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India Officially Launches Simputer 197

Posted by timothy
from the high-hopes-still-high dept.
aravind writes "The Communications and IT Minister, Pramod Mahajan, has launched India's indigenously developed low-cost handheld Personal Computer -- Simputer -- at an IT and Communication expo, SMAU 2002, in Milan. A low-cost handheld PC on GNU/Linux working through a browser for international markup language IML, priced at Rs9000 (less than $200). 200Mhz StrongArm processor, 32MB DRAM, 24 MB flash, touchscreen, speakers, USB, text-to-speech, MP3 capability ... " Look here for some of the previous stories we've run on the Simputer.
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India Officially Launches Simputer

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:21AM (#4540637)
    From the FAQ:

    Q: How do I enter text? Can I attach a keyboard?

    A: There are two options on the base simputer for entering text: one is a soft keyboard, that can be brought up on the touch screen and you poke at it to enter one character at a time...


    I guess they took it to the point that that even the description is simplified. :)
  • Another PDA Device? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by raydobbs (99133)
    Why do we need another PDA device, exactly? I mean, yes, it uses Linux - but so does the Sharp Zaurus (sp?), and has had the kinks worked out of the mix more... Is this a case of India just wanting to say 'Me Too!'?
    • by miratrix (601203)
      Yeah, the specs doesn't look too different from Compaq iPaq which has been out for more than 2 years now. However, it is quite a bit cheaper, and it seems like the point of this device is to bring computing to the masses. If you don't have reliable power... etc, PDA just might be the answer.
      • This thing takes three AAA batteries, are these readily available in India? In the US they cost a couple of bucks for a pack, so going by what someone else stated as the average Indian making $16 a month, they are supposed to spend 12.5% of their income on batteries?
        • If you're a geek (probably, if you get one of these), you'll probably also find a way to get your hands on some rechargable nicad batteries, and a charger (solar or conventional) to charge em with.

          For those who get one of these gizmos, who aren't geeks, they'll just find a local geek to hook them up with the requisite technology. I expect the local village tech to build a side business supply them with a set of rechargable batteries, which he'll recharge at his shop for a fee, if there doesn't already exist a service like this now...
        • by Anonymous Coward
          AAA batteries ARE available in India, and no not for $2 but about Rs.10 (20 cents).
          Don't expect costs in developing countries to be equal to those in the US. Heard of Eastern Economy/Low Priced/... Edition of Books specifically for South Asian & nearby developing countries?
        • My experience of India was that batteries are readily available and at much cheaper prices than in the West - though maybe only in tourist areas.

          I wouldn't like to think of the environmental impact of 1 billion waste batteries however!

          I'm not sure they've really thought about that too much.
          • > My experience of India was that batteries are readily available and at much cheaper prices than in the West - though maybe only in tourist areas.

            Actually, batteries are usually carried by pretty much every street snack/"pan" shop in India, and there are a lot of them (sometimes multiple ones per block), especially in cities.
        • India has pockets of communities, that can be comparable to developed nations. And salaries of US$500 to US$5000 per month is not uncommon in those areas. The disparity will remain till India becomes a powerful developed nation.
    • This was designed before the Zaurus but after Linux was running on the iPAQ.
      -russ
  • by syphoon (619506) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:23AM (#4540640)
    Its good to see low cost applications such as the simputer being made to help those who otherwise wouldn't have access to any such device. But I wonder, in a country as vast as India with 58 taught languages and 87 different language newspapers (http://www.abhishek.mybravenet.com/languages%20of %20india.htm), how effective would the speech recognition really be, especially when you take into account the lower literacy levels of the demograph its aimed at.
    • by metlin (258108) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:23AM (#4540757) Journal
      IAAI - I Am An Indian
      IAANLPR - I Am An Natural Language Processing Researcher

      Ok, although India does have so many different languages, the majority of the people speak a countable few, maybe with subtle differences in dialects. In fact, only about 14 languages are recognized as official languages of India, and almost everybody can speak two or more Indian languages.

      So, although the total figure may seem big, using just one language like Hindi would cover significant percent of the populace.

      Also, there _is_ a lot of similarity between a lot of the languages, both in the written and the spoken forms. So developing a general prototype system and then expanding on it regionwise would not be as mammoth a task as it may seem.

      For example, a lot of the South Indian languages sound similar, have similar sounding alphabets, with a few differences in grammar. The basic difference would come in smaller parts of the language set and may need certain prefixed lexicon modifications.

      If these things are going to be custom built for each of these states, then I'm guessing that you'd have a system that is custom-built to the languages of that region.

      It may take a while longer and maybe a little tedious, but I suppose that would be just worth the trouble, especially after having come this far.
      • by The Cydonian (603441) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @07:57AM (#4540871) Homepage Journal

        Not to karma-whore, but just a few additions/corrections (I had posted earlier [slashdot.org] on the scripts; now including stuff on grammar as well here) :-

        • The official 1961 Census listed 1652 "mother tongues" [languageinindia.com].
        • Another report suggests that there are 418 "listed languages" [culturopedia.com]
        • However, there are 18 (not 14) constitutionally recognised languages.
        • Anthropologically speaking, there's little similarity between *most* languages except for geographical proximity; for instance, folks speak Gujarati, Siddhi and Indo-Portuguese in and around the islands of Daman and Diu. It's interesting to note that these languages have derived themselves from Aryan, African and European roots respectively. Very little overlap, historically speaking, but these languages are spoken nowhere else, hence are uniquely Indian.
        • But despite all this, there *is* a certain amount of overlap. There are 10 uniquely Indian (as opposed to Indic; Indic would include scripts such as Burmese, Thai, Tagalog and Sinhala as well) scripts which are all derived from the 5th century Brahmi script. A fact that was already researched and recorded in C-DAC's masterful ISCII (Indian Standard Code for Information Interchange) format, which, as I understand, treats each individual language as a specialisation of an existing meta layout.
        • It is my contention that the basic grammar for *most* prominent constitutionally recognised languages is inherently same; the grammatical difference between, say, Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Urdu and Kannada is noticeable, but not significant.

        Bottomline: I'm an NLP researcher myself fascinated by languages (see my sig). As much as I'm excited by this project, I really think we shouldn't kid ourselves, coz:-

        • Let's admit it; computerisation of *all* Indian languages won't happen in our lifetimes. Denying that would be to deny India's mind-boggling linguistic diversity.
        • If you want to increase literacy in India, get your basics right:- increase the number of schools and increase their quality. Don't search for magic bullets. They won't deliver, even if they're tech-y stuff.
        • by metlin (258108) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @08:32AM (#4540911) Journal
          Interesting post! :-)

          I'd however, like to add a few points which I consider relevant :

          I absolutely agree that a lot of Indian languages have little or no relation to each other, but the truth is that a significant percentage of these languages can be traced back to a common root. For example, certain Brahmi-derived languages and Prakrit have very common grammatical rules, but are also very different in other ways.

          As long as we can find a set of common languages which would serve the majority of the populace, it'd be great. Reaching that in itself would be significant achievement.

          Regarding the differences in grammar, yes, you're correct. But look at it from the point of voice recognition. Malayalam and Tamil sound very much alike, and a person with the knowledge of one with absolutely no knowledge of the other can actually understand the other one. But the alphabets of Tamil and Malayalam are phonetically miles away, Malayalam has a alphabets that spell like Brahmi, look like Tamil ones and the lexicon has a lot of Sanskrit. Likewise for Telugu and Kannada. In fact, Kannada has grammatical rules that are pretty much like that of Sanskrit (there is a book called NLP - A Panian Perspective that discusses exactly these issues).

          Well, as for what you said,

          Let's admit it; computerisation of *all* Indian languages won't happen in our lifetimes. Denying that would be to deny India's mind-boggling linguistic diversity.

          Perhaps not all of it, but once you have a large chunk of it, you'll realise that a lot of them are evolved dialects and can be traced to a series of common roots. Look at Urdu, Arabic script with Hindi, Persian and Arabic words in the North, while down south you have a mix of Marathi and Telugu words. So it may not be all that impossible.

          Let me rephrase your statement - *Complete* computerization of all the languages will not happen, but basic computerization might just happen, however mind boggling that task may seem.

          If you want to increase literacy in India, get your basics right:- increase the number of schools and increase their quality. Don't search for magic bullets. They won't deliver, even if they're tech-y stuff.

          Hmmm.. I think the Simputer was originally intended more as a tool to help the farmers and the rural people, not to educate people. In fact, I fully agree with you that technology will not be the only saviour. But then again, tools equip people better. Don't look at the Simputer as the end result, look at it as a tool that'll ease your way into achieving it :-)

          • ..But look at it from the point of voice recognition. Malayalam and Tamil sound very much alike, and a person with the knowledge of one with absolutely no knowledge of the other can actually understand the other one. ...

            I'm afraid thats not quite accurate. My experience has been that while it is somewhat easy for people who speak Malayalam to roughly understand Tamil, the converse for some reason is not true. Perhaps this has more to do with the literacy (and by implication the educational levels) of the people in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, rather than any inherent complexities in the languages themselves. Malayalam, by any objective measure is a more complex language than Tamil (more consonants, and a more complex vocabulary), so one would intuitively tend to expect that lack of equivalence in understanding though.

            My experience has been that it is relatively easy for speakers of Kannada, Telegu, and Tamil to figure out roughly what is spoken in the other languages. As a speaker of Malayalm, I can somewhat get the gist of Kannada and Tamil, but not Telegu.

            But even with these kinds of similarities, your point is totally false. These similarities are very superficial and do not present enough commonality to help out voice recognition. When communicating through the language barrier, a lot of information is conveyed through context and gestures. And that is of no help in voice recognition.

          • there is a book called NLP - A Panian Perspective that discusses exactly these issues

            All roads lead to Rome. Neat book that, for anyone interested in Indian (Indic) NLP.

      • So, although the total figure may seem big, using just one language like Hindi would cover significant percent of the populace.

        Picking one language to be the "main" language often pisses off certain ethnic groups. It is seen as favoring one ethnicity over another.

        If you start from scratch to avoid offending anybody, then you don't have a starting base of speakers to build from.

        It is a catch-22 policy-wise.
    • The submission states about text-to-speech, not speech-to-text, which voice recogniotion is. Text to speech is merely a ability od device o "say" written text, not to recognize spoken.
  • by Drunken Coward (574991) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:24AM (#4540643)
    The average monthly salary [rice.edu] in India is somewhere along the lines of $37. A person earning that much could hardly afford the luxuries of such a handheld, even if it could be attained for the paltry sum of $200. Pennies to us, but to them it could take a lifetime to acquire that amount of savings. Until we work to attain far cheaper methods of building computers, these people will be unable to experience the very joy we take for granted. Of course, this is a noble effort and no doubt will further number of Indians able to participate in the IT field, but further effort is needed.
    • by rovingeyes (575063) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:28AM (#4540657)
      Well, even though the average monthly salary might be low, you are forgetting the point that even if 2% of more than a billion population plan to buy (believe me there are people india who are filthy rich) it'd be lot more than the simputer guys could hope for. Certainly you can look at it this way - IT IS A START!

    • I suppose the government will have to fund it, at least partially. However, the impact apparently wouldn't be that great, since it is designed to be shared by a community [simputer.org]

      .
    • by Albanach (527650) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:58AM (#4540706) Homepage
      By reading the FAQ [simputer.org] you would learn that the simputer has been designed for sharing by communities. THe examples they give are schools and community centres which are already established as places where shared resources are available to comunities.

      The simputer is equipped with a smart card reader which is intended to provide personalisation to the device. The aim is to reduce the cost of _access_ (that's the important bit, not ownership) to the device to that of owning a smart card, not of owning the device itself.

      Think of being able to walk into a local library and borrow a computer for a day instead of a book.

      • Software Development Magazine [sdmagazine.com] covers the Simputer in their "Deadline" section (unfortunately, the section is only in the print edition, not online). From the article: "For $2 and a nominal rental fee, each villager can buy a smart card that stores all his or her information, and allows Internet and e-mail access." Sounds quite feasible to me.
    • by arvindn (542080) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:16AM (#4540744) Homepage Journal
      Pennies to us, but to them it could take a lifetime to acquire that amount of savings. I live in India, and I what you say is simply not true. You're missing the point that not everyone earns close to the average salary. An Indian "middle class" family (such as mine) could easily have an income of Rs. 50000 ($1000) per month. (That's > 25 times your average!) True, the percent of affluent people is small, but in a country of a billion people its still a large number. I don't mean to troll, but slashdot seems to have the general attitude that India is still a country of snake charmers and tightrope walkers. Get over it. While a majority of the population lives in poverty (and consistently gets screwed by self-serving governments), there is also a large, educated, wealthy technically minded workforce.

      Actually, the reason the simputer took so long to take off was that its creators initially focussed on the wrong market - the illiterate masses. No company came forward to mass produce it and only the intervention of the government saved it from dying out altogether. But now that it has gotten off the mark, I think there is a very good market for it out here.

    • it could be attained for the paltry sum of $200. Pennies to us, but to them it could take a
      lifetime to acquire that amount of savings

      The average monthly salary in India is somewhere along the lines of $37


      How much are taxes in India? For simplicity, I'll assume the $37 represents after tax income. Okay, let's say they really really want one of these and save $5 a month. So, it'll take 3.5 years to save up the $200. That would make it a major purchase, along the lines of, say, a car in the western world, but hardly their life savings. I'd buy the lifetime argument for families taking home $3.50 a month though.
      • So according to your strange logic, there should be not a single car in India, because nobody could ever afford it.

        Hint: Not everybody earns the same. Out of the billion of habitants, I guess there are a couple of millions who can easily afford such devices without any trouble.

    • The reason average income in India is so low is that the population contains many millions of very poor people.

      Keep in mind, though, that India's population is about a billion: there is also a large middle income group in the country who could afford a $200 computer pretty easily. This group makes up a relatively small percentage of the population, but this still amounts to several million people
    • It costs less than a Television in India. And there are tens of millions of Televisions in India. :-D
    • You have obviously never been to India. Drive along any commercial street, and about every five hundred feet you'll see an "ISM" sign. This is a telephone booth, only it isn't really, it's just a store that happens to have a telephone.

      Indians are incredible entrepreneurs. They'll buy shit for 13 cents and sell it for 14 cents, and make enough money to feed themselves, their children, his parents, her parents, and his maiden aunt who was so ugly that NOBODY would marry her.

      Okay? So they'll sell this computer, many people will buy them, and charge five rupees for five minutes. 9,000 minutes later they've repaid their investment.

      Indians have incredible family ties. If you don't call your mother on her birthday, you may as well cut off your testicles and immolate them. You're just the worst sort of scum. And you'll write to her, often, too. If you know she has access to a simputer, and you do too, you can write to her more easily.

      The simputer helps Indians be Indians. You can bet your bottom dollar it'll sell.
      -russ

      -russ
  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:25AM (#4540648) Journal


    USD 200 might sounds peanuts to many. But in India, it's a hell lot for the majority of Indians.

    Simputer is a good concept, but with RP 9000 price tag, I think it'll only benefit (again!) the Rich, the Powerful and the Corrupted, in India, of course.

    Can anyone here offer any suggestion as to how to lower the cost ?

    Thanks in advance !

    • by Anonymous Coward
      perhaps. they can ditch the MP3 support. doesn't fraunhoeffer (or whoever licenses mp3 stuff) charge $1, or something like that, per unit, for hardware devices to be able to play MP3s ?

      it's only $1, but, it's a start
    • But it's not like India doesn't have a middle class. From the posts here you'd think everyone's either a pauper or a millionaire; there are millions of Indians for whom $200 USD would be an investment, but a doable one.


      • You sez:

        "But it's not like India doesn't have a middle class."

        "From the posts here you'd think everyone's either a pauper
        or a millionaire; there are millions of Indians for
        whom $200 USD would be an investment, but a doable one."

        In my original message, I said that _most_ of the Indians in India can't afford the USD 200, because it'd be a hell of a lot of money for them.

        Then you come in and declared that the "millions of middle class people in India can afford the USD 200"

        Oh, by the way, what's the total population of India ? Mere millions or OVER A BILLION ?

        You see, the "millions of middle class people in India" that you mentioned, in the sea of BILLIONS OF IMPOVERISHED people, is but a drop in the bucket !

        In other words, MOST OF THE INDIAN PEOPLE IN INDIA CAN NOT AFFORD THE SIMPUTER, it's as simple as that.

        • First of all, it's not billionS, it's a little over 1 billion. Secondly, I was objecting to the way people were implying that "most" meant "almost all"; a SIZEABLE percentage of the Indian population, especially in the large cities (and there are a lot of them, and they are LARGE), can afford them. No, not everyone can, but I don't think that was the purpose of the Simputer.


          • You sez:

            "Secondly, I was objecting to the way people were implying that "most" meant "almost all" ...."

            Whoa ! Hold on for just a second.

            Let's go back a little bit, shall we ?

            Now, please tell me what's the meaning of the word "MOST".

            Does it mean "More than 50%", or as you wanna put it "a sizeable portion" ?

            I used the word "MOST" in my original message and I mean just that, MOST - More Than 50% - and nothing else.

            Never had I meant it to be "almost all", no sirreeee.

  • If the PalmOS sells for $5 to $7 in quantity, why isn't Handspring making money hand over fist on their palmtops at $400+?

    And wasn't the first sub-$300 wince device just announced? Without anything close to these specs...

    So, where can I buy one?

    Ross
  • by kfishy (534087)

    where is my dear Ogg? :(

    btw, time to update the PDA poll :P

    • Ogg takes too much processor horsepower for a 200 MHz to handle, I'd guess. Its significantly more than mp3.
      • Re:MP3? (Score:2, Informative)

        by kfishy (534087)

        Ogg Vorbis was ported to Sharp's Zaurus [linuxdevices.com] earlier this year. It has a 200MHz StrongArm processor too, so I don't see why they can't do the same with Simputer. I would love to have an inexpensive Ogg-capable handheld ^_^

        • Furthermore, according to the FAQ:
          "Any X application that restricts the display to 240x320 will directly run on the Simputer."
          So you could even build your graphical player of choice on this thing. Of course, with only 24 Mb flash, this thing wouldn't be that much fun. With a 20 GB USB HD, OTOH... :-)
    • It uses linux, so you ought to be able to get to a system console somewhere... just need a tremor binary for strongarm.
  • by Krapangor (533950) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:28AM (#4540656) Homepage
    This is a really stupid waste of money.
    India's problem are not people who don't know how to use a computer, India's problem are people who can't read or write at all.
    What use whould such people have for a computer ?
    I doubt seriously that it had Hindi speech recognition (Hindi is much harder to do than French or English).
    So these people would be able to buy for a 2 years wages a high-tech doorstopper.
    That's classic wasted goverment effort. How about building schools instead ? Or creating decent taxes to distribute the enourmous wealth of the rich to the poor one so that they can efford education or even a real computer in some time ?
    But as always technology without meaning.
    • One would think that with at least 500 million people literate, Simputer ought to have some use to the general population. I mean, 52% is quite big to qualify as "elite", wouldn't you think? Remember that this is only a very tiny step in the right direction to solve a really big and widespread problem (actually two, poverty and literacy :P).

      Also, Hindi speech recognition is not necessary harder to do than French or English. The difficulty of a language to typical Europeans is usually not an important factor in speech recognition. In fact, with so many phonetic and grammatical irregularities, English is probably one of the most difficult language (widely in use, of course) to be analysed/zed systematically.

      And rest assured that this is definitely not a screwed up time consuming and money wasting project by the Big Evil And Corrupted Government (TM). Oooh no.

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:29AM (#4540767) Journal


      Your message's title "IT doesn't replace education" is indeed very striking, considering that the government of Malaysia - a fifth-rate country, mind you - is on the path of REPLACING education with IT.

      Specifically, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has commented on several accounts that,

      "The teachers are mere facilitators. The main point
      is the computers, where the students learn from. The
      teachers just _help_ out if any problem arises."

      Dunno what will happen to the children in fifth rate countries such as Malaysia.

      • Your message's title "IT doesn't replace education" is indeed very striking, considering that the government of Malaysia - a fifth-rate country, mind you - is on the path of REPLACING education with IT.

        Specifically, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has commented on several accounts that,


        "The teachers are mere facilitators. The main point
        is the computers, where the students learn from. The
        teachers just _help_ out if any problem arises."

        Dunno what will happen to the children in fifth rate countries such as Malaysia.


        Well, if that pronouncement is taken seriously by all concerned, I'd say they're screwed. Fortunately for those kids, it probably won't be. The bad teachers won't (hopefully) get much worse, and the good ones will keep on doing what they've always done.

      • That's one senile old mans opinion...Mahathir. Malaysia still provides their techers with living quarters, and education is highly regarded among the people in Malaysia. Teachers there are more repected than here is the US.
    • You should realise that having a coupleof these in out of the way villages can actually help people to read. A "learning to read and write" program should be pretty easy to program on such a machine...drop it in a smallish group of kids, and they'll have it down soon enough. This device is an enabler for what you're complaining about. And at the low cost of the machine, it's actually quite do-able for the governemnt (ie affordable).
    • That is not true. Since your post is based on piece of guesswork about India, I dont take it seriously. The infrastructure for education is in place. It is not perfect, but it is in place. And most of this is geared to provide computer education as well. The development of Simputer, (and supercomputer, and optical fibres, and satellites, and nuclear power stations) is part of taking the country in the rank of developed nations. The Simputer will find local consumers, no doubt. But, if it hits American markets, it could replace lot of chinese devices.
      • You miss the point. I regularly travel to India myself, among other internatioal destinations, so this is no *guesswork* of any sorts. The point is, as you yourself have so correctly said, the existence of an education infrastructure. Did you know that over 50% of students in Uttar Pradesh flunk their primary schools [outlookindia.com]? And really, do you think this 9000 rupees thing will have *any* effect on classrooms in villages? If my experience is any indication, some bigshot somewhere up there will pocket the Simputer, claiming that it won't be useful for kids.

        My take:- Great that someone (okay, someone from India for all those patriotic Indians out there :-D) developed a cost-effective PDA, but let's not start having wet dreams about it. It ain't gonna change anything drastically.

        Don't take it personally, but I really don't think you should troll just because someone else doesn't sound Indian and has something negative to say. I know that there are a lot of anti-India trolls out here in /., but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't rub off someone else's point. For all you know, it could be valid.

    • What use whould such people have for a computer ? [...] So these people would be able to buy for a 2 years wages a high-tech doorstopper.

      Don't underestimate people, even poor brown people [geocities.com].

    • Coz you definitely sounds like one.

      According to what you say, everytime a new technology sprouts in a country like India
      (1) The Govt should take affirmative action in ensuring that the technology gets queued up so that (a) Govt can better direct their efforts towards distributing the enormous wealth of the rich to the poor (hey, guess what, we could tell Bush to do the same here) (b) Govt can bicker among themselves whether building schools or creating new channels for information is important.

      But then you sir, dont give a damn about those people. Neither do you give a damn about what you wrote. For, you just wanted to give your two bit advice and move along. So guess what...move along!
    • I know I'll be moderated down, but here goes.

      There are two kinds of posts in /. when a story is posted about India. One is the intelligent (and technical) analysis of the news itself. The other is posts such as yours. The main point of the latter is simply this - there are many poor, illiterate people in India, therefore, India should forget about technology and concentrate on feeding and educating its masses.

      Well, I have been living in the US for many years now and I have seen my share of poor and homeless people in NY and SF. Does that stop the USA from spending billions on fighter planes? Whenever a luxury car or a costly tech gadget comes to the market, do you ever stop yourself to ask -"Can the people in trailer parks really afford this?"

      Of course not. Then why the hypocrisy when it comes to India (and other non-white countries) alone?

      Every country in this world (first or third or otherwise) has its share of have-nots and haves and the extremely wealthy. This should not prevent the scientific and engineering communities in those countries from innovating.

      I am not sure if the Simputer will succeed. If I were to guess, I would say no. But, disregarding the merits and demerits of Simputer as a whole and merely repeating "India is poor" does not make a proper discussion.

      Every time a topic about India or China is posted to /. we have to wade through scores of such arguments and counter-arguments before finding any real discussions about the topic itself. That is ludicrous.

  • by jas79 (196511) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:33AM (#4540664)
    Q: Can I create a Beowulf cluster using many Simputers?

    A: You must be a /.er; in which case you know the answer!
    • by Large Green Mallard (31462) <lgm@theducks.org> on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:43AM (#4540683) Homepage
      I thought you were just making this up.. but this is actually on the FAQ.. how cool :D
    • Q: Can I create a Beowulf cluster using many Simputers?
      A: You must be a /.er; in which case you know the answer!


      Which would be no. Your average slashdotter has to strain a little just to imagine a Beowulf cluster of those.
      • Re:from the FAQ (Score:3, Insightful)

        by silentbozo (542534)
        Given that there's a USB port and a phone port (powered by some sort of software modem), you have two choices to network your equipment. The real problem with clustering will be power -you'll have to hack each case with an adapter to supply 4.5vdc. A more elegant way of handling this would be if they allowed you to supply power to the simputer via the USB port (say, could you get enough current to charge your batteries?)

        It's funny that they talk about client-server processes for the simputer, since it lacks wireless access (when I think of portable devices talking to other devices, I think wireless.) However, if you can implement a common interface for connecting to a network and charging via a common port (could USB work?), you could install ports all over the place.

        With this kind of distributed computing in place, India could soon be home of some serious computational power...
        • Yeah, the talk of client-server does seem a little strange. I thought the device was designed primarily for standalone use, the reason being that the power grid, not to mention networking infrastructure, is not generally available.

          Lack of wireless capability does make sense in terms of cost and power consumption. I suppose you could easily add a Bluetooth USB dongle for short range wireless connectivity to get some ad-hoc networking capability at the expense of higher power consumption.
    • So, does it make me not a ./er if i don't know the answer? Nooooooo...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    All the IT professionals reading this, if this causes a boom in the number of qualified Indian techs, we could all be either out of a job or being forced to work at 3rd world rates.
    Be afraid.
  • by panurge (573432) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:43AM (#4540684)
    First, India has a big educated middle class. Over 100 million people. They don't have the sort of incomes we do in the West, but a $200 handheld is within their possible budgets.

    Second, India has huge potential in IT as their materials-poor economy has encouraged education in mathematics and other subjects which do not require expensive learning facilities - you do not actually need a computer to learn computer science, but it sure helps.

    Third, India cannot afford lots of imports from the US, Korea or Japan. They need to be self-sufficient (even if it wasn't one of Gandhi's principles).

    Fourth, the demand for such things is enormous. Believe me, I once thought I was going to find myself in prison in Mumbai because I had an HP calculator and a mini circuit tester in my luggage ("Admit, you have brought these to sell on black market")

    Fifth, even poor Indian villages have the odd educated person who will provide services for the locals - and such people would benefit enormously from a handheld. The idea that every peasant should ultimately have a compactflash/smartmedia card with all their own information on it, is actually a hugely enabling one in a subliterate culture because it allows them access to a personal store of information. If it has to be retrieved by symbols on a soft keyboard and text-to-speech, does it matter?

    Unfortunately, looking at some earlier posts, India and China are far from having a monopoly on illiterate peasants who don't know what goes on in the rest of the world (flamebait)

    • actually, it's slightly over 1 billion people [cia.gov] as of July 2002.
    • Third, India cannot afford lots of imports from the US, Korea or Japan.

      Think about what you just said: You said that we in the US, Korea and Japan can't import from India. Why? Because if they don't import from us, we'll never get the Indian currency we need to buy their stuff! Trade has to flow both ways, in the long term.

      They need to be self-sufficient ...

      Again, think about what you're saying. If this were sensible, then any country could enrich itself by closing its borders. More than that, your family could enrich itself by not trading with others! Taking it to the ultimate absurdity, you would be better off if you had no intercourse (trade, that is!) with the other members of your family.

      Perhaps you meant that India needs to protect infant industries, so that it can become competitive in things like steel and auto production. Why would that be good? Assuming that it is good, why do you think that such protection would produce the desired effect?

      Think about the US steel industry: they have been more or less protected for decades, and it has kept them from becoming competitive with the world market. Protection from Japanese imports certainly didn't encourage the US auto industry to adapt to the Japanese standards of quality and value, and it certainly did keep the cost of cars in the US higher than it otherwise would have been.

      That leads us to an obvious conclusion: a closed economy is a luxury in which only a large and rich country can afford to indulge. Cutting yourself off from the rest of the world impoverishes your citizens, and that is exactly why India has remained so desperately poor for so many years after the British stopped exploiting them: they have maintained a closed economy.

      The US became large and rich by trading with the rest of the world. We managed to avoid sinking too deeply into mercantilism and protectionism, and so our industries were forced to develop to the point that they could sell overseas, and our people were able to buy the inexpensive goods which flowed back here in return. This enabled the US-ians to live better, devote more resources to future development (such as education for their children), and to attract immigration by able people from other areas, where conditions were worse for the average worker. As long as India maintains a closed economy, they're closing themselves off from taking this path which made the US rich.

      • Woo hoo! You know about free markets, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me. Oops, wrong movie [cornell.edu].
        -russ
    • you do not actually need a computer to learn computer science, but it sure helps.

      "What is this 'syntax error' thing? I averaged 97% on my exams. My program is 97% right. Isn't that good enough? I was second in my class!"

      Seriously, though, there are probably plenty of older machines around to at least learn C on. 386's, 286's, etc. Rather than dump old machines, perhaps India can use them........wait, that would just make more H-1B's. Nevermind.
    • The reason India cannot afford lots of imports from the US, Korea, or Japan is BECAUSE THEIR GOVERNMENT CHARGES INCREDIBLY HIGH DUTIES. The theory is that they're protecting the native computer industry, but since there is no such thing, everybody just buys their computers from HP, or Dell, or Compaq, or whoever.

      That's why you were accused of smuggling in high tech items, and that's why the demand is so high.
      -russ
  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:43AM (#4540686) Homepage
    So are these things going to be available in other countries? Assuming the software is available (and it's Linux, so why not) then this thing could stomp on the Ipaq and other more expensive handhelds. At least for price-conscious buyers such as schools (the old Psion Series 3 and 3a had some success in British schools marketed as the Acorn Pocket Book - and it's a lot cheaper to buy ten of these handhelds for a classroom than a couple of PCs).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2002 @05:44AM (#4540687)
    I had attended a talk by Vijay Chandru (the no. 1 contributor to it) & they said their aim was not only to provide individuals with cheaper comps. but to provides groups of people as well.

    In India, many village children (as well as grown-ups BTW) have never heard of comps. & even in cities. not many schools (incl. mine) have more than 10 comps. Those schools can instead invest on 10 simputers (for probably 1000 students!) which would be more cost-effective.

    They also say they don't want hi-fi speech synthesiser/recogniser as to learn a language (which is what village students as well as other villagers are expected to do), that's not required. It's OK if there is no proper intonation. The villagers can probably learn intonation later on but learning to write/read something even in their native language is still a great breakthrough.

    The major problem faced by them is discontinuation of StrongArm processors by Intel. It's obviously very expensive to design a processor for simputer in India today.
    • Hmm interesting stuffs. Hopefully the government in this case will step in and subsidise the computer for communities that are not as fortunate as the schools that you mentioned. But one thing at a time ;) However, the issue with StrongArm does seem quite pressing. Any good alternative than our "good friend" Intel?

      • Hopefully the government WON'T step in and subsdize (with a Z, thank you very much) them. If they're subsidized, you won't be able to buy them outside India. And yet selling them outside India is *exactly* what the Indian market needs. The more sold outside India (where most people can afford a $200 PDA), the cheaper will be the cost of production, and the cheaper they can be sold inside India.
        -russ
  • Finally (Score:4, Interesting)

    by abhikhurana (325468) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:08AM (#4540727)
    So finally the simputer has been launched. But that doesn't mean it works flawlessly. Until about 2 months ago, they had some problems with their text to speech software, dhvani, and they were planning to go for a closed source solution from another indian company.
    Now for some of teh concerns raised in the article, as usual about average India salary and stuff like that. The aim of the project is not that every peasent should own a Simputer of his own. In India, in villages u have small committees which are elceted by the villagers, and these committes are allocated some budget by the government. So the idea is that every committee buys one Simputer and then the villagers can simply use thier own compact flash card if atall required. I mean its use was forseen in making weather prediction services and agricultural help availaible to the farmers. For that you dont need ur compact flash. If you want advanced services, then u can buy one, but then compact flash cards are not all that expensive.
    As far as the Indian middle class is concerned, currently they account for around 40% of the population. Not all of them will feel the need of buying something like this, but they very well can. That is 400 million people.
    I am just waiting for a review now. Maybe I will get one in December and write one myself. I enjoy working on stronARM and I think it will be interesting to hack this thing.

  • A couple things (Score:5, Informative)

    by gralem (45862) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:15AM (#4540741)
    First: IML stands for "Information" ML, not "International" ML.

    Second: The product is not shipping, it was just presented by the IT Minister of India. No shipping date has been set by any company. Aparently the people at simputer.org do not build the product, they licence the hardware to be built. There are no listed manufacturers of the simputer.

    It is not shipping, it is not available. (But according to the FAQ, it should be shipping by March 2002!) All said, the hinduonnet article is simple marketing fluff (ala M$, RH, etc).

    ---gralem
    • All said, the hinduonnet article is simple marketing fluff (ala M$, RH, etc).
      Also known as "PR".

      BTW, the FAQ also said that IML is a.k.a "Illiterate Markup Language". Not my words, and no offense intended, of course.

  • by jukal (523582) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:16AM (#4540742) Journal
    Although the featureload of the Simputer is quite convinving, the main point is that this is now obviously the first truly open hardware project to have actually entered the martket. Let's see if it opens the floodgates....In the future, however, the featureload might be even more impressive as the open HW approach surely enables fast and cost-effective development.
    • Floodgate opening will take some time. The reason is that the chip industry is a very very challenging market. The costs involved to make a semiconductor plant is huge, and open hardware may not be as viable a business model, except for some things which will have a huge customer base.

      Another major daunting factor is cost to developer. Open source developers need a computer and gcc or g++ or java... etc. easy cheap. But for VLSI design you need tools for which very few viable products are available. Of course we have open source simulators and open source compilers for verilog etc, but they are useless for anything more complicated as a 20 gate oscillator. Moreover cell libraries are all developed in house by companies and even if people sit and write freee verilog code, it will be difficult to productize it again for the same reasons that making hardware is way too more expensive that software.

      I know many will differ on this and give the argument that OSS also started like this, but what people tend to forget that the major input in software is brain, intelligence and infrastucture is a relatively small percentage, however in hardware, a major input is "machinery" "fabs" which are actual physical things costing loads of money. It will be good if atleast open verilog or VHDL code starts to float around more that today.
    • the main point is that this is now obviously the first truly open hardware project to have actually entered the martket.

      Great! Where can I buy one?

      Seriously, I want one but no one seems to actually be making or selling them.

      And I live in the USA. If they start making these in (or for) India I hope I can get one shipped here.
  • Form factor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by e_n_d_o (150968) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:28AM (#4540762)
    PCs can get into the $200 price range. Systems can be found for as little as $200 at Walmart (sans $99 15" monitor).

    Based on what I've seen here, I imagine it would have been possible to develop a system in the $200 hardware price range with a 13" monitor. I'm curious to know why they didn't choose a larger form factor for the machine. The advantages of the PDA-style design are portability, power consumption, and a pen-based interface. The cost is a tremendous restriction in capability, and the requirement of developing properietary hardware. I imagine that portablility will also often be a negative, as the device is a handheld and its a fact of life that people drop things (of course, I'd be much less likely to drop my PDA if it cost me a year's salary).

    These devices sound like a remarkable achievement, and I wish them nothing but success. But I am curious as to why they didn't go with a bit bigger of a box.
    • Re:Form factor (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Atrahasis (556602)
      The three advantages you list are exactly what they need. 1/ Low power consumption - uses batteries, so you don't need to plug it in (you'd be lucky to find somewhere to plug it in in the undeveloped areas, wouldn't you). 2/ Portability - so it can be shared by communities - is one of the main aims of the project. 3/ Pen based interface - so people can be taught to read and write using it. The two disadvantages : 1/ Limit in capability - less than 5 years ago my desktop was based on the StrongArm, and I can tell you it wasn't 200Mhz. It was still a lot faster than the ix86's around at the time. 2/ Requirement to build prop. hardware - the project doesn't manufacture - it licenses (or will) the manufacture out to tech companies. I'd say this was an advantage because they can keep the price down by using the lowest bidding contractor.
  • Simputer/Literacy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Omkar (618823) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:33AM (#4540771) Homepage Journal
    An issue that's been raised here is the uselessness of the Simputer to an illiterate population. Couldn't the Simputer use its text/speech capabilities to teach people to read? This would eliminate two huge problems with one stroke.
  • by notb4dinner (558244) <matthew.blyde@st ... eTIGER.edu.au mi> on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:35AM (#4540775) Homepage
    ... one of the licensees listed on simputer.org [simputer.org] is supposededly making some evaluation versions avaliable soon. See here. [ncoretech.com]
  • The real change... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cheese Cracker (615402) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @06:54AM (#4540799)
    ... will be when China has ironed out all the bugs with their CPUs and software. Then you can forget
    Intel and Microsoft having much sales in Asia and the rest of the developing countries. A guess would
    be that a Chinese handheld would go for $50. China has the ambition of taking the lead in the IT
    market in Asia and the developing countries... and I bet they will. And then slowly they'll move over
    to take market shares in the developed countries... maybe with 'inferior' products, but it will all go the
    way the car industry went. Once they get a foothold, they'll make better and better products and finally
    pass companies like Intel and Microsoft.
  • simputer beowulf? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dincubus (526920)
    well on first pass it does have usb connections so potentially you could use nics of that nature. but the memory seems a tad small for somehow loading all the mpi and pvm needed for a beowulf. it would just be interesting to see if someone would be crazy enough to try that :) but then again i never thought anyone would try to use liquid nitrogen to cool their machine
  • by Meorah (308102) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @08:12AM (#4540892)
    After all, that's where all your jobs are going... might as well have a few laughs before you find yourself back in college either getting a masters in CS or another BS in Mgmt or Finance.

    http://www.bigates.com/html/Pdf's/Benefits%20of%20 the%20company%20you%20keep.pdf [bigates.com]

    I can't believe how many of you goofs actually think India is some 3rd world country. Just because they have a very large proportion of farmers and field labor who live off their own sweat and blood doesn't mean there aren't a ton of wealthy people, especially in the cities.

    In addition, did any of you einsteins think that perhaps they'll be selling this device in Europe (where it was unveiled), Asia, or god-forbid, N. America? Yeah, I'm sure all the poor people in the good ole U S of A will have to take out a 3rd mortgage to get their hands on one of these badboys... what with spending their life savings building beowulf clusters and all...

    • I can't believe how many of you goofs actually think India is some 3rd world country. Just because they have a very large proportion of farmers and field labor who live off their own sweat and blood doesn't mean there aren't a ton of wealthy people, especially in the cities.

      India has a whacky economy. Dispite being a democracy and accepting of the idea of wide class differences, it is a business-choking environment. That is why the well-educated keep coming to the US to DDOS our labor markets instead.

      If India would get its economic act together, then these labor DDOS's would slow down. (Or if congress would get its act together here and make sure that a citizen must be fairly given the opportunity first, and not just on paper.)

      Can somebody from India fill us in on the psychology of the Indian economy and why people vote to allow the gov to choke local business? In the US, even though business is seen as greedy and selfish, most also realize that it is the best source of employment and economic well-being. Most Americans don't trust the gov to run an efficient organization or services. Politics, burocracy (sp?), lack of competition, and no fear of bankruptcy makes gov orgs sluggish and cryptic for economic-related tasks.
  • Maxis sues India for diluting their valuable trademark.

    Sid Meier had only one enigmatic comment to make: "F-U-N-D! *manic laughter*"
  • by abhikhurana (325468) on Sunday October 27, 2002 @08:59AM (#4540950)


    In case u guyz are wondering who is the female on the screen of the simputer
    on simputer.org, well her name is Aishawarya [indianceleb.com]
    Rai. Beautiful lady indeed. The link also has her phone number but try at ur
    own risk. Here [aishwarya-rai.com] are some
    nice pictures of her.



  • ogg? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by elohim (512193)
    Someone (besides me) should get in touch with them and recommend adding an ogg player alongside the mp3 player!
  • At the following spec (from their FAQ)
    • CPU 32-bit Strong Arm SA-1100 RISC CPU running at 200MHz
    • 32 MB of DRAM
    • 24 MB Flash for Permanent Storage (DOC)
    • Display I/F 320x240 Monochrome LCD Display Panel
    this is like four times the vax 11/750 the University of Chicago's astrophysics department used to run astrophysics and geophysics simulations on, format scientific papers in TeX, and process star catalogs. Hmm. This was a department of twenty some-odd faculty, and dozens of graduate students.

    So, if anybody makes a USB-based multiple tty device (say 16 RS232 ports that talk to tty01, tty02, tty03...) and figures out that old terminals are free (heck people will pay you to haul 'em away!) I'd say one of these babies would be enough to teach linux/unix shells, C programming, TeX, LaTeX, C++, maple, NCAR graphics, Tek 4140 graphics, maple, numerical analysis, tcp/ip networking at the sockets level up through the application level... to a whole village. At once.

    that is if they're not too busy playing nethack...

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