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back to article Lane Fox promises sub-£100 PCs

Martha Lane Fox is promising £98 computers to tempt the last remaining digital refuseniks in UK to get online. The machines, refurbed by Remploy, will come complete with telephone support, monitor, mouse and Linux software. Lane Fox, David Cameron's Digital Champion, told the Financial Times (subscription link): "Motivation and …

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Badgers

I'm confused

Is the involvement of the Biblically annoying Lane Fox supposed to encourage or discourage uptake?

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Biblically anoying?

Obviously, you weren't thiking about http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/8262828/Wicked-Bible-to-go-on-display.html Personally, I think it was a shame for a helluva lot of people they picked up the mistake quickly.

That apart, I don't think there's any way for this to succeed. Volunteers? margin of root-bugger-all on a machine - with Telephone support, FFS? (charged at premium rate is the only possible way...)

Reminded me of a disatrous venture at Marconi, (liverpool, I think) where they were offering to repair Casio cash registers for £3 a shot. I know, because a a sales eng. for Nicolet, they wanted us to sell them a £5,000 logic analyser.

Even a financial fool like me would see that: £3/pop. One bloke. Parts included. Depreciation on the testgear. Returns, etc, just wasn't gonna work, unless the one bloke - I kid you not -could fix 100 or so a day. i.e., about 20/hr. You couldn't get the screws out and back in that time...

Although Lane Fox's heart is in the right place (positioned nicely between two Bulga...no, stoppit, Andus) and she's made a sodding mint, there's something missing in the story somewhere.

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Anonymous Coward

Something missing

That missing something is probably the fact that dear Martha is a quango in her own right as she hasn't actually achieved much but continues to suck on the tax payers cash.

Don't get me wrong her heart is in the right place, it's just a shame her employers never give her enough teeth to execute some of her better ideas.

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FAIL

Is this a fail in the making ?

I suspect very few of the remaining PC-less households are that way because the can't afford a basic setup.

However I am sure there are plenty of households (like mine) that would snap up a £98 PC to add to the 3 or 4 they may already have ....

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Havenots or Wantnots?

I agree that most of the remaining households are likely that way because they really couldn't give a rat's arse about the internet.

Governments and Corporates that try to appeal to the currently fashionable "must have everything, 5 minute concentration span, is it on Facebook?" brigade will have to put up with it.

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Troll

iPad style consumption only devices?

"will come complete with telephone support, monitor, mouse and Linux software"

What no keyboard? :p

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Coffee/keyboard

"Complete with..."

"... complete with telephone support, monitor, mouse and Linux software"

What, no keyboard? That'll make things interesting :)

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FAIL

Bring back minitel

There's no margin in a refurbished machine for £100 it's difficult to see companies getting on board selling these unless there's a fat subsidy for it.

If you want people online it's better to give them some kind of updated minitel system for the "digital" town hall stuff. The new ARM-based stuff would be ideal for this but something piggy-backing on a Freeview set-top box might be even better, although I can imagine my mum, a refusenik par excellence, still having nothing to with it.

But, of course, this can't be done on the cheap. You can only hope to make the cost back on reduced costs for other services over time.

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"No margin"

Did you notice who's "refurbishing" them?

Remploy.

A charity, providing work to "those who experience complex barriers to work".

Does there need to be a "margin", since it's not being done on a commercial for-profit basis? £98 should certainly cover the Remploy costs, and if they can get the sourcing working effectively, it'll also help to ease WEEE recycling.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

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"those who experience complex barriers to work"

I had to go to the website to work out what the hell that meant. Regardless of slogan, it appears to be a good cause.

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sounds like?

sounds more like a lin-lin scenario to me

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Remploy

I'm confused - Remploy is one of those outfits that the Tories wanted to do away with.

Unless, that is, they've realised that they can try and foist this idea from the notexactlyskint MLF as coming from Big Society.

Anyway MLF -- you try and convince my mum, my partner's mum and many others that they have a need for the internet and another bloody gadget. It's not as if they have enough crap to deal with -- all those digital photo frames, mobiles and the rest that are supposed to be somehow a benefit to those who either can't or won't uses them.

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Blond leading the blind

Had to be said.

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Wrong strategy?

Wouldn't it be better to just wait for these people to die off?

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Linux

digital inclusion

Yes it's true that many of those who do not use the Internet will die before they do so. It is also unfortunate, particularly for the individuals concerned and for their families that many of these individuals will die rather sooner due to mainstream exclusion, isolation and boredom than they otherwise would. Digitally included people are more likely to live happier and longer, so just "letting them die" isn't a responsible approach and demonstrates a heartless attitude.

I have engaged in efforts to get and keep 2 ageing family members online (both happy users of Ubuntu Linux currently aged 80 and 90) and the real issue here is availability of effective computer support for their needs. One of the real culprits here is the collusion of PC vendors with Microsoft determined to keep personal computer use expensive, unreliable and complex by failing to support much more cost effective open source systems for this purpose.

Another culprit is the fact that the community based IT basics courses and mainstream PC retailers fail to cover these simpler and more reliable systems which don't need constant upgrades or antivirus. Both of these groups have badly let down this potential user group.

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title

"Digitally included people are more likely to live happier and longer"

Whilst I agree entirely with the sentiments of your post, you dont do yourself any favours by spouting made up guff as fact.

You would have made a far stronger point by omitting emotional falsehoods.

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@it wasnt me

"You would have made a far stronger point by omitting emotional falsehoods."

Sorry but these are not falsehoods and these observations are objectively supportable, based upon my own research and personal experience.

The problem I am referring to is partly down to younger family members preferring modern communication methods and having to make adjustments to keep sending snail mail and initiating phone calls to granny. This does make life more complex for younger family members, having to maintain use of a wider range of communication methods, some of which are considered obsolete for purposes other than including otherwise disconnected granny. Why bother to send postcards when you go on holiday if you can use Facebook for example ? People will naturally tend to prioritise communications based upon cost effectiveness, and yes this does exclude granny from having as fertile and interesting communications with younger family members than would be the case given an exclusively old-communications world.

I don't see this as emotional falsehood given I have also observed all of these mechanisms at work, not just in families but also within a community group which has some social similarities to a wider family, and which has seen the digitally included (based upon the metric of us having an email address for an account holding member) grow from 30% of membership to 80% over the last 10 years. We still send out paper newsletters by snail mail each month, but it is a significant cost overhead to keep a diminishing proportion of our membership less well in touch than the rest, but at least connected to some extent.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @it wasnt me

"Sorry but these are not falsehoods and these observations are objectively supportable, based upon my own research and personal experience."

Objective research based on personal experience, eh? Don't let anyone get in the way of your rocket science, will you?

"Why bother to send postcards when you go on holiday if you can use Facebook for example ?"

Because postcards give a lasting memory of your holiday. Good luck with using Facebook for that unless you regularly do a "Print Screen" and print it all out. Also, despite the brevity of messages on postcards, they may convey more information than someone tweeting "some nice tits here, LOL" from the beach.

I'm not arguing that "digitally included" people can't get more benefits, but your Facebook versus postcards example (or even your newsletter versus not-printed-out-but-e-mailed-instead newsletter example) isn't really very convincing.

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Good cause

You are working towards a good cause but I must say:

- granny, in fact anybody, would much rather get a physical letter or card than a facebook update. One is thoughtful and caring. The other takes zero effort.

- some people, old and young, just prefer to walk to the shops, write cheques & use the phone than surf the web. It is still quiet possible to live like its the 1950s. They just don't get excited by the internet.

- Many older people are masters of the web. Many younger people just know Facebook, which is like the internet for thickos.

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WTF?

Digital inclusion - wossat?

you mean people with fingers?

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FAIL

In the long run

You do realise this is a way to force everyone onto the Internet so then they can shut down many of the government and council offices to save money. They will no longer send letters by post, but make everything rely on the Internet.

Will they provide training for people? There are so many people falling for phishing scams, that they need to be taught. Also teach those who already have a computer. I sometimes wish there was something like a computer licence, so then those who passed a basic computer test will be allowed one with Internet access.

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FAIL

ECDL ?

in a previous life, I worked with a company developing software for estate agents. Believe me, there was nothing these guys wouldn't skimp on. It was the norm to get a support call from a new employee (usually middle-aged and quite dim) who had replaced the last person (6 months was a long term employee) who expected us to train them *in windows* before they could even begin to use the system.

I suggested we make possession of an ECDL basic qualification a condition of support. Sadly, estate agents really don't want to spend *anything* on staff.

The only people I have worked with who were tighter, were lawyers.

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Redirect of funds

Maybe if they spent less on BMW Minis, 1 series and Audi TTs, they could afford to send their staff on ECDL courses.

Of course, all this could do might be to teach the letting agent secretary to send off template emails to concerns and issues sent by the renter over the rented property......

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Happy

Not ECDL, there's a "first steps" access course

Which the missus teaches, as well as ECDL.

Most of her ECDL folk have just been made redundant and are looking to be able to prove to an employer they can do the basics. In MS products too.

First steps is probably enough to get started.

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Coat

Re : llanfair

"I sometimes wish there was something like a computer licence"

And if their computer crashed will they get points on their licence?

Just askin'

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Stop

Thanks for pointing that out

No-one else seems to have done so! Getting the last third on-line has always been a means to close down the face-to-face "supply channel" so to speak.

Besides, thanks to BT and co. most of that last third won't be able to get a decent web connection even if they did part with the £98, maybe if MLF was leaning on the right people (telcos) she'd get more uptake.

Typical arse-about-facedness from the government again

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They're much tighter than that

You don't think they actaully bought those BMWs, etc do you? Like everything else, the car is on lease. A flash, new car is seen as a necessity in the trade.

Every real estate agency I've ever dealt with has been run on an absolute shoe string. The number of times I've installed shiney new monitors, keyboards and mice and hidden a crappy, 5 year old PC away under the desk. Don't get me started on the software they run - I swear one was going to wear out the Office 97 disc it was installed so many times. They just will not spend money anything unless they absolutely have to.

They lawyers I've worked for on the other hand, have all been fine. Just so long as they think they are getting good service...

I must say that things must be going downhill in the UK. Out here in Aus, no agent would be seen dead in a 1 Series, Audi or Mini. A 3 series will do for your first year, but really it's 5 Series or C-Class minimum. Actually, you might get away with a Mini if you are particularly hip and metro, but not for long.

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IT Angle

Offies and Car talk

Office 97 is still surprisingly useful and fairly compatible (albeit not with anything 2007 onwards).

OK maybe not for day to day use in industry (apart from estate agents), but to get an old P2 laptop to do something worthwhile as an excuse to save it from the recycle centre. It even runs on NT 3.51!

The estate agent progression seems to be MINI -> 1 series -> TT. After that I'm not sure what happens. Do they hide in the backoffice driving a 2nd hand Corsa?

In Aus I would've thought the progression would have culminated in a Commodore or Falcon :)

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Coat

Just waiting for the brownouts....

...or, indeed, solar flares that reduce the capability for any powered, not just online, services. Then no public service centre because they had all been closed, reduced communications because AM or even FM no longer in use because of digital radio etc....

Overly paranoid? Or just realistic? Shouldn't core sociological components/serivces be sensibly distributed over geography?

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FAIL

WTF?

Linux? When everyone else (non-techies) is using either Windows or Apple Macs? I hope they pay for training? Or they just going to give you a piece of paper with destructions on how to launch the browser?

FAIL

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@WTF?

Clearly you have not actually used much else have you? Modern Linux (for 5 years or more I have used it) has a firefox icon that just does the business. How hard is that?

And my cowardly friend, you seem to have failed to notice these machines are for folk without PCs, so why should you expect them to be somehow a master of Windows or Mac use?

Think it through sunshine, you are suggesting:

(1) Windows, with 1M+ new viruses per 6 months. So who pays for Windows license? Who pays for or performs the cleaning up when the AV fails (as they frequently do)?

(2) An Apple computer that 2nd hand is still going to sell for way more than £100, unless its unusable. And lets face it, most peripherals that fail on Linux are also failed for Mac for the same reason (secretive devices that the manufacturer only supports Windows).

While I have my doubts about the grand social plan here, I can't see there is anything technically wrong with the proposed solution.

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FAIL

W.I.M.P

Window

Icon

Mouse

Pull down menus

That's all you need to know to navigate and use any modern operating system - learning the basics in Windows will serve you well enough in Mac OS X/Any linux distro with a decent GUI, and vice versa - someone who was brought up in Gnome would be able to navigate through Windows 7 without any major problems, I'd wager.

Also, try booting a live Ubuntu CD from the last three years, and be shocked at how straightforward it is, providing your hardware works out of the box. Even there, I've rarely seen any systems Ubuthu won't boot where anything other than wifi drivers aren't there - and 99% of the time, a wired network connection and the "Add Hardware" program will fix that anyway....

Hope that helps

Steven R

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Boffin

Same as Windows

1 Double-Click on the Firefox icon on the desktop.

2 That's it.

For £100, you can have a system where everything is online

The fact that the <Start> menu doesn't have the word "start" in it doesn't matter.

It can be set to update itself and, unlike Windows, will probably not reboot itself afterwards. They won't even know.

If they want email, webmail is the non-tecchie favourite.

Not being Windows, it won't have to run an anti-virus system.

Not being into computers, they probably won't want to install applications.or games.

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non-techie Linux training

> Linux? When everyone else (non-techies) is using either Windows or Apple Macs? I hope they pay for training? Or they just going to give you a piece of paper with destructions on how to launch the browser?

Rubbish, the Linux GUIs are just as easy to navigate as the Windows 'standard'.

http://www.webupd8.org/2010/02/lubuntu-lxde-1004-lucid-lynx-alpha-3.html

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Always thought it was...

Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer, no?

- as in the things that on the screen vs physical things.

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my mum didn't need...

...'destructions' (oh, I see what you done there - guffaw, guffaw) and she is 71 and a happy gmail user.

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Happy

Pointer/pull down member

I think they're interchangeable to be honest, but pull down menu is the less obvious point that the mouse pointer itself, which is so easy a three year old can work out that moving a mouse = moving the pointer.

Pull down menus are a bit less obvious, hence why that always sticks in my mind for WIMP, but I am happy to be corrected...

Steven R

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Anonymous Coward

@AC #WTF

>Linux? When everyone else (non-techies) is using either Windows or Apple Macs?

As it happens, you can have Windows 7 Starter Edition instead at no extra charge......which Netbook history suggests will pretty much kill off the linux option.

I'm not sure its all that hard to click on a browser icon either way though.....

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@{@AC #WTF}

Yes, maybe "you can have Windows 7 Starter Edition instead at no extra charge" since MS want to avoid competition, and you still have the issue of (1) the overwhelming malware choice for Windows at 99.9%+, (2) the lack of a central install & patch system for things like Flash, and (3) the slightly higher hardware requirement.

This is for folks with essentially no computer experience, so Windows, Mac, or Linux, it makes no difference as they have to be trained anyway. In addition, they have little or no interest in PCs, so are not bothered about range of applications, games, etc.

Web access - check

Email - check

Photos - check

Word processor - check

Linux does them all, just so long as they are set up by someone half-competent, unlike some of the commercial efforts so far.

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Pint

£98? seems expensive

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Viglen chuck out a *buntu based machine with next to no storage for £75? Now I may be a rubbish business man, but there may be a market here for someone to buy a job lot of viglens and throw them out at £97 - £20 profit per machine - can't be too bad can it?

Pre-emptive pint on the back of this top notch sure fire winner...

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Anonymous Coward

Telephone support?

For the technologically ignorati, it might be worth paying £98 just for that, if it works efficiently.

But where would it be hosted?

Somehow, just somehow, I suspect that it won't be available via an 0800 number...

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LUGs

are already doing this for free!

Members travel around, taking dumped ex-school or college (windows) kit and provide this to people who would otherwise not be able to afford a PC. Sometimes people have bet access

but not always. Quite often having thier photo collection scanned and stored with some basic games and eud software is a good enough start without the burden of an unwanted net connection bill.

I got involved but the problem was some of the folks I supplied machines to ended up having the systems taken by bailifs against outstanding debts. I got quite sore that I was paying to upgrade these boxes, find and renovate a decent monitor etc and these folks intentionaly use the machine as a way to reduce their debt.

There are a lot of penioners out there who would love such a box but there are an insane number of scum who will abuse this sort of service.

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Vic
Silver badge

Re: LUGs

> are already doing this for free!

Our LUG put on a presentation to the then-Secretary of State for for Innovation, Universities and Skills. He was trying to get PCs for "disadvantaged" families.

We took him to a warehouse full of PC kit that was going begging. We demonstrated that hardware running Free software. We gave him his project for a song.

A few weeks later, the local paper announced that said MP had approved a plan to buy a load of new Winows laptops, at substantial cost to the local economy. Apparently, what's important in a headline is how much money you've spent on a "good cause", rather than the number of people you've helped :-(

Vic.

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re: Apparently, what's important ...

No backhanders involved then?

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Linux

I approve

Getting people onto Linux.

It really is an epic fail that schools still use Windows given how perfectly suited Linux is to an academic environment and how poorly suited Windows is. The music and art departments will use Macs anyway so why the hell do the rest of the school need Windows? Aaaaanyway.

With thousands more people out there using Linux, it will slowly work it's way into the main stream. I'm not hoping for total supremacy or anything dumb like that, but a decent percentage of people demanding open source (even if they don't actually know it) will make life better for all of us.

It's becoming clear that Microsoft's days really are numbered. Every time someone wants to innovate, every time someone wants low cost, every time they want freedom - Linux is right there. And it's becoming hard to ignore.

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Oh

There is a place in schools for Windows - those drab business studies rooms where the best fun to be had was locking the teacher in the supply cupboard ... not that we ever did anything like that of course!

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Linux

Educational OSs

During school the machines supplied by (mostly then) RM and Apple gave a base knowledge of Windows 3.0, 3.1, 95 and MacOS classic 6 -> 9, from 1st year all the way through to A level. The emphasis was on the *skills* and not the OS, but the OS was what was supplied by the vendor, and supportable by the MS qualified on-site technician.

During University, the machines started off as Win2k machines, not overly different to the 9x machines of the previous years. Again, the emphasis was on teaching and using the tools, not the OS. A course using 'C' introduced us to Linux. But it was that - an *introduction*. They didn't have the time to go through the differences and benefits of using Linux, where simple things like double clicking what should be an executable .bin work differently from the windows and mac worlds. (The RedHat distro was from before the time in the last 6-7 years where Linux has became very user friendly). As a result, and because of deadlines and having enough to learn in terms of theory, assignments, programming practicals etc., most of us booted in Windows just to get the stuff done without having to learn another way of doing things.

Ideally Linux should have been a module on it's own!

Luckily, after graduation, getting hands on with Linux servers and forcing myself to work with a Linux desktop, and finding home installations that work perfectly with all my hardware (Linux now is a gift compared to recent years) I educated myself and moved from the dark side! :)

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Go

even Gates gave half a billion

Even the Gates Foundation gave half a billion to instruct consumers how to save money.

Of course, those idiots would never suggest saving money on computers. Even if it is for the less fortunate.

No, when it comes to computers everyone must pay the high price of a Microsoft OS and Microsoft applications including Internet Explorer. Only then can they benefit from other less costly solutions.

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Anonymous Coward

Speaking as someone who went to school in the archimedies era.

It seems a little pointless to teach people how to use computers that were completely ignored in the business world.

99% of students had windows or nothing at home; until something becomes the mainstream then there's little point getting people to use it.

Don't get me wrong, I thought Arcs were great machines, but it just seemed a little pointless. Especially by the time we were using them it they were obviously a sinking ship.

Windows licences aren't cheap, but neither is the time to support alternatives, especially when a lot of people seem to learn computers by rote.

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Schools

Because 99% of the curriculum-conforming software out there is Windows. And precisely 1% of the stuff on Linux etc. that *claims* to be "for kids" isn't curriculum-conforming (and is therefore a waste of time except for "spare time" activities - i.e. when a kid has finished their work). Look at 2Simple Software that produce tons of Windows programs - I could write any one in an afternoon with a graphic designer, but they are focused to certain parts of the curriculum, updated regularly, and are simple to learn. Shame they are Windows-only.

I've worked in school IT since I left uni. The hardware and OS are basically completely the same. What matters is the end-user application software. There are precisely zero big-name educational suppliers selling Linux educational software, even when it's been written in a cross-platform library and allows them to pump out Windows and Mac versions from the same codebase.

The stuff that *does* run is mostly generic applications (so OpenOffice *can* and *does* replace Office in many schools, and TuxPaint is incredibly popular in primary schools - because it effectively replaces the next-nearest equivalent which is RM Colour Magic) and that's sufficient for Internet research, writing notes and printing and some very basic tasks - they are the pens and pencils of the IT world, but what about the textboooks? IT is in *every* subject and there is a big fuss about linking into the curriculum content and there is nothing on Linux that even *tries* to do that. A brilliant piece of software with a million features is useless if it cost £100 and only satisfies one line of the curriculum. Instead a crappy, years-old, Quicktime-based point-and-click game designed for Windows 95 that DOES satisfy the curriculum effectively is worth a lot more, and a lot more investment in IT to get it to run.

Some pilot schools are entirely Linux. This is usually done by, for example, buying a subscription to educational online content that has UK curriculum focus in all the subject areas (companies like Espresso Education specialise in selling schools Linux boxes that have Apache, Squid and 500Gb hard drives that download educational content overnight so the whole school can play a curriculum-aimed video / clip / game simultaneously the next morning - updated every day with every single change and news-relevant topics). Most schools hate that because it locks you into a particular service that you have to pay for every month and when you stop paying, you lose everything. So they stick with crappy, years-old, supported programs that they've owned for years, that are curriculum-oriented, that the teachers are familiar with and that run on anything Windows (with some tweaking).

Software as a service is pushing into schools at the moment (hell, you're basically renting Windows now too, so why not either rent a whole system or move away and rent an online service?) and that's making educational software a bit worthless. But the largest manufacturer of interactive whiteboards (SmartBoard) has had Linux drivers and application software for years, and the hardware is all Linux-compatible (I push Linux into every school I can, where it suits their needs), and the infrastructure is Linux-compatible (you can logon to Windows Servers with Likewise Open quite easily from Linux), but the end-user application software isn't. It doesn't even exist. What does exist is one or two guy's ideas of what everyone should teach (and that's the worst thing you can assume of another teacher) and doesn't cover even the most basic of needs.

When all schools are on Software as a Service, then 99% of the thin-clients, servers, etc. they use to do that will be Linux, because it really doesn't matter any more. But the fact is that the applications ONLY exist on Windows, at the moment, despite there being a Linux market. You should have gone to BETT in Kensington Olympia last week - there's not a mention of anything non-Windows in their software section and what looks like rubbish to you and me is worth THOUSANDS to the teachers because it covers their portion of the curriculum completely and is up-to-date.

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