COMPUTING

IBM introduces New netbook software in Africa to bridge the digital divide

IBM and Canonical are introducing a new, flexible personal computing software package for netbooks and other thin client devices to help businesses in Africa bridge the digital divide by leapfrogging traditional PCs and proprietary software. This is the first cloud- and premise-based Linux netbook software package offered by IBM and Canonical, the companies announced today.

As part of IBM's Smart Work Initiative, the new package targets the rising popularity of low-cost netbooks to make IBM's industrial-strength software affordable to new, mass audiences in Africa. Businesses that could not afford traditional PCs for all employees can now use any type of device and low-cost software to enable all workers to work smarter anywhere using a variety of devices, regardless of the level of communications infrastructure.

The companies said the software is now available across Africa and is being piloted for other emerging and growth markets worldwide. The solution includes open standards-based email, word processing, spreadsheets, unified communication, social networking and other software for any laptop, netbook, or a variety of mobile devices.

It runs on Canonical's Ubuntu Linux operating system, and provides the option to deliver collaboration through the Web in a cloud service model. This software bundle can also be extended to virtualized workspaces using VERDE from Virtual Bridges, which is available locally through business partners and voice-based collaboration pilots through IBM Research. IBM estimates that it delivers up to 50 percent savings per seat versus a Microsoft-based desktop.

"Businesses in emerging markets are looking to gain the freedom and flexibility afforded by open standards," said Bob Picciano, General Manager, IBM Lotus Software. "The IBM Client for Smart Work builds on the movement toward open standards and Web-based personal computing by giving people the power to work smarter, regardless of device."

The company said the IBM smart client package can help African governments deliver open standards using Open Document Format (ODF), saying that the reduction of personal computing costs may enable governments to transfer information technology expenditures to fund mission-critical initiatives such as crisis management, education and health care.

"Starting with Africa, we see that this smart client package can help realize our vision of eliminating barriers to computer access for emerging markets," said Mark Shuttleworth, founder, Canonical. "Our IBM partnership brings together the strengths of collaboration to help our customers work smarter using this new approach."

With this new package, businesses can cultivate new suppliers and partners over the Web through IBM's LotusLive.com, which will allow them to expand service to new customers beyond their local area. Through virtualisation of this collaboration software, they can exponentially increase their computing and collaboration power without additional infrastructure costs.

A network of local service providers such as Inkululeko and ZSL Inc. is expected to extend the IBM Client locally throughout Africa to government, educational institutions and businesses. In addition to local service providers, IBM will also work with leading universities such as Makerere university and academic consortiums to bring this new computing model down to individuals in the employment or attendance of learning institutions.

"Software is an important enabler of the service industry," said Professor Venansius Barya Baryamureeba, Dean, Faculty of Computing and IT, Makerere University, Uganda. "However most of the good software is unaffordable by most of the users in developing countries, hence most users in developing countries have resorted to pirated software and free software. But most free software packages can be a nightmare of setup woes, training costs, and processes that just don't fit your organization. The hope lies in affordable software that is as good as proprietary software, which benefits from economies of scales as a result of targeting a mass market."

According to AIB Research, netbook computer sales are expected to quadruple from 35 million in 2009 to 139 million by 2013. AIB Research predicts that Linux will outgrow Windows on netbooks by 2012. More than 30 percent of netbooks are sold with Linux, which reduces their cost substantially below the typical retail cost of personal computers running Windows XP.

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