Community Friendly Computing

2013 - 2018
Computing devices are usually the interface to the underlying technology. We started with the conventional desktop computers then later laptop computer for its portability to ease transportation to the remote rural. When we embarked on TPOA program, we were looking at something that is much more friendly not only easy to bring around but it has to be better in all aspects including, user-friendliness, robustness, easy to learn for beginners, energy saving and also easy to manage. We were, of course, looking at adopting some computing platforms that are beyond conventional, hence tablet computing has been in our attention.  
 
In general, tablet computing is the next generation computing that has the greatest potential to substitute laptop computers as the mobile processors get more and more powerful. The general advantages of tablet computers not less than it is highly portable, it has a built-in battery to get away from power interruption, it is much lighter to bring around etc. On the other hand, it has relatively lower performance processing power compared to most laptops, it has a smaller storage capacity, it doesn't come with a user friendly hard keyboard, it may not have a lot of applications to cover the entire application spectrum.  Of course, nothing is perfect. Our decision to go with tablet computing is solely based on the objectives and purposes of the TPOA telecentres to be put up. The telecentre is not a production house where the extreme end of computing requirement is not really required to be in the picture.
 
Our focus of telecentre ICT design is mainly people oriented where the needs and the ease of technology adoption are more critical than other technical consideration. After all, at the end of the day, technology should be adjusted to suit the rural community to allow a non-invasive ICT adoption and quick acceptance of the technology. Few of the important considerations for achieving community friendly computing are discussed as follow.
 
Energy Efficiency
From the technical aspect, the operating hours of a tablet are subject to its battery capacity, the larger the longer operating hours but a more meaningful measure will be its actual operating hours because power consumption may differ with the type of applications used. A balance needs to strike between operating hours and charging capacity and time. Practical length of operating hours sufficient for a day of usage and the charging capacity shall be relatively small so that it doesn't consume too much power from the telecentre power system or any other small scale solar chargers. Our selection of tablet has 10 hours of usage time and be charged in 4 hours under normal circumstances.     
 
Flat Learning Curve
Another important consideration will be the choice of tablet shall have a learning curve as flat as possible to allow quick learning and fast adoption by the community that has almost zero ICT literacy. The user interface appearance, consistency, and design play a very important role so not to let the learners feel they have no confidence in handling the new technology. 
 
Mistake Prevention
During the learning process of exploration, new users tends to try out a lot of things from software features to hardware setting. While trying out all possible aspects during their journey of exploration, the tablet and its software system shall be able to withstand any mistake or misconfiguration made without causing the device to break or malfunction. The system shall have sufficient parental control to prevent intrusive damage to the system while users explore all possible features in the system itself. This level of control is essential as many computer systems are so sophisticated and giving too much control to users until they can be easily brought down by non-intentional mistake made by inexperienced users. This will sure incur massive amount of system support and maintenance in long run.  
 
Computer virus immunisation and Unauthorised software
Computer virus is the biggest threat and cause to bring down a computer system. It is not only a problem in the telecentre but a problem worldwide.  Significant amount of knowledge is required to fight those threat that keep evolving with time. We want to minimise the possible threat by virus hence instead of fighting it, we move to an operating platform that has the lowest virus threat. Malware and unauthorised software installation are the main cause of software and operating system malfunction, hence the control must be there to safe guard. The iOS platform has been our first choice as they are great at what we have just mentioned but we may be able to take advantage of some of its features for equipment integration. 
 
In overall, computing for rural telecentre isn't all about introducing technology but more of formulating technology to meet the needs and friendly adoption as a tool to assist in learning, self-improvement and inspire community empowerment.   
 
Information Infrastructure Group
Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology
University Malaysia Sarawak
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