Government aims to close digital gap with £98 PCs

Government aims to close digital gap with £98 PCs

Summary: Computers priced at £98 will be provided to low-income Britons through Remploy's E-cycle scheme, and will be made available from more than 60 computer training centres in the UK

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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A new scheme will offer a PC and peripherals for £98 to help get low-income Britons online, according to the recycling project that will provide the hardware.

Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox, pictured here at the Race Online launch in July 2010, has announced a scheme to provide £98 PCs to low-income Britons. Photo credit: The Prime Minister's Office

The scheme, which launches this week, will provide a computer, flat-screen monitor, keyboard, mouse and telephone support in the sub-£100 package, E-cycle marketing manager John Busby said on Tuesday. The initiative is a part of the Race Online 2012 project, which aims to have the whole UK adult population online by the time of the London Olympics in 2012.

"We have an opportunity here in the UK to make sure we are achieving internet skills and usage as high as TV usage," the UK's digital champion Martha Lane Fox told the Financial Times. "We should be using our old computers and refurbishing them to close the gap in this country."

The Race Online 2012 organisation estimates that there are currently 9.2m adults in the UK without access to broadband internet services, some of whom are deterred by the cost of hardware, according to Lane Fox. In the UK, the average cost of a laptop is around £500 while the average price for a desktop is £380, according to Ranjit Atwal, research director of Gartner's client computing team.

Hardware options
The PC scheme — which is currently still in its trial phase — will provide a choice of hardware based around the Intel Pentium 4 processor. The hardware will be supplied through the E-cycle scheme, an IT recycling project run by Remploy, which specialises in finding work for disabled and disadvantaged people.

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The £98 option will include a 15-inch monitor, a 2.0GHz P4 processor, 256MB RAM, a 20GB hard drive and will run Ubuntu — a variant of Linux — rather than Windows, Busby told ZDNet UK. At the top end of the scale, E-cycle is trialling the supply of a desktop with a 17-inch monitor, a 2.8GHz P4 processor, 512MB RAM and a 40GB hard drive for around £140.

Remploy says that it is still working out the details of how best to target the intended demographic, but it will initially reach its target audience via 60 online computer training centres, as well as via charities. However, Busby said that there is currently no prerequisite for purchasing the low-cost machines and no licensing restrictions that stop them from providing the computers to a wider audience.

Race Online 2012 has also negotiated a cut-price deal with mobile operator 3 to provide mobile broadband for the devices, starting from £9 per month or £18 for three months on a rolling contract. Pre-pay dongle deals will also be available in 1GB, 3GB and 12GB usage allowances, with prices for the 1GB starting from £12.

In May, the coalition government announced that it was scrapping Becta, the agency responsible for IT in education, which had a similar scheme known as the Home Access programme in place to provide funding for low-income families to purchase computing equipment.


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Topic: Tech Industry

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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15 comments
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  • Whilst the free Ubuntu is a good operating system, it is not Windows and as most of the people buying under this scheme will be taught to use their PC by friends and relatives or the local training centre who invariably have Windows.

    An alternative to this scheme is to use one of the Microsoft Registered Refurbishers such as www.airedalecomputers.com in Castleford, West Yorkshire, where all their profit goes to charity and a full P4 based computer system including TFT screen and running Windows XP sells for just £75. You could also contact one of the network of not-for-profit refurbishers across the north of England at www.rei.org.uk
    airedale
  • Can I assume that as your sign-off is "airedale" you may not be entirely unbiased here? ;-)

    I guess the trade-off is between an OS that will continue to be upgradable at zero cost, will not require a major hardware boost for the next upgrade, is fully documented in free online manuals, has an immense online support network, has a massive number of free applications to load up for nothing ... and XP.

    Apart from this, the logic of "They will have more available help for XP than for Ubuntu" is a bit flawed for some populations as well. Granted XP has a much greater penetration that Linux, but the sorts of folks this scheme is aimed at, will quite likely have no available local support for any kind of OS, or if they do, it won't be up to the quality levels of the support that comes with the package.

    And besides, the mantra "You have to choose Microsoft because we all did" really doesn't cut it any more. The likes of Ubuntu have blown all the tired old gripes we hear from the "Microsoft is King" camp, into the weeds. It works on the same hardware, only quicker. The applications are effective enough to get the job done, only free. The only hold back is inertia and the fear of change, however slight that change may now be for the end user.
    Andrew Meredith
  • I too gave up on Windows some time ago, and now use "Linux Mint 10 Julia". It looks like Windows, but boots and runs much faster, and without all the problems, service packs and fixes. It comes with "Open Office" which does all that Microsoft Office does. And the biggest advantage is that it is all totally free!
    StainlessSteel
  • airedale, as a not for profit organisation, why not offer customers a choice of WinXp or Linux? The Microsoft Registered Refurbisher agreement expressly allows this:

    "9.8 Non-Exclusivity. Nothing in this agreement restricts Refurbisher from supporting, promoting, distributing or using non-Microsoft software or hardware. "
    AndyPagin-3879e
  • I understand that in some countries there has been a bigger takeup on Linux, however, when learning to use a computer in Yorkshire you WILL be faced with Windows in the workplace and Windows in all of the training establishments. I don't know of any local schools and colleges that use Linux.

    It's not a case of "which is best", it's more like "which is dominant". We use OpenOffice on all our computers because the differences are minimal and the skills are easilly transferrable to Microsoft Office which again is dominant in the local workplace.

    We could offer a choice with Linux but we'll leave that to the government scheme.
    airedale
  • "As most of the people buying under this scheme will be taught to use their PC by friends and relatives or the local training centre who invariably use Windows" - airedale.

    All my friends and family who ran Windows, used Firefox for web browsing and Thunderbird for emails. It was easy to convert them all to Linux Mint, using Firefox and Thunderbird, which they knew already, and were the two programs they used the most in their Microsoft experience.

    Some of the older people remembered the Blue screen of death in Windows ME, and the Black screen of death in XP, Vista and Windows 7. Why don't we experience the same problems with Linux they ask?
    StainlessSteel
  • The most important thing which could and should be done is for the Government to issue broadband with each pc. Most applications such as Google office are now found on the cloud. So the use of Microsoft products can be done by remote cloud hosting running as a virtual machine which is browser hosted, such products on an old machine would be largely for training and education.

    Essentially little if anything needs to be stored on a virtual client machine when the programs it uses are hosted on a remote sever. The actual specifications of the client (users) computer are no longer important.

    The Government can pay Microsoft for the licence's for say 150000 copies of Office 2010 for around £1.5 million (site licence\lease) a year (my current site pays around £5000 for 500 pcs per year for office 2007) and time share them between users. This would be the same for all the software, being Government it is going to be largely a Health\Education package of hosted software.
    L1ma
  • "The Government can pay Microsoft for the licence's for say 150000 copies of Office 2010 for around £1.5 million (site licence\lease) a year"

    ... or 15 billion copies of OpenOffice for around £0.00 a year.
    AndyPagin-3879e
  • @AndyPagin
    > airedale, as a not for profit organisation, why not offer customers a choice of WinXp
    > or Linux? The Microsoft Registered Refurbisher agreement expressly allows this:
    > "9.8 Non-Exclusivity. Nothing in this agreement restricts Refurbisher from supporting,
    > promoting, distributing or using non-Microsoft software or hardware. "

    If the PCs are shipped with XP, users get an operating system that works with popular applications and games, and they can install Linux if they want. If they're shipped with Linux, users don't have the option of running XP, and someone has to decide which of the 157 varieties of Linux to ship, and cope with the nightmare that is Linux drivers. Since a large proportion of Linux users give up on it and go back to Windows, it would be a less good solution overall.
    Jack Schofield
  • > If they're shipped with Linux, users don't have the option of running XP,

    Of course they do. They buy it, install it and run it. They also benefit either from a lower purchase price for the hardware or a higher spec.

    > and someone has to decide which of the 157 varieties of Linux to ship,

    I guess, from someone used to having no choice whatsoever and has drunk the "choice is bad" koolaid, this sort of comment is to be expected. Personally I'd just pick the current leader, Ubuntu and move on to difficult choices. Not to say that Ubuntu is better or more fitting, just most well known and at the end of the day, if the end user wants a different flavour they can reinstall. If they're not bothered, then Ubuntu is pretty much as good as any of them. At the end of the day, if it will run Windows 7, it will fly under any Linux variant, even a heavy duty one like Ubuntu.

    > and cope with the nightmare that is Linux drivers.

    Wow ! Irony here :-) Windows Vista/7 being the poster boy for easy driver installation eh? Stunning.

    Just for your info, the vast bulk of Linux drivers are installed with the standard kernel. The kernel spots the hardware at boot time and pulls in the relevant objects. Whip the disk out and put it in something else, and different drivers will be dynamically loaded; you can't do that with Windows. Very occasionally these days, there will be a piece of hardware either too new or too proprietary to have a Linux driver, in which case, quite so, game over. However, as I have been given to understand it, there are more bits of hardware missing a Windows Vista/7 driver than those missing Linux support.
    Andrew Meredith
  • Very funny about all the problems connected to Linux. Until you have used Linux, for a period of time, and not just checked out the live CD/DVD, you shouldn't be writing about it. I have used Linux for 10 + years now. Currently I run Linux Mint 10. I do not have to have a program for adware removal, malware removal, registry cleaner, defrag, or AV. Of course, it seems like it makes little difference if you have AV, with ALL the current definitions loaded, for windows. You are free to bash Linux all you wish, but for me there is no way I will EVER downgrade to windows.
    ator1940
  • >If they're shipped with Linux, users don't have the option of running XP<
    Not really important since about 99% of Windows apps. will run on Linux anyway.

    >Since a large proportion of Linux users give up on it and go back to Windows<
    Really? I've only come across one or two who've gone back to Windows. Could we have some verifiable statistics to back up that statement please?
    AndyPagin-3879e
  • @AndyPagin: You aren't really asking the "King of Random Made-Up Numbers" for verifiable statistics, are you? Don't hold your breath. This is the same "authority" who told us that business could replace PCs for 1 pound a day. Or 50p a day. Or some other random number which was never supported by any facts.

    jw
    j.a.watson@...
  • "The actual specifications of the client (users) computer are no longer important."

    That is increasingly true, and more so every day, a trend that is strengthened by the growing prevalence of mobile phones as web clients. Also, most home users probably spend most of their computer time using one or another online service such as Facebook, Gmail, Huffington Post, Twitter, Google and so forth. For those tasks, the choice of operating system makes no difference whatsoever. Finally, as the Linux installed base grows, there will be more tech support available to deal with the occasional problems that inevitably arise.
    dratman
  • Open office is great, the problem is user bias, Software Industry lobbying and Government culture.

    There was a famous schoolteacher in American who stated to her class that there was no such thing a free OS until Mark Shuttleworth got in touch with her school. He was the founder of Ubuntu.
    http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&sqi=2&ved=0CCkQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Flinuxlock.blogspot.com%2F2008%2F12%2Fcharacter-assasinations-aint-us.html&ei=2YRnTdLFN9SZhQeomtmhDw&usg=AFQjCNE-I2Pev-hSv2wWR9HFAiKi2TkxIA

    Of course as I work in education in the UK schools desperately want something for nothing, without voluntary work and donations they would eventually cease to function.

    The problem is this is a UK Government Project, run by people who 99% of which have no understanding of technology, they are advised (told) what to do by consultants. Consultant firms usually have all staff Microsoft Certified, and they are rated on how many which affects their relationship with Microsoft. The Microsoft lobby begins here,as Engineers we think the Microsoft way first.

    As to the cultural problem:

    Government departments have budgets, the system used means that if that amount is not spent in the present fiscal year it is reduced next year. So if you spend nothing on Software as a department you lose the £1.5 million you would have spent from your budget, and then next year they look for 'savings' (efficient departments cross subsidize the inefficient with staff and budget, the worst staff are moved on so the biggest departments have more bad staff but have also the most powerful budget lobby).

    So the UK government system of departmental funding and lobbying needs scrapping as it only rewards failure, in our terms a successful project which year on year costs less is a successful one, but not if your empire building with public funds.
    L1ma