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Closing the Gap in the 21st Century Linux Style, Almost Free

The Linux thing always gets my motor running - I especially like it running for free.

Linux is evolving into a great platform and the odds are probably stacked towards some flavour of Linux being a dominant O/S of the future. No matter how sexy a brand of software may be, if the population have a limited wallet, there is a limit to what you can get from it.

In the long term I think advertiser supported platforms may come into play, but in the medium term, as an advertiser, I'd have to ask myself how long I would need to support something before gaining sufficient returns to break even. It comes back to wallet. If your consumer earns $10O per month, which my guess is well above the global average wage, then how much product can an advertiser sell them? $50? I couldn't see an advertiser spending more than a few dollars to make those sort of potential sales. Possibly a monopoly could do it, but only by charging market by market and that presents difficulties on the web, unless perhaps you are Microsoft or Chinese.

My thoughts always come back to a free operating system. In a digital, internet, web-equipped mobile world it seems that web access is becoming essential infrastructure. We've been effectively forced to adopt the internet as business and governments sought to harness it's potential to cut costs. We can choose not to use it, but the interaction will cost us more. Just like the telephone is an essential service and a mobile is now passing de rigueur and for most of us becoming essential.

We get to a point where the prosperous part of the world interacts using internet and mobile. The costs of providing government and business services fall. The third world beckons, what do we do? Take them through the 50's and 70's and 90's etc? Of course we can't, because we simply can't afford to be that inefficient. Just like India rolls out mobile like a plague with not a thought for land-line, they'd be crazy to try copper wires.

The same thing applies to the third world. They aren't going to be able to buy laptops for $100, let alone pay for software and web access, unless they're among the richest 5% or internet scam gangs (and likely in the same income bracket).

The vast majority of people who don't have a computer now, may well not ever have one other than a mobile 'whatever-you-want-to-call-it'.

It'll needs to be 'smartish' and robust, reliable and cheap with a sensible range of basic features. Linux could qualify in that. It can also be trimmed down easily to run on a range of devices, everything from a PC, router to a mobile phone.

If they want to have an economy they have to collect and count their money, make a profit, pay taxes and invest surpluses for a length of time before they'll be able to buy luxury gadgets. We have to give them a start. The best start begins with communication then education, commerce, trade and investment.

Empower people to learn and help themselves so we don't have to do everything for them and everyone one wins.

At some point in our technological curve we will have to decide what the basic necessities of 21st century life include.

Sure, food, clothing and shelter are 'givens', but 21st century communication is becoming essential too. That's the way we communicate now and we can't just leave the rest of the world in the dark because they can't afford it. We can't afford not to, because communication makes solving the other necessities easier.

The sooner we do it, the better off we'll all be. Western countries have increasingly aging populations and if current medical technology accelerates, and it will, then there'll be even more oldies with little to do. I'd bet a lot of them might like to help out some little village somewhere with their wealth of education and knowledge.

August activities, to keep the mind sharp and get warm fuzzies. I could see a bunch of good old boys around a table at the bowling club chatting online with their mate in some African village, using their combined skills and resources to improve the world we all live in. It would probably reduce the number of people who wanted to blow strangers up, and probably cost less than blowing them up back. There'd be fewer strangers, for a start.

If we have the communication, we have the option. We need it as much as they do.

For those of you slightly less altruistic, there's nothing wrong with making a buck, but we have to give everyone a chance to make one first before they can give it to you. I'm a realist, not a socialist although where practical, I'm a philanthropist.

As a businessman, I can see the potential of the future where we are all truly interconnected and we'll all be able to afford the choice of a smart phone or Windows, but not before a basic commerce and communications infrastructure is provided which everyone can afford. Right now the third world needs the basics and I doubt that includes a smart phone just yet.

So it looks like the future will include something like Linux because for the most part it is going to have to be pretty close to free, for a while at least. There just isn't enough philanthropy going round just yet and the divide is getting wider.

Come on you know you want to, close it up, lift them up and you can still make a buck at the end. Isn't it a sort of 21st century capitalist thing to do?

'Power to the people' was ok for John Lennon but  'empower the people' is the way forward today.

Barack Obama elicited a casual 'spread the wealth around'. What he probably should have said was 'spread the wealth-making around'.

Wealth-making today requires at least one simple thing - two way communication. In the search for a practical solution, there's only one way - the mobile way, and it needs to be as close as possible to free. You can blame Zennon Kapron and Dave Kershaw, they got me going, rightly so, mentioning Linux and free.


I also note that the US has approved opening up the spectrum gaps for wifi and wimax services. The initiative was strongly supported by Microsoft and Google, lets hope it retains some semblance of free.

"The rules represent a careful first step to permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the TV white spaces and include numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services against harmful interference," the FCC announced.

The agency said that it will require new devices to have geolocation and database access capabilities, or alternatively, spectrum-sensing capabilities, in order to prevent interference with TV's.

"Today's vote ushers in a new era of wireless broadband innovation," Microsoft said in a statement. "Like other unlicensed facilities, which enabled popular technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth, white spaces will make possible new and creative solutions to a range of broadband connectivity challenges."

What does this mean to utilities who, along with academics and the neighbourhood kids, have been using the power lines to deliver internet and communicate via IP?

There's even talk of things you plug into your power point and you can use it for VOIP phone calls without even a phone line. Not like a VOIP box on your phone line, no internet connection, computer or phone line required. Like a 2 way (or many way) baby monitor on steroids. It makes you wonder what they'll come up with next. Probably something to do with pico-cells so you can use your mobile around the house to talk to your friends using mobile-to-mobile without the telco, or VOIP through the power lines and now, free wifi. It might come in handy for some uncensored file sharing too.

We live in interesting times, but some places don't even have power lines so it looks like basic mobile and something like Linux will be the key to bridging the 21st century communications, education and commerce divide.

Remember though it is possible - nothing is ever really free.


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19 Mar 2009


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