31 October 2007

Whatever the Question, the Answer's GNU/Linux

It's interesting that whenever people try to come up with low-cost machines for developing countries, the answer is GNU/Linux. The OLPC/XO is the best-known example, but here's another one:

Rather than one inexpensive laptop per child, the answer being presented is a somewhat more powerful computer, with zero maintenance or moving parts, which can be shared by a number of children running free and open source software.

Of course, it's pretty obvious why: the cost of software is zero, which means there's no money there wasted on fat cats in Western countries. But there's another interesting angle:

Perhaps the oddest technical feature of the tablet-style PC is the fact that it runs an ARM-based RISC CPU, the Freescale i.mx31. The key reason for choosing this RISC CPU over a conventional x86 Intel or AMD processor was battery life. Morgan explained that this CPU's power envelope of just 3.5 watts made an 8-hour use possible. The other key reason was that this particular chip had strong video and graphics capabilities, which would be needed to show videos and animations in a classroom environment.

The downside is that it does not run the vast amount of x86 software out there.

The operating system is a cut down version of Debian Linux, recompiled for the ARM architecture, complete with most of the office and communications software expected in a GNU/Linux system.

Oh look: there's that wide platform support again: is this turning into one of open source's best-kept secrets? (Via Linux Today).


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by Microsoft's desperate race to get XP/intel onto OLPC before OLPC even is available. Why? Doesn't make sense unless MS is going to give away XP, but I remember them suing someone who was distributed old copies of MS-DOS only a couple of years ago.

As you say, GNU/Linux has a lot of answers right now.

Glyn Moody said...

Well, they just can't risk being left behind. And yet that's precisely what will happen if these non-standard architectures take off....