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We should be thinking about devices designed for specific requirements, tasks, and user groups.

In February 2009, I followed fantastic rumors around India’s launch of the world’s cheapest computer at 10 USD, which soon after was outed to be much more of a sophisticated storage drive, not a computer.

Finally, Wikipedia summarizes the little that is known about Sakshat (the name of the project) allowing the conclusion that the device is neither a computer in the traditional sense nor a simple storage device. It is (with some assumptions) a networked data carrier with ports to several output devices (screens or printers) and minimal computing power allowing it to display content and browse the web.

To some this may sound like blasphemy, but honestly, what more do we need? Offices, homes and schools are full of computers that are powerful enough to render HD video animations or handle high resolution 3D applications, but most users never ever come close to use the full computational power of their desktop computer that has been sold to them as a “standard ” device.

Although the computer or the “universal machine” is per definition an all-rounder, today, we should be thinking more about devices designed for specific requirements, specific tasks and user groups, especially if we’re looking at cost efficient solutions for education. Why not having dirt-cheap computing devices that can only display, browse and edit text as these are the main tools required in schools all over the world? With this in mind the approach of the Sakshat device is great. However, it still needs to be established what the device can actually do in detail.

Looking at products already on the market, the decTOP, which is linked to AMD’s 50 x 15 project that aims at connecting 50% of the worlds population with basic computing power and internet access by 2015, is to my knowledge at 100 USD the most promising device to technologically advance education in developing countries. It is a portable, low cost mini computer, designed to connect first time technology users (in developing countries) to the knowledge base of the first world. Its simple and robust appearance is convincing. Several of AMD’s Learning Labs (deploying the decTop) have been set up in South Africa.

Compared to Nicholas Negroponte’s (one laptop per child) over-designed XO laptop, the decTOP seems to me the smarter solution. The fact that it doesn’t include a screen does not cause a problem as even in the developing world screens (TV’s and monitors) become more and more ubiquitous.