Small and Fast Wins


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

May 29, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall


I recently came back from Ghana, Africa after speaking at the Idlelo conference there.


Ghana is one of those “emerging economies” that I sometimes discuss, with people trying desperately to get ahead and utilizing Free Software to get there.


Ghana has more problems than just trying to decide whether they should use Free Software. The Internet backbone to their country (and surrounding countries) is inadequate for the number of people it serves, and the prices for the Internet is pretty daunting, so downloading a copy of any of the distributions is both expensive and slow.


Fortunately I was able to get my friends at Red Hat to sponsor about 500 Fedora CDs for the conference and some university training that I did after the conference. That was the good news.


The bad news is that reading documentation and downloading large amounts of code over the Internet is still very slow and expensive by standards in the Americas, and web browsing is not a happy experience.


One of the things that has always made me happy about Linux is that we do generate some distributions that recognize the older and slower systems, keeping these systems viable for a long time. One of the things that I hate about Flash and modern-day websites is the amount of time it takes to load the information that you don't need, just so you can get to the information that you do want. While this is annoying in areas of high bandwidth, it becomes painful in areas like Ghana, and often creates a situation where you give up in disgust before actually accessing the information you need.


Many years ago IBM did a study that showed if people could get the answer to a simple question in less than one-third of a second, their mind stayed focused on the problem at hand and did not wander to other topics. Once the mind had “wandered”, it took real effort to get it to focus again, particularly if it had wandered to areas involving the opposite sex. Therefore it was a goal to keep every “simple” query to less than a third of a second (acknowledging that some more complex queries might take more time to answer).


It is not just about “emerging economies”. There are places in New Hampshire (and I am sure other states in the U.S.A.) where broadband has not reached, and people are accessing the World Wide Web via dial-up lines. Even if you do have broadband, the total bandwidth is not unlimited (either wired or wireless), nor is “off server” bandwidth unlimited. Most people want information two ways: fast and faster.


If you design your web site, applications and documentation for the “bandwidth challenged”, most people will be happier, and some will be ecstatic.


Carpe Diem!


  • Agreed

    I whole-heartedly agree with this post. I recently spent some time in Afghanistan - but this goes for other "emerging economies" that I've visited. Even in Kabul, the capital and most connected city, the network connections were painfully slow. So slow that I had to stop visiting some of my normal news sites because of the web page bloat that you mention. After multiple times of several minutes waiting for a page to load, you give up. I contacted one of the sites asking if they had a low bandwidth page I could visit, but never got a response. It seems much of the information that is downloaded and that takes processing power is advertisements. I understand the need for revenue generation, but the companies should think about low power, low bandwidth systems. I think the take off of mobile/hand held (AKA cell phones) computing world wide, may help.
  • Internet Speeds and Linux

    Dear Mr. Bhalla,

    Thank you for writing about issues of Internet in India. Let me assure you that my comment about "Northern New Hampshire" in my blog also shows that this is not just a problem of "developing nations". I had a friend on our Linux mailing list complain because I attached a 1.5 Mbyte PDF to an email I sent out, and it was clogging up the reading of his email over his 56Kb line.

    Your comment about "magazines used to perform" the function of distributing the software on CDs and DVDs is a good one. I am happy to say that Linux Pro Magazine continues to distribute DVDs in its pages just for this reason. Linux New Media (the parent company of our magazine) goes out to over 100 different countries in five different languages.

    Finally, in many countries around the world "telecenters" or "Internet Cafes" can provide a place for higher speed access to the Internet. Perhaps they can be induced to hold a couple of images of FOSS distributions on their disks and sell the service of making a DVD every once in a while. They may have to be shown that copying an entire ISO of Fedora, OpenSuSE, Knoppix, Debian, Ubuntu, etc. is legal, but once they understand that it would make a realistic addition to their business.

    I have a friend of mine in Toronto, Canada that runs an Internet cafe that deals only with FOSS. He has a FOSS "Jukebox" made out of an old PC, some big disk drives and a DVD burner where people can burn their own DVDs from a menu of different distributions that he downloaded (or took from a magazine) one time. He charges (I think) one dollar a DVD, less if you also buy a cup of coffee.

  • Internet speeds and linux

    Dear Jon,
    I'm from India and have seen internet change from a dial up to a 512kbps line at my rural house in about 5 years. Getting the latest/greatest version of RHL was a challenge those days. I'd either beg a copy off my friends at universities with broadband, or go to an internet centre and spend a fair amount on downloading the install disks.
    Linux distributions are largely organised around easy to download software with tools such as apt and yum - a no-go option for areas with dial-up. What is needed in such cases is freely accessible DVD-ROMs with the software on them. Computer magazines used to perform this function for me in the early days. I always wished there were an alternative.
    Your article reminds me of the hassle it was to get the software - free it may be, but accessible it wasn't. The solution probably lies in creating some sort of distribution centres which can afford to post cheap copies of packaged software. While this may not answer the specialists (statistician/GIS guru/gamer), it probably would suffice for the average user.
    Thanks for the thoughtful article
comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to our Linux Newsletters
Find Linux and Open Source Jobs
Subscribe to our ADMIN Newsletters

Support Our Work

Linux Magazine content is made possible with support from readers like you. Please consider contributing when you’ve found an article to be beneficial.

Learn More