook Express, Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader only. Bloody hell! As if the whole idea is to create a bunch of secretaries!


What would be perfect is something like the Net PC but powered by Linux with an enormous collection of open source software preinstalled (including internet, office and multimedia software and compilers/interpreters.) I believe that solution would be close to perfect and will empower poor people much more than giving them old computers with no Internet connection or a Net PC with secretarial software only.

If only I was the current Minister of Information and Communication Technology…


  1. Totally agree. A PC without an internet connection is almost useless(except for single player gamers). Let alone the available resources online, being unable to send and receive emails is totally ridiculous! what are they gna do? Type letters everyday? “Poor people”?

    I believe, a PC is not the “end product” the person bought, it is the gateway to TODAY’s world. Obviously, this statement is strongly based on the greatness of the internet.

    its like giving a car without fuel, giving a dissertation without content, giving a fan without blades.

    if only YOU were the currently Minister of ICT…. if only..

  2. I agree that the computer is half-a-tool for computer illiterates – sure they can learn to handle a computer, create stuffs with it. But to go beyond the basics, they’ll need the other half – information/knowledge found only on the Internet.

    As for the NetPC, it should never have been called a “PC” – it’s a set-top box!
    Ok, it does have an Internet connection, which is a basic human necessity, but that’s not enough – you need an equally powerful hardware & decent software.

    & the worst thing… many people consider the NetPC to be equivalent to a PC… :(

  3. “What would be perfect is something like the Net PC but powered by Linux with an enormous collection of open source software preinstalled (including internet, office and multimedia software and compilers/interpreters.)”.

    I’m completely with you on this one. The most important thing I believe is to go towards server based applications i.e. the Net PC just acting like a thin client. You suddenly do away with people screwing up their systems and not knowing who to turn to. This I believe is a much better usage of the 2 Mbit local bandwidth rather than the Video On Demand that nobody cares about.

  4. I perfectly agree with you on this one. When compared, the net pc is much better than to use old pc. Now it also depend about the specification of these pc. I didn’t read the article but I assume that if they are 1 year old pc or 2 then it is not bad, but if they are older then it will be like we are sending the learners to the prehistoric time lol.

    The net pc is not bad but bot so good too… as you mentioned, “As if the whole idea is to create a bunch of secretaries!”.. thats the bad part. If I am not wrong, we cant change or install new softwares on it when we buy it?

    The best would have been what you proposed above and also instead of placing a time limit of 30 hours per month, why not put a bandwidth used limit? It would have been better because I don’t like the concept that we have to be in a hurry while using the internet.

    I often take about 5 minutes or more to fully read a blog and leave a comment, if time matters then I would already spend 5 minutes of it. But if we consider if I used much bandwidth then its almost very minim.

    I used to have dial up before..and its really not nice. It was like I had to use with a chronometer lol. Connect and disconnect each time I load a page to not get my old package over.

  5. i agree about converting the 30 hours limit to a quota of say 4Gb per month (which is more or less the equivalent of 30 hours at 256kbit/s.)

    Interestingly, the technical infrastructure is already here.

  6. If only I was the current Minister of Information and Communication Technology…

    Wanna give it a shot?? :p

    am sure this country needs a new voice, and a new system where people interact with the ministers directly via some sort of forum/mailinglist and all :p everyone can voice out his/her opinion. And you accept to resign the moment the majority votes to get you out on a poll in the forum :p!

    think about it .. think about it :p am sure you’d want me as “ministre la justice”!

    I agree about using the GNU/linux [or BSD] distro on a pc, this itself would considerably diminish cost and provide a large suit of application.

    But then if ever we did that, it wouldn’t be any different than microsoft who tried to force windows on people, this time it will be the open source community forcing opensource stuffs on people.

    I suppose its only by making them willingly want to change that we might can do something useful. E.g campaigns to show em the huge difference and gain!

    “Pimp your box” festivals where right from seeing, people will get crazy and want to own something similar!

    And yes you are right, owning a box is nothing without a good internet connection.

  7. or make 56K free 24/7. it’s good to have something to fall back to in case everything else fails.

    If only I was the current Minister of Information and Communication Technology…

    Rather obvious, innit?

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