The Simputer: Low cost computing
Developed by the Simputer Trust - a non-profit organization comprising individuals from the software industry in Bangalore, the Simputer runs on an Intel processor, has 32 MB RAM, 24 MB Flash memory and a 320x240 LCD screen. The operating system is of course Linux!
The device has been designed keeping in mind the rural user although city slickers should find its Palm like looks appealing. Like the Palm, it has a screen-based keyboard and graffiti style software called Tapatap. Unlike the Palm, the Simputer has a Smart Card reader that makes all the difference. Although relatively cheap (200$), the designers realized that even this might prove too much for villagers to afford. Therefore the Simputer trust came up with an unique sharing scheme using a Smart Card system that will enable users to "hire" out the device for say an hour, personalize it using their own Smart card, access and store desired information on their cards. The Simputer Trust also hopes to involve the local government in subsidizing the machine at the village and district levels.
The interface with the user has been simplified by the use of a browser for the Information Markup Language (IML). Specially developed applications make the Simputer accessible even to illiterate users. The device uses software called Dhvani to convert text to speech and this is read out to the user.
Currently the software can read out in several Indian languages.
The designers envisage its application in micro banking, large data collection, providing agricultural information to farmers and even the school laboratory.
The bugbear of any new OS or device is availability of application software and this can come about only through availability of a platform for developers. The IML is a XML (Extensible Markup Language) application for describing the content and applications handled, by a Simputer. The open source nature of the IML allows rapid development of solutions on any platform including Windows, Linux and Solaris.
Currently the following applications are available for the Simputer: an IML browser with the cute name of imli , Text to speech software, Internet access software like browser, E-mail and even a MP3 player.