Monday, July 21, 2003

Simputer FAQ

1. What is the Simputer?
2. What features make Simputers suited to use by poor and illiterate people?
3. What are Simputers for?
4. Where can I get a Simputer?
5. What software runs on Simputers?
6. What products for Simputers are in development?
7. Where can I find out more about the Simputer?
8. How does the Simputer differ from a PDA?

1. What is the Simputer?

Although the Simputer (Simple, Inexpensive, Multilingual Computer) looks a lot like a PDA, it was designed primarily for use by poor and even illiterate people to provide access to health, education, information, and other services. As a Linux handheld with unequalled connectivity at an unheard-of low price, the Simputer turns out to be a platform well-suited to Free Software, commercial applications, and embedded systems of many kinds. The basic model starts at US$206.00.

The Simputer has the following connections built in.

Infrared (IrDA)
SmartCard reader/writer
USB master
USB slave
Sound I/O
56K modem
Serial port
Compact Flash connector (CF II)
External power

Simputers can be connected to anything supported by infrared, USB, or Compact Flash interfaces, a serial port, or a modem. This includes wired and wireless LANs, the Internet, data acquisition systems, GPS, Flash storage devices, hard drives, CD-ROM and DVD drives, mouse, keyboard, external monitor, wired and IrDA printers, and most other computer peripherals and communications systems.

2. What features make Simputers suited to use by poor and illiterate people?

The Simputer is designed with multilingual capability, including Text-to-Speech conversion for several languages of India. Voice recognition will be added later, and voice capabilities will be expanded to other languages.

A very large pool of no-cost software can be put on the Simputer.

Free Software and Open Source software provide access to source code. This means that such programs can be adapted to new needs without waiting on the good will of a vendor. The commercial operating system vendors, including Microsoft, Apple, Sun, and other commercial Unix vendors, do not see a business case for support of all of the languages of India, nor do they see a business case for suporting other languages of poor countries in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.

Simputers can be shared using inexpensive SmartCards for private storage. This reduces the cost per person greatly.

Simputers use 2 AA batteries for power, or an external transformer. Lithium ion AA batteries can be recharged using solar or human power in areas where there is no electric supply.

3. What is the Simputer for?

Applications of the Simputer are in development in many areas. Applications directed especially at the needs of the poor include health, education, government services, microbanking, access to information, and general communication. Other applications include inventory management, agriculture, scientific and government data acquisition, financial services, construction, and many more.

4. Where can I get a Simputer?

Simputer development systems are currently available. This includes a monochrome Simputer, a color Simputer, the Simputer SDK on CD-ROM, and two days' training, all for US$1500.00. The Simputer SDK includes all of the tools needed to compile applications for the Simputer on any supported Linux system, or on Windows.

Simputers are not in retail distribution. Some potential development partners are in discussions with Encore Technologies, the principal manufacturer, about retail versions. FCC approval is being sought in the U.S., and similar efforts are under way for other markets.

5. What software runs on Simputers?

The Simputer comes with standard Unix utilities, a hardware "control panel" set of utilities, and the following applications and demonstrations.

Address book (Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali, English)
Web browser
File browser
Unix terminal running sh shell command interpreter
MP3 music player
Image file viewer
IrDA printing utility

Banking demo
Billing demo
Land survey demo (English and Kannada)
Meter reader demo
SmartCard reader/writer demo
Text-to-Speech demo

There are thousands of Unix/Linux applications that will run on Simputers. Many have been compiled for the StrongARM processor in the Simputer, and are available for download. Others can be cross-compiled from source code on any system running the Simputer SDK, and then downloaded to the Simputer.

A Java system and several APL systems are being ported to the Simputer. Programming languages currently available for Simputer development include C, C++, Perl, Python, and LISP. There are Integrated Development Environments supporting all of these languages together with GUI development tools and numerous libraries.

6. What products for Simputers are in development?

The Showcase section of simputerland.com has information on a number of applications and tools in development by the following partner companies.

Africa Digital Bridges
Regional Distributor of Encore's Simputer in Africa and the Middle East

Analytix Systems
Mobile solutions, analysis and data-mining

ANT Labs
Wireless and broadband networking

Appear Networks
Wireless solutions for WISPs (wireless internet service providers)

Supply chain solutions

Deltra Software
Multi-lingual Text-to-Speech

E&I / DigicircleEuropean Community Market distributor
Developer's network
ERP application

ekgaon technologies
Information Systems
Knowledge Management
Rural Networking
Micro-Enterprise Management Systems
Multi-lingual Computing

Eutech Cybernetics
Intelligent building management
Property and facility management
Energy asset management
Network management
Comprehensive solution for hospitals and networked healthcare organizations
Turnkey contract programming services

client-server life insurance and pensions products

G4 Software
Scalable enterprise solutions

IBIZ Consulting
Enterprise business solutions

IT awareness and literacy in a developing countries

Knowledge Systems
Bluetooth Protocol Stack for Linux

Maringo Tree
Linux consulting
Wireless LANs
Internet Security
GRID/Cluster-based high performance computing
Kernel hardening
Embedded systems

Enterprise application suite
Financial management
Trade documentation
Order processing
Supply chain management
Customer relationship management

Pyxis Technology Sol
Pyxis Civic Management System

Micro-Banking and Micro-Credit
Land Records
Meter reading

Spider Systems
ERP Software Implementation
Web-enabled business solutions
Embedded systems development
Database administration support
Sales Force Automation

Indian language support

7. Where can I find out more about the Simputer?

The following sites have information on the history of the Simputer, its detailed hardware and software design, the people and companies involved, press accounts, and much more.

The Simputer Trust (originators of the design)
Encore Technologies (manufacturer)
Picopeta (manufacturer)
Sourceforge Free and Open Source software development
Dhvani Text-to-Speech

Mailing lists
Yahoo Groups

8. How does the Simputer differ from a PDA?

The Simputer has greater connectivity (FAQ 1), much lower cost per user through sharing (FAQ 2), and much greater support for languages of India (FAQ 5). Of course, a PDA version of the Simputer could be created.

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