Innovations That Matter

Open source software for low-bandwidth consumers

Publishing & Media

Techies the world over know that open source computer operating system Linux can compete head to head with high-priced commercial counterparts such as Windows, Unix and Mac OS. While free is a great price for anyone, consumers in developing societies often don’t have access to a broadband internet connection. Which means their access to Linux and other open source software is very limited. Unless there’s a Freedom Toaster around. As those behind the South African venture explain, a Freedom Toaster is much like a candy vending machine. Users insert a CD, follow the easy instructions on the touch-screen monitor and—presto—a copy of Linux is “toasted” by the unit’s internal CD burner. Since copies of the software come from the kiosk’s own hard drive, there’s no need to hook the Toaster up to the web, a major plus in areas where broadband access is scarce. And in fact the Freedom Toaster has already been deployed at libraries and other public locations throughout South Africa, whose large computer-literate population must often contend with spotty internet access. The Toaster’s offerings consist of popular versions of Linux along with e-books and free applications for Windows. Since thousands of open source programs exist, the Freedom Toaster’s usefulness is likely to grow over time, as consumers become accustomed to the notion of alternatives to Windows. Its founders also hope to locate Toasters worldwide. In the true spirit of the open source movement, instructions for building Freedom Toasters are freely available on the organization’s website. Makes for an interesting new distribution model to study—and sponsor—if you’re keen on getting digital products or information to consumers in low-bandwidth communities. (Related: Prepaid computing.) Spotted by: Patrick Duarte Silveira



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