What happens when you don't have a computer?

What happens when you don't have a computer?

Summary: Intel and Microsoft take 2 different approaches to addressing the digital divide.


It's hard for my kids to imagine not having a computer. Every person in my family has one (except the almost 2-year old; she just steals her brothers' machines). I get enough demo units and upgrade frequently enough that there are, in fact, computers to spare. There are, however, countless students and families who don't share that luxury. Which is why, although I haven't had much time to write this week, I wanted to end the week highlighting a couple of efforts by Microsoft and Intel to improve access.

Microsoft announced Wednesday as part of the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting that it was launching "a three-year program to ensure that one million students from low-income families in the United States receive reduced-cost software and hardware and discounted broadband internet service." The program is an extension of their Shape the Future initiative and is beginning in Seattle and Charlotte, NC.

Almost 10 million children in the US don't have access to computers outside of school, even as schools increasingly require computer-based work at home and their wealthier peers can access a wide variety of learning resources online. Online tutoring services, even, like Grade Results, that could help at-risk students graduate are inaccessible to the very students who need them the most.

Microsoft's program involves partnerships with a variety of OEMs and Internet Service Providers to drastically reduce the cost of Internet service and computer hardware, while Microsoft is providing OS and productivity software.

Intel, on the other hand, announced an initiative today to focus on educating health care providers in developing countries. As Mike Gann, the director of Intel's World Ahead Healthcare group, explained to me, the first time he asked a health care worker in South Africa about ongoing training, she explained that she "delivers babies under a tree." Obviously, opportunities for professional development and internet research on advances in midwifery and childbirth are few and far between.

Intel's World Ahead program is devoted to improving access to technology in developing areas and works closely with the Classmate program (which is how this hit my radar). In this case, however, the World Ahead Healthcare group is looking at subsidizing ruggedized netbooks for content delivery, full-featured computers for local content creators, and, again, ways to improve Internet access. The company will also be using its Skoool learning platform to host content for health care providers.

Two different approaches and two different specific problems, but the overall issue of the "Digital Divide" is a very real one, both here in the States and worldwide. For those of us who take our tech for granted, there are literally billions of people who don't.

Topics: Intel, CXO, Hardware, Health, Legal, Microsoft, IT Employment

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • There's no app for that.

    Sorry couldn't resist ;-)

    Bad day at ZDNET ... posts disappearing/replicating everywhere.
  • This looks more like...

    ...shrewd business than philanthropy. MS is allowed to, of course, but no altruistic motives should be imputed.
    John L. Ries
    • RE: What happens when you don't have a computer?

      @John L. Ries right now, these people cannot buy Microsoft or Intel, but if they get a better education, they might in the future. I don't think that's a bad thing.
      Roque Mocan
      • It still looks like...

        @Roque Mocan
        ...the "get'em hooked" business model to me. There may be good effects, but this is marketing, not philanthropy. Not necessarily a bad thing, as long as people are honest about it.
        John L. Ries
      • That mentality has served Apple well

        @John L. Ries
        the [i]the get'em hooked business model[/i].

        They offered Apple products to schools for cost, or even below cost for years in an attempt to entice students to purchase their hardware leaving.

        When sales where not up to what they expected, they phased back considerably those offers.

        Now with interest in iPhones and iPads, it is nor surprising to see Apple now pushing those products to schools.

        Why shoul Intel and Microsoft not take advantage of the same stategy?

        Tim Cook
    • I think you're mixing up some terms...

      @John L. Ries
      "1: goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially : active effort to promote human welfare.
      2a : an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes 2b : an organization distributing or supported by funds set aside for humanitarian purposes."

      Clearly, MSFT is engaging in philanthropy since this program is directly aimed at helping those in need: ie. promoting human welfare.


      "1: unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
      2: behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species."

      And since it's an essential part of the definition:
      "1: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others "

      Clearly since this program benefits others, even if it benefits MSFT it can't be considered truely selfish. The level of self-concern shown is less than other companies given that MSFT volunteered to establish this program (and has done many other similar programs like DreamSpark). Certainly, one could argue that MSFT expects to gain in the long run, but it's hard to show how that's a viable long term marketing strategy other than being able to say 'look - we're not evil'.

      Which brings us back to "altruism". Clearly MSFT isn't violating the first statement, although we can skip 'devotion' as I'm not sure a company can be 'devoted' to something. The fact that they established this program shows they have a regard for the welfare of those involved (they could have invested in other less charitable projects, for example). Microsoft has a long track record of helping students and less well off people.

      The second version is harder to argue - but in this case, Microsoft is investing in cost reducing software and hardware which costs them money, which harms them at least in the short term. It could be argued that in the end, this promotes the further use of their software, but since they already own 90% of the market, it's difficult to see how this subtantially benefits them in the short term and isn't a risk in the long term. I would argue that their actions are roughly in the spirit of the second statement as well - or at least, do not violate it in any strong sense.

      So, yes, what Microsoft is doing here is indeed philanthropic AND altruistic. Perhaps not as cleanly so as you'd like, but that's life.
  • RE: What happens when you don't have a computer?

    Getting a computer is just part of the solution, they also need to have network access to utilize it.
    In both cases, what one person gets for free only means that someone else has to pay for it for them then - and forever (at least 5 to 10 years?) into the future.
    • RE: What happens when you don't have a computer?

      You're right, there are no free lunches!!
    • True.. but...


      Investing in those people now means there's a better chance they can find work and be self-sufficient in the future, thus *reducing* the chance that someone else will have to pay for them forever.

      It means more of them will find new opportunities - they may become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. At the very least it means the likelihood of falling into crime to survive goes down, which saves you money in police and loss by crime.

      All around, helping the poor is a good deed all on its own merit, and if you can't see that - it's a good idea economically and socially.
      • Wrong. Instilling a sense of self-reliance on these people

        (i.e. get off your butt and go to the library) will mean there's a better chance for them to be self-sufficient in the future.
    • RE: What happens when you don't have a computer?

      Indeed -- and whilst recognising we can't solve all of the world's problems at once -- there are many schools in third world regions where if you give them a computer they will tell you something to the effect of "pop it there in the corner of the hut, and when we get an electricity supply we'll switch it on"...
  • I guess these people have never heard of a public library

  • Re: "get off your butt and go to the library"


    Seems to me that there's no difference between providing free public libraries and free access to the Internet on free hardware with free software. Someone else is paying for everything: tax dollars or corporate profits.

    I'm no fan of private corporations. They are devoted (a proper term, it seems to me) to their own enrichment and the enrichment of their stockholders. What Social Darwinists spout about survival of the fittest these days, e.g., "get off your butt and go to the library", assumes that someone else has already paid and provided for all those libraries and has kept them up to date. Maybe the building is there, but maybe it's no longer open, and maybe it's no longer up to date because Ayn Randians and Tea Partyists (latter day Social Darwinists) refuse to support them because their users are what Ayn Rand called "parasites" and those the Tea Party people disdain because they are not rich enough to be concerned about. And maybe the religious right has done its best to gut the contents of the library so that the only books available there are those that they believe in (i.e., heavy on bibles and ultra-light on science, history, and philosophy).

    But at least it's reassuring to know that according to the miserly, contemptuous, coldhearted, and affluent that there are so many free public libraries for all those lazy, underfed, uninsured, and undereducated to use throughout the USA and the rest of the world. Just knowing that such delusions exist restores my faith in H. L. Mencken's famous statement: "There's no underestimating the intelligence of the American public ".
  • RE: What happens when you don't have a computer?

    Everyday the US exploits the world and our own poor for our benefit.

    These companies could give away this technology and really change the balance of things, but of course, that wouldn't be good for the bottom line...

    We will never truly help those below until we give without conditions to others.

    But then again, that isn't the American way, now is it?

  • RE: What happens when you don't have a computer?

    I think people don't understand the value of computer at home,
    our technology develop that way that you will be able to do/learn anything you
    want in your own house and with you own free time.
    take this site for example http://www.dailyforex.com
    you can learn to trade on your own free time and make mony.
    I think its great.