VIA pc-1 Affordable Community Computing Workshop (Archive)

Tuesday, 28 November 2006
Archived from

ImageJust like many other developing countries, computers are not as ubiquitous in the Philippines as they should be. And as in the case of many other significantly digitally divided countries, the reasons for this are much the same. I wasn’t surprised to learn yesterday that the main barrier to computer access in the Philippines is affordability, or lack thereof. This is precisely the reason that the VIA pc-1 workshop I attended yesterday was headlined Affordable PCs for Education and Development.

Held in one of the APEC Digital Opportunity Center (ADOC) computer labs at the Philippines National Computer Center, the workshop was organized by the Institute for Information Industry (III), ADOC, the Philippine eLearning Society (PELS) and the Philippines Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT). VIA Technologies and eWay Technology Systems sponsored the workshop, as well as assisting in running the event.

The workshop was very much a hands-on affair and was attended by various individuals including education professionals, government and NGO representatives. I had the opportunity to speak with many of those who were present and I was very impressed with the collective enthusiasm on the prospect of low-cost computing. I did, however, get the impression that before the workshop began some of them thought it all sounded too good to be true. But by the end of the day, everyone in attendance was convinced that not only is low-cost computing a reality, its also very achievable.

Interestingly, there were some surprising requisites for invitees. Most notably, participants were not selected because of their high levels of computing prowess, but rather the opposite. The reason for this is that one of the primary exercises of the workshop was for participants to build a working system from scratch and part of the point of it was to demonstrate how simple it really is. I’m pleased to add that the desired outcome was exactly as planned – and not a single system or component was damaged or incorrectly assembled. Every single computer that was built that day worked flawlessly.

At the end of the day, participants were allowed to keep the systems that they built. The philosophy behind this had less to do with generosity as it did making advocates of invitees and I imagine that this strategy is guaranteed to be successful.

Steve Freiberger displaying PC1000 board (Ulten Ryan in background)

The workshop began with the obligatory introductions in which acquaintances were made with Dr Raffy (who conducted the workshop), Ulten Ryan (project manager for the Institute for Information Industry), Steve Freiberger (president of eWay Technology Systems) and myself. With formalities out of the way, Dr Raffy provided some background information on low-cost computers, as well as explaining the highly admirable qualities of Puppy Linux.

Being somewhat inexperienced with Linux (not something I’m proud to admit) I was particularly interested to learn more about Puppy Linux and was genuinely impressed for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s completely free and this is just one reason why it’s such a suitable operating system for low-cost computing requirements. Secondly, it will boot from any storage device, such as a CD or USB drive. No hard disc? No problem! Thirdly, it’s surprisingly fast, which I think has a lot to do with its minimalist bloat-free nature. Another aspect that seemed pleasing to everyone at the workshop is that it is also very straight forward to use. Unlike versions of Linux I looked at years ago, Puppy Linux really is very user friendly and after getting up close and personal with it yesterday, I’ve decided to start using it on my office computer (which is a pc-1 PC2500 system in case you were wondering). Thanks to the VIA pc-1 workshop, my Linux phobia is cured. I could write an article on Puppy Linux alone and I’ll do exactly that in the coming weeks. Suffice to say that if you’re looking for a simple, minimal and reliable operating system (especially if you’re using a low-powered computer), do yourself a favor and look into it.

Building a pc-1 system from scratch

Once acquainted with the virtues of Puppy Linux, seven groups of participants were formed for some focus group style discussions. The objective here was to establish the most commonly used computing applications in their respective professions, as well as frequently encountered problems. As far as the most popular applications goes, all of the usual suspects were identified: word processing, Internet access, web browsing, email, instant messaging, audio and video playback and editing, training and office applications. There was also strong continuity between the groups on the most commonly encountered problems and almost all of them were related to affordability of both hardware and software. With these issues established, it was then time to begin building and testing the systems.

It's this easy?

This was a much faster process than I was expecting, taking approximately one hour. Everyone seemed to enjoy doing it as well and clearly everyone was surprised at how simple it really was. So much so that some of the participants decided to jump in feet first before receiving step by step instructions, which were provided by Steve Freiberger. I was very intrigued to note that three of the participants were completely blind. When I later learned that one of them was a freelance writer I approached him and asked if he’d be interested in writing an article for this website on computing for the visually impaired. He seemed quite enthusiastic to do that as well, so check back for that article in the coming weeks.

With the systems built the next step was to boot Puppy from the Live CD and then explore what it was capable of doing. After having spent some time experimenting with the OS, a small portion of the workshop was dedicated to a discussion on suggested improvements. I’m pleased to report that no one could think of any suggestions. One gentleman (Tony) summed it up perfectly by saying ‘what more could you ask for?’

Tony: 'What more could you ask for?'

Another of the participants took the microphone and thanked Dr Raffy and the organizers of the workshop, stating that there really is an urgent need for more events just like it. The good news is that this is exactly what is intended. Yesterday’s workshop was considered a ‘pilot’ event of sorts. Some of these will be arranged by NGOs like ADOC, III and PELS (with continued support from VIA of course) but it is also hoped that some of the attendees of the workshop will organize similar events within their own organizations and institutions. There certainly seemed to be a fairly strong commitment from some of them to do exactly that.

I have to admit to being extremely impressed with what I observed at the VIA pc-1 workshop. Although I was already well aware of the virtues of affordable computing solutions such as pc-1 devices, what I wasn’t expecting was the level of enthusiasm displayed from everyone in attendance. Enthusiasm is habitually infectious, so I won’t be at all surprised if the Philippines education gap begins to shrink dramatically from this point forward. 

Many hands make light work

Fully built PC1000 system

Father Ben from Smokey Telecenter

Puppy Linux - cute and cuddly!

Dr Raffy inspecting students handiwork

Steve providing step by step instructions

Added by raffy December 3, 2009 (6:05PM)

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