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Explan Solo arrives with a catch

Published: 17th Jun 2006, 22:50:34 | Permalink | Printable

Penguins found in Nigeria

Photo of the Explan Solo computerExplan have finally put their masterplan of building ARM-powered computers in Nigeria into action with one little change from the initial proposal. It isn't using RISC OS, which has instead been replaced with Linux.

It also costs a cool $1200, or 648 quid in real money. One of the reasons whispered as to why RISC OS was dropped is that Explan were quite possibly unhappy with the licensing and royalty costs of using the operating system from RISCOS Ltd. It's all water under a far away bridge, but now the price tag is revealed to be well over a thousand bucks, some might think a 60 quid OEM licence would not have made that much of a difference. However it would appear that the main decision for switching to Linux is the variety of software available for the open source operating platform.

The Solo also faces stiff competition from other projects, such as the much publicised $100 laptop. John Dada, a spokesman for the foundation which is overseeing the Solo project in Nigeria, claimed its rival products have limited specifications in comparison.

He said: "This is typical of the difficulties which arise when designers concentrate on the criteria of having a low retail price. You tend to get something which doesn't quite fulfil the need.

"The Solo design has a full-size screen and would normally be used with a standard keyboard and mouse. So it is able to run normal desktop software, such as word processors and graphics applications, and will function as a full desktop computer would do."

Although the $100 laptop has a smaller screen, it does appear to overpower the Solo with its more capable processor, wireless networking and other features - at the cost of requiring a 12V car battery or hand-crank generator. It won't be fully ready until 2007 and 2008, however.

The computer, designed to be solar powered and draws only 8.5 watts, has no moving parts, which can get clogged up in the sandy and dusty environments of north Africa. It has 1GB of Flash RAM and uses a 14.1" grey scale LCD monitor. Its developers defended the high price of each unit by explaining that the machines will be owned by and used in groups, such as rural communities, rather than being personal machines.

The goal of the project is to boost business and economies in third world and developing countries by giving them technology that can survive the terrain, which is unforgivable to normal electronic kit. The computers can be used to educate, provide medical information and communicate with the outside world - the latter being a boon for countries where the free press is actively hunted down by militias.

Nigeria, a country lurching back and forth over the fine line of instability, is keen to attract investment. By building the Solo computers in the country, it's hoped the endeavour will give the people involved a much better chance at kick starting local business.

Dada added: "It's an important step for Nigeria to have a voice in the delivery of appropriate technology for its large rural communities. We are keen not to simply import strategies which are found in Western culture."

Links

Nigerians partner on rugged Solo computer from Newsforge

Previous: Behind the scenes of a pocket RiscPC
Next: Microsoft protester settles out of court

Discussion

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Is it definitely Linux *only*? The website suggests otherwise, stating "Operating system = RISC OS and/or Linux in ROM":

[link]

Also, just about the only image of the machine's OS shows RISC OS:

[link]

I'd be delighted to learn that there is, after all, a RISC OS version of the SOLO. As for educational software, I believe that there is quite a bit of that for RISC OS ;-)

 is a RISC OS UserStewy on 17/6/06 11:39PM
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It is nice to see that the Solo project is making progress.

Reading the article on NewsForge I think this would also be well suited to third world countries and also as a tool for NGO's doing aid work in these countries of following major disasters e.g. Indonesia. The ability to operate for long periods of time in areas with no power infrastructure would be extremely useful. Having tools like databases for tracking inventories, lost and found people, maps, contact lists, documentation and email via satelite phone could be very useful.

The A9home also has potential in this area, low power, replace the hard disk with a Flash drive and connect an alternative power source. The A9home is robust, lightweight, able to run suitable software, has low power requirements and is being developed by some very clever guys.

 is a RISC OS Userknutson on 18/6/06 1:06AM
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