Apr 23

Using Linux Ubuntu to Bridge the Digital Divide

I am not an “open source evangelist”. My knowledge of code does not extend beyond basic HTML. I have had offers to teach me, but I am a marketer and my career advances when I learn more about marketing, not about code.

I also dabble in volunteering. Generally, I’ve been too career driven to volunteer, but recent circumstances in my life have made me reevaluate my priorities. I’ve been helping Elaine Allen, who works tirelessly to improve the living situations of many refugees here in town. When I tell her about cool new happenings in the tech world, she tells me about people living here in Austin who often run out of money for food. These people are refugees from Burma, Rwanda, Sudan, and Burundi, who came here with nothing but social security numbers and the need to escape a horrible situation. I met a refugee here in Austin who was down to three diapers for her baby and heard stories of another man who worked so tirelessly, he is 55 years old with long hair because he is too busy working as a janitor to actually stop to get a haircut. That is what $7 an hour gets you in Austin.

What does this have to do with Linux? Austin has lost thousands of jobs in the shift to a knowledge based economy. If a person does not have basic internet skills, they will fall further and further behind in the digital divide. I can help these refugees by simply giving them the computers people aren’t using. Why is Linux Ubuntu perfect for this?

  • I don’t have to pay for it (duh).
  • They won’t have to worry about anti-viral software, which I doubt they would know much about anyway.
  • Upgrades are silly easy and also free.
  • I can accept older computers, since Linux is less resource intensive than XP, and a welterweight compared to Vista. Why spend money when I can use other people’s unused computers for free and get better, virus and worm free results :-)? Most of the software they need is web-based anyway.
  • What do I not like about using Linux for this project?
    I generally like hanging out with people and being outdoors. This means I don’t want to be sitting and installing Flash or Gnash on every machine I get. According to the Linux Journal, I’d also have to install Java, MP3 support, DVD support, video streaming plugins, and true type fonts. People use this stuff, but setting them up on every machine I get fills my heart with dread. I just want to give computers to people who should be using them.

    Why Ubuntu is Cool as Hell
    Nowadays, software is more expensive than the machine you put it on. With Linux, there are no viruses, free upgrades, open office and gimp already part of the package. I can offer all the basics to people who need them without worrying that I’m going to get hauled off to jail or fined simply for trying to help people who have been through the worst humanity has to offer. This project would simply be too labor intensive and expensive if my only option was Windows.

    Mark Shuttlesworth doesn’t have to support Canonical or Ubuntu–he just does. The idea of consciously contributing something so useful to the community at large is truly inspirational.

    To learn how you can help these refugees, please visit borntohelp.org. To learn more about Ubuntu, a free operating system built by the developer community, visit Canonical’s website. To donate a computer, please contact me at michelle(at)michellesblog.net or ping me in the Twittosphere at http://www.twitter.com/michelle_greer.

    • T.J.

      It’s good your trying to help unfortunate people. As you say, configuring all that would be a pain, so try this: “sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras libdvdread” . There, now you have full media support for just about everything imaginable.

    • http://ramkumarshankar.com/ Ramkumar

      That, or you could install Linux Mint instead. It’s based on Ubuntu, and comes with all the codecs, flash etc…

    • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

      I will evaluate these options further. Thanks for your help!


    • http://weblogzz.blogspot.com kp

      I wonder why people never get satisfied with the open source

      kps last blog post..Windows XP Service Pack 3 Fix for AMD Processors