India's Low-cost Computing Device Can Run Office Apps

A low-cost computing device for education purposes, introduced by the Indian government earlier this week, can run the office suite from OpenOffice.org, besides offering users the ability to browse the Web, a government official said.

Intended to be priced at US$10 eventually at high volumes, the device will initially cost between $20 and $30, said N.K. Sinha, joint secretary of the Bureau of Technical Education in India's Department of Higher Education, in an email.

The device is an ultra-low-cost and low-power device which will meet the requirements of higher education students for computing and access to electronic content, Sinha said.

A functional concept prototype has been displayed, and there are many milestones to be crossed, Sinha said. Integration and massive volumes are the key to cost reduction, he added. The designers of the device have also made extensive use of open source technologies, presumably to drive down cost.

Academics, entrepreneurs and technical organizations have been involved in the design, Sinha said.

The price of the device will not be subsidized by the government, he added.

The Indian government ran into flak for suggesting that it would be launching a $10 laptop computer. There was speculation that the government announced the device as a laptop with an eye to elections later this year.

Some Indian designers however think that a stripped-down computing device is appropriate for local requirements, and should not be compared with a laptop like the XO laptop of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) association.

"These days you can use a controller and some other components, and get a low-cost computing device that may not be a laptop, but serves the specific purpose for which it is designed," said Vinay Deshpande, a co-designer of the Simputer, a handheld computer designed in India.

The intent of the designers of the new device has been misunderstood as being as a laptop without trying to understand what was really meant, Deshpande added.

The specifications released by the government are still sketchy. Frills have had to be cut out from the device, and can be added later, Sinha said. The device has for example 256 MB of memory, and a virtual keyboard. A physical keyboard can however be connected through a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port, he added.

The device does not require to be connected to a laptop, and connects to a broadband connection through a LAN (local area network) port, according to Sinha. The display is integral to the device and is not an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display).

The government plans to do extensive user trials of the device, Sinha said.

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