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Simputer project struggling to keep afloat

Sunday, 28 January 2007, 22:00 Hrs
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Mumbai: The Simputer is dead. Long live the Simputer. India's most high profile IT hardware project has been fighting to keep afloat, but some pleasant surprises could still come the way of this handheld computing device.

The Simputer was greeted with much optimism globally when plans for it were announced and prototypes put out to show its workability. But this didn't work as smoothly as expected.

Now the production of the Simputer has ceased. People are still buying the "couple of thousand" computers available in his company's stock, said Atul Chitnis, Geodesic senior vice-president (product technology and strategy). Geodesic, with its offices at Andheri in Mumbai, has recently taken over part of the Simputer initiative.

Chitnis argued that what was "interesting" was the huge amount of technology that "came out of the project" but never got used.

"This is still going into devices now itself. I can't tell you more about that. But the Simputer is far from dead. This year itself will see (some of the fruits of that)," Chitnis told IANS.

Chitnis said the takeover of one of the two Simputer firms by Geodesic had given it the "added advantage" of global capital and market reach.

He said the lack of applications developed by external hackers for the Simputer-as is done generally in the Open Source world-was another letdown to some users.

But the interface used for development, Picopeta's Alchemy, has now been turned into the openalchemy.org interface.

"It has now been picked up by a whole lot of developers. (Prominent German Open Source developer) Harald Welte demostrated in Bangalore recently how he's working on this stuff. You should take a look at the promise of tools such as the open embedded distribution. Soon, there will be no shortage of tools for the Simputer," Chitnis guessed.

Chitnis, long known as an evangelist for the Open Source approach to computing, said the Simputer was one reason why he moved on from his own consulting firm to being part of the Geodesic team, which now owns the Amida brand of the Simputer. "I've long been interested in the mobile space," he said.

But, he felt, what went "wrong" with the Simputer was that it was given the "wrong image" as a "poor man's computer". Rather, he argued, it was meant to be a device meant to bridge the digital divide.

"All sorts of promises were made. The government committed itself to deploying Simputers in its departments. But this never happened."

Chitnis pointed to the superior nature of the Simputer design. When he went to the Wizards of Oz event in Berlin recently, a casual display of the Picopeta-sold Amida Simputer saw geeks "dropping everything and playing with the features of the Simputer".

"They were almost all Western geeks, impressed with technology that came out of India five years ago. It's amazing what Indians could achieve."

According to him, the "problem" was that Simputer efforts were led by an "innovator company, not a marketing company". Also, the two Simputer licensee companies, Encore and Picopeta, took very different stances on the role of the Simputer. One marketed it to commercial markets, while the other saw it as a tool to bridge the digital divide, he said.
Source: IANS
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