Simputer Review

Scientific American has a review of the Simputer entitled Computers for the Third World. The review is by Fiona Harvey, a journalist with the Financial Times. The conclusion:

The Simputer may not be the best tool for bringing information to the world’s poorest nations. Because most people in developing countries have no access to fixed telephone lines, many mobile-phone operators are setting up networks in those areas. Mobile phones are cheaper than the Simputer, and the most advanced models can send text messages and access the Internet. Communities choosing between the devices may find a mobile phone more immediately attractive for keeping in touch with the outside world and conducting business.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle for the Simputer, though, is cost. Will people in developing countries be able to justify the expenditure of $250 on a device that may be helpful but is not essential? When so many communities in the Third World still lack clean drinking water and adequate medical facilities, are computers really a priority?

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Social Computing Metaphors

Writes Jeremy Allaire, Macromedia’s CTO:

Our metaphors for social computing are under-developed. The common examples on the Internet today lack depth and creativity, and reflect the fact that real-time computing is essentially a new, uncharted world.

The most developed forms of social computing are multi-user online games. Many of these are full virtualizations of social worlds, attempting to model conflict and cooperation, notions of personal and communal health. Some, in fact, develop full systems of political, military and economic power. Unfortunately, the logic and interfaces for these are pretty simple — peer communication via text, enabling users to conspire with each other, and systems of killing and wealth accumulation which reflect themselves in ‘points’ that can be viewed by all players.

I’m interested in much more focused issues around real-time collaboration, as opposed to the development of ‘online social systems’ such as those found in online gaming. Simple things like metaphors for ‘taking turns’. The most common example of this is some shared design space where multiple users can jointly create some visual object (a.k.a. the shared whiteboard). Some legacy applications for ‘shared whiteboards’ use a mixed approach — a moderator can grant control to any given user, while users can ‘raise their hand’ to ask for control.

He goes on to give some interesting example. Most importantly, his articles makes one Imagine.

Sun – Rise or Set?

Writes “Sun Microsystems, backed into a corner by competitors and by economics, is launching new projects in an effort to revitalize its diminished computer-industry leadership. On Wednesday, Sun will detail its strategy to use Linux to attack Microsoft’s desktop-computer stronghold, and on Thursday, it will describe its N1 plan to gather servers and storage systems into a single pool of computing power.”

Sun needs to realise that the battles of tomorrow are now on the software front. The world has enough computing power being made available. Software is where the lag is. While there are many small software companies innovating, what is needed is for some of the bigger ones to define new ideas (because they have the clout). Sun is an excellent position to do this – it is very well respected in the industry and has a customer base which can be leveraged.

An inkling of what to expect:

Sun is more prepared to talk about its Linux desktop effort. At least initially, the campaign will be directed not at the millions of average computer users but at corporations that dictate what software employees will use–for example, call centers with hundreds of telephone operators, Schwartz said. Sun employees themselves will use Linux desktops.

But Sun has tried before, with little success, to penetrate this market. It failed to encourage much adoption of “thin clients” such as its Sun Ray products that rely on a central server to do most processing tasks.

The N1 plan to link servers and storage devices is closer to Sun’s areas of expertise and its traditional customer base that uses expensive, crash-resistant hardware. HP’s Utility Data Center and IBM’s “eLiza” autonomic computing initiatives have similarities to N1, but Sun hopes to make its effort stand out through its existing relationships with other computing companies.

Sun will probably not do it, but it (and the others) should also be thinking of the world’s developing countries when they come out with their plans. They should ask themselves: “what can we do differently if we had to drop the cost of computing to a tenth of what it is today.” Then, let the Ideas flow.

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Next Big Thing: Werbach

Kevin Werbach: “Whether you come from visual creativity tools or document-centered collaboration, you quickly realize that the next big thing is what I’m provisionally calling collaborative work.”

This is where blogs (especially K-logs), applications like Radio, Groove and Traction, digital dashboards and RSS come in. This is a 2-way world, focused on helping us work better with people and be able to process more information faster.

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TECH TALK: Rethinking the Desktop: The Digital Dashboard

The Digital Dashboard is made up of a many components, each of which individually can be thought of as portlets. The various portlets available to us are:

Email: This shows the most recent emails in brief. Clicking on any of the emails opens up Evolution. There is also a link to create a new email, which opens up the Compose window of Evolution.

IM: This shows the list of buddies and the messages which one may have received while one was offline. Clicking on IM will open up the GAIM application.

Documents: This shows a list of the recent OpenOffice documents created or edited by the user. There are also links which will directly open up any of the OpenOffice applications – Write (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet) and Impress (presentation). It is also possible to create “bookmarks” of frequently accessed documents, so they are now no more than a click away.

Bookmarks: Showing a list of bookmarks as an outline with categories is the first step. What would be useful is to classify bookmarks into three sub-sections based on frequency of visit: Daily, Weekly and Occasional. The computer can remember when one visited a site last and can highlight sites which need to be visited “today”.

Calendar: The calendar section comprises of the three sub-sections: a navigator for this month and the next, today’s appointments, and today’s events. For details or new additions, one can click through to Evolution’s calendar component. What is new here is the ability to subscribe to an “events stream” which can show items of interest today and in the future (for example, sports events, conferences, etc.)

Contacts: This again links in to Evolution, providing a search interface to find people. One nice feature would be a “connect-to-a-friend” feature: showing up the name of one new person from my contacts database who may not have been contacted for a month or more.

To-Do: The list of things to do, linked with Evolution’s application.

RSS Aggregator: The RSS Aggregator is perhaps at the heart of the dashboard. Its ability to subscribe to different RSS feeds on the Internet and Intranet, collecting news items and enterprise events, is the tsunami – increasing by 10X the information that one can process in the same time. The RSS Aggregator will have multiple categories (much like email folders). An item can be deleted, posted to a weblog with or without comments or emailed, all with a few clicks.

New Blog Post: This section enables the user to select a category and post a new item to the blog – either the private blog, the public blog or a group blog.

My Blog: This would show my weblog for today in outline format.

Links: There would be additional links available for applications like Calculator, or anything else the user chooses to set up shortcuts for.

Search: Think of the Search as Google for the desktop. The search should cut across all the information and documents that a user has on the desktop and extending to the Internet, showing the results in a Mozilla-window with tabs for each of the verticals that it has searched: emails, documents, blog entries, address book and the Internet.

I have created a partial mock-up of the Digital Dashboard at

Tomorrow: Spaces

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