...making Linux just a little more fun!

<-- 2c Tips | TAG Index | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | Knowledge Base | News Bytes -->

The Answer Gang

By Jim Dennis, Karl-Heinz Herrmann, Breen, Chris, and... (meet the Gang) ... the Editors of Linux Gazette... and You!

(?) LG in developing countries

From Sluggo

Answered By: Ben Okopnik, Ramon van Alteren, Offer Kaye, Brian Bilbrey, Kapil Hari Paranjape

Dear readers, your editors have been discussing the changing PC/Internet environment since LG's early days, and we're wondering what's the minimum level of hardware and bandwidth now in the remoter parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia? Are Pentium/K6 computers above 300 MHz universal now? Are people still downloading the FTP files because they can't afford the hour online to read LG interactively on the web? Or is that no longer an issue? If we started allowing articles to have more supplemental files, more images, more tarball examples, would that cause an undue burden to any readers or does it not matter?

(!) [Kapil] There seem to be two separate questions --
1. How hard is it to maintain a mirror of LG if the bandwidth/hardware requirement is upped?
Speaking only from my experience this should not be a problem in India providing that only "biggish" sites like ours try to maintain a mirror.
2. How hard will it be to read LG if the bandwidth/hardware requirement is upped?
As long as there is a low-bandwidth low-hardware version of LG that is available, you can always up the requirement for a high-end version.
So what is low-bandwidth?
A. Speaking only for India. Most places still have only a dial-up phone link. This link takes them to an ISP who will probably give them a share of 64K-512K link to one of the hubs in the bigger cities which are then linked quite well to the rest of the internet and each other (the hubs that is).
And what is low-hardware?
B. In a recent meeting to disburse funds to Indian universities for the purchase of computers, I heard that some of these place still have 486's. However, with the recent drop in prices of entry level Pentium class machines (to approximately half the earlier price) this should change in a year or so. At the same time working hardware has a way of trickling down over here so it is not impossible to find even a 386 in some places.
However, the use of GNU/Linux in India at this level is still very low. Since (whether we like it or not) LG is only read by people with some familiarity with *nix, the above data may not be entirely relevant.

(?) For years we got letters every few months asking for an e-mail or print version of LG. That was unfeasable for us to provide, so we steered people toward the FTP version, TWDT, and TWDT.txt instead. The mirrors complained whenever we regenerated the FTP files or made bulk updates to back issues, because of the bandwidth it cost them. One student wrote from a school in Africa, saying they all read LG from a shared copy downloaded at the school, but the school couldn't afford the online time to read it interactively on the web. Others said they paid by the minute or megabyte for their Internet connection, and each megabyte was a significant choice.

Yet now we hear that Pentium-level computers are widely available in the poorer parts of Latin America, many governments are switching to Linux, and community wireless networks are sprouting up in villages in India and Africa. It's been over a year since we've gotten a bandwidth complaint from a reader or a mirror. Does that mean this is no longer an issue? Or that those readers now have more local resources for Linux information/help and no longer rely solely on LG? Or that we lost those readers/mirrors during the move from SSC and they never found our new address? Unfortunately, the the nature of this problem means that those who are the least connected are the ones least able to write in and tell us about it, so we need to hear from others from those countries and regions who can tell us what the situation is.

On Wed, Dec 08, 2004 at 11:35:51AM -0800, Mike Orr wrote:

(?) Dear readers, your editors have been discussing the changing PC/Internet environment since LG's early days, and we're wondering what's the minimum level of hardware and bandwidth now in the remoter parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia?

(!) [Ben] (A shovel and a pitchfork for minimum hardware and a wheelbarrow for bandwidth - but note that even these are not available in all areas. :) The term "minumum level" contains assumptions that render the answers to this question less than useful.)

(?) How? The question about whether most people have a 300 MHz Pentium or better was an attempt to see whether most readers have a computer capable of running a modern graphical browser and KDE comfortably.

(!) [Ben] "Minimum", in this venue, always starts at zero. Asking what the "minumum" hardware is will have people responding with their stories of woe about building TCP/IP stacks with hay and mud, and being too poor to get quality mud. Phrasing the question as you have predetermines the field of answers, since people who do not consider their hardware as "minimum" will not respond, and so you'll get the answers that only reinforce the point you're trying to make as opposed to the true state of the situation - a perfect example of the "statistics" that Barry was talking about just a few days ago.
(!) [Offer Kaye] "Running KDE comfortably" on a 300 MHz Pentium?! You must be joking... Have you tried opening a recent version of KDE? It's a hog - both memory and CPU. I have an 1800+ AthlonXP with 512MB of RAM, and even so KDE is sloooow to start up and apps take a while to open, including Firefox (a browser considered both modern and "light").

(?) Yes but you have to draw a line somewhere. KDE 3.2 is reasonable but not snappy on my 450 MHz Duron, but KDE 3.3 on the same machine is so slow it makes Windows look fast by comparision. It may not be KDE's fault: the first is on Debian and the second on Gentoo, and the system startup/shutdown on the Gentoo side is much slower too. I just bought a 2600 AthlonXP chip (decided to wait a year or two on the Shuttle), so we'll see how much that helps.

BTW, I got a Foxconn micro ATX motherboard to go with it. Hadn't heard of that brand before, but it had a VIA chipset and Award BIOS so I figured it was more standard than the mobo next to it with an nVIDIA chipset. I paid $6 more for less, haha: two memory slots instead of three, three PCI slots instead of five or six. But I thought back to when have I ever used more than three PCI cards simultaneously, and the answer was "never". Presumably the nVIDIA chipset would have been compatible enough since it wasn't nVIDIA video, but I figured why take chances and did I want my money going to a company that offers binary-only drivers? The salesman reassured me that a micro ATX mobo would fit into a regular ATX case; we'll see.

It's interesting how the prices of chips and motherboards have reversed. My standard rule has been to buy whatever combination is currently selling for $150. In the past that's meant a $50 chip and $70 motherboard. But this time it's a $99 chip and a $55 motherboard. They did have $50 chips but they were AMD Seperon. I haven't heard of those before. They came out a couple months ago as a replacement line for the Duron. Gentoo doesn't mention them as a supported platform although I assume they're compatible.

Tom's Hardware says the Sempron is replacing both the Duron and the 32-bit Athlon. http://www.tomshardware.com/cpu/20040728/index.html

(!) [Brian] BTW, I've got one of the top end Sempron's, a 3100+, running on an Asus K8N mobo (nForce3 chipset). The motherboard itself is bloody amazing. Socket for the processor. Heatsink over the single (or composite? can't tell) chipset. A few small (8-12 pin) smc glue logic chips, batches of electrolytic caps, sm resistors, and lots of connectors. But overall, the impression is of a barren field... picture here:
The 3100+ Sempron is a 64-bit A64 with 32 bits lopped off, and half the L2 cache, sort of the modern day equivalent of the 386SX, I guess.
The other components in the system are a 160G Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 HD, an old 4x DVD+RW burner, and 512M of RAM.
Still, the board/processor combination is fast, supported well by the 2.6.9 kernel. The ethernet is on the chipset, and runs with the forcedeth driver, which is making some good strides now that nVidia decided that since a reverse-engineered driver was available in spite of their non-assistance, they might as well help make it better. Audio is acceptable as AC97/i810 equivalent. I'm running an ATI 9200 Video card, and the whole thing is wrapped up in an Antec Sonata case.
I've thrown Debian Sarge, Xandros, Fedora Core 3, and a couple of *BSD variants at it, all have run. OpenBSD has no driver for the ethernet ported yet. Everything else just worked, and it's the fastest "cheap" system I have.
It's not as robust as the 2.5 year old dual Athlon box, but true SMP just keeps trucking when a single processor box starts wheezing.
So, I'd count this report as a positive recommendation for the nForce3/Sempron combination on recent (2.6 kernel based) distros.
The Sempron is just the Athlon renamed, which explains why there's only a $5 difference between the same-speed chips. Seems AMD's marketers were getting nervous about the brand-name dilution effect of having their luxury chip (the AMD 64) and their proletarian chip (the Athlon) both called "Athlon", afraid that consumers wouldn't notice the difference and would, ahem, fail to appreciate the advantages of the higher-end chips. (Although "higher-end" is open to debate, since the price of the 64-bit chips is pretty close to their same-speed 32-bit counterparts.)
AMD also seems to be preparing to ditch Socket A by designing a Sempron that will fit in their AMD 64 motherboard (socket 754), as well as versions for future Intel socket designs.
So, given that 64-bit doesn't mean squat on machines with less than 4 GB memory, what happens in 2038 when the UNIX clock rolls over? Will we all have to switch to 64-bit anyway or else?
I'm putting this all in my huge case from two years ago, the one whose mobo was apparently water-damaged in my fire. Maybe I can get the neon tubes in front to light up this time. I looked through my old receipts to figure out what speed chip was in there without prying off the heatsink. Cyrix/66, AMD Duron/150.... Was it really that slow? The mobo manual said it could take a chip up to 1800. At the time I thought, "That's three times faster than I'll ever need...."
I put the "300" on in case somebody should come up with a Pentium/70 or something. The bandwidth question should be obvious. If I've put in unhelpful assumptions without realizing it, please tell me what they are so the questions can be improved.
(!) [Ben] In my opinion, there's no way to get an accurate picture of what the situation really is unless you travel to India, Africa, South America (however you choose to define it), etc., and spend a few months traipsing a wide area and taking a census - and even that data would be of limited use since it's a constantly-changing variable.
So, in short, my problem with the way the question is phrased is that the answers to it *can't* give any new insight. They can, however, be used to stack the cards. I'm not accusing you of doing this, but I am saying that this form of the question is not useful.
However - dear readers, please feel free to let us know what challenges, if any, you've encountered in your LG-reading experience. Our purpose is to deliver the greatest amount of high-quality content to you, and to "make Linux a little more fun"; this implies and requires access to that content. We can't buy you all new computers and high-speed network access - I just rattled the change in my pocket, and had to admit to myself, bitter as it may be, that it just wasn't enough - but if there's something we can do to improve access to LG, we'd love to hear your ideas.
Through the magic of email plus my own desire to make LG serve as many people as possible, this editor's door is always open. Come on in.
(!) [Jimmy] But beware the curmudgeons! And please be aware that an opinion given with the utmost brutal honesty is the /start/ of the discussion, not the end. Don't make me quote the 'Haggle' scene again.
(!) [Ramon] I've just returned from Uganda for a Development project on Linux and Open Source software in general. Apart from giving a course on Linux system administration I helped setup a local mirror with open source software and more importantly documentation. Among the documentation was the Linux Documentation Project (LDP) including The Linux Gazette.
Due to poor bandwidth offerings in Uganda we've resorted to updating this mirror using a portable harddisk that gets filled in Europe and sent through diplomatic snailmail to Uganda on a quarterly basis.
I don't think hardware is that much an issue. In Uganda the issue definitly is bandwidth. I work for a foundation that partners with a rural university, bandwidth there is 64k down / 16k upload for the entire university which has to be shared with 400+ students and 50+ staff.
Internet slows down to a crawl during the daytime........ (500B/s or less)
Common offerings from local ISP's are 16Kbit links for $50/month, if you're living in the capital, otherwise you're out-of-luck or dependant on local NGO's with internet access / cyber cafes.
Unlike India, telephonelines are non-existant. Nearly everyone has a mobile phone, normal phone lines are only present in some government buildings, large companies and possibly NGO's. The quality of the phonelines is horrible.
Although I'm not entirely sure, I think that the entire country has something in the order of a 4-6Mbit link to the rest of the internet.
At an ICT-conference I visited somebody quoted a $8000 figure for a 1Mbit internet link to me.....
We (eacoss) currently operate the only local open source mirror in Uganda and we're unable to update it through the internet. We would not be affected that much by this change because of the update-method for our mirror however other people in the eastern african region might.
That said, the other point that kapil raised, also holds true for Uganda and Eastern Africa in general. Linux/Opensource software is not (yet) widely used. The EACOSS foundation (www.eacoss.org) is trying to promote that, however reality is that most people are using windows.
This is changing (rather fast) however with M$ and other big companies starting to enforce copyright protection schemes, and licence costs generally way beyond a local year income.
There is a desperate need for more knowledge on Linux/Open source and more advanced knowledge on networking, software developement, etc in general, so the gazette could definitly fill a gap.
(!) [Ben] Thank you, Ramon: it's always good to get info from people in the field. The most interesting part for me was that my own estimate of how things were in that part of the world was very close to what you've reported.
As to the "sneaker-net" method of information transport into Uganda, it reminds me of the old joke: "never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of magtapes." It may be slow, but it's still valid.

This page edited and maintained by the Editors of Linux Gazette
HTML script maintained by Heather Stern of Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

Each TAG thread Copyright © its authors, 2005

Published in issue 110 of Linux Gazette January 2005

<-- 2c Tips | TAG Index | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | Knowledge Base | News Bytes -->