Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Lenovo's $199 "Tianfu" (Heavenly Prosperity) Computer

Lenovo, who now manufacture's the ThinkPad line of PC laptops, is targeting rural Chinese farmers with the introduction of its $199 Heavenly Prosperity PC, running a software package called "Road to Riches." There are roughly 250 million Chinese farmers who could benefit from such a device that allows the user to access the internet to obtain information about agricultural practices, animal husbandry, market prices, and other pertinent information, according to the Christian Science Monitor article. Reporter Peter Ford accompanies the piece with an audio clip of him discussing the "ambitious goal" of equipping these farmers.

The specifications of the machine are similar to the OLPC laptop: it uses flash memory instead of a hard drive and contains no moving parts that might wear out or break. Mara Hvistendahl at Worldchanging.com has more specifications as well as a critical review of the policies and politics behind the machine. Plugged into a TV, the device is descibed as the size of box of chocolates and uses a tablet, helpful for rural Chinese who might not be accustomed to using a Chinese-language keyboard.

The machine's success seems dependent upon the "modernization" or urbanization of rural China, however. Electricity is spotty in some areas, and the state-owned telephone monopoly must also commit to providing service to rural users, who without a ADSL line would be unable to use the Internet with the computer.

Chinese users at the agriculture show Peter Ford attended with both positive and unsure of the device. One mushroom farmer ordered one, expecting to use it to increase his markets and to make more money. Like the OLPC project, enabling people in rural areas to collaborate and become world citizens through the use of technology is a powerful idea put into practice.

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