"The Borders of Computing"
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CNET News Video
CNET News Video
The Borders of Computing
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>> I'm Kara Tsuboi, CNET.com here with senior writer Ina Fried who this week published a new report called the Borders of Computing focusing on South America. Now earlier in the year, Ina travelled to both Brazil and Colombia to observe the role that technology is playing in the lives of everyday South Americans. Now Ina, we know that Brazil is an emerging market. It must have been fascinating to see how technology is being integrated into everyday life down there. What did you see?
>> Well, PC ownership and computing in Brazil is definitely booming and there's a couple of factors, access to credit. So, a few years ago it was really hard to buy a PC with financing. Now it's very easy comparatively, as well as an improvement in the local currency, better infrastructure has really made the PC market take off. Brazil is actually the fifth largest PC market in the world right now, up from 7th a couple of years ago. And some analysts think it will be number three within a couple of years' time. So it's, you know that part of the market is very strong.
>> What are some of the challenges holding it back?
>> Well, when people talk about Brazil, it's often part of this brick -- Brazil, Russia, India and China. So, it's often talked about in the same breath as the largest emerging markets and it is, but it doesn't have some of the same ingredients that really put India and China at the top of that list. While it does have a strong computing market in terms of other things: Entrepreneuralship, technology camping is based in Brazil, it's not as far along. In part that's because you don't have the same level of venture capital, it's basically a new notion there. I mean, you are starting to see venture capital, but it's not an inherently Brazilian notion.
>> And then also, the educational system. Again, while it's making big strides, the average Brazilian student only goes to school for about 4 hours a day, maybe 5 or 6 in college. And it's just not the same level of rigor that you'll find in India or China and that is changing to some degree, but a lot of Brazilian students have to work at the same time they are going to school.
>> Now, are a lot of American or other foreign companies moving into Brazil to try to set up shop or try to, you know put down some roots in Brazil?
>> They are. I mean, there are a lot of companies: Microsoft, who I spent a lot time with has a big presence there. IBM has 11,000 workers in Brazil.
>> Wow, okay.
>> And I had a chance to speak with IBM's Claudia Fan Munce, who not only focuses on this area of the business for IBM, but also grow up in Brazil and she talked a little bit about both the challenges and the opportunities.
>> Technology is going to be very uniquely focused on the industry expertise that Brazil possess, but the software development expertise based on open source and open standard at being a predominant platform for the developers is going to make all that industry couple expertise into a very effective, you know independent software vendor that, you know IBM like to partner with and hoping that eventually investors will like to invest in.
>> Now also, while you were in Brazil, you had the chance to visit a school that is giving out the Intel Classmate PC to each of its students. What was it like to see these kids playing with their laptops in the classroom?
>> Well, I was really surprised at how unobtrusive the laptops were. I expected it to be a big productivity boost, really useful, but at the same time, I thought there might be some impedance of the -- just natural interaction that students...
>> Kids want to have and it really was amazing. Part because of its smaller size, you know these aren't the 15-inch laptop that were used to where, you know if you and I were each holding a laptop, we couldn't really see each other.
>> These are really small, 9-, 10-inch screens and it allows the students to interact in just the kinds of ways that you'd want to see students interacting. The other thing that was a real key is that the schools had placed a lot of emphasis on the curriculum and how the computers were going to be used and that's such a key.
>> Both in school projects as well as in these digital inclusion projects. It's not enough to have the technology. You really have to have strong involvement in the community, as well as a clearer plan of what you're gonna do with the computers.
>> Right. So it's not just a gratuitous piece of equipment just for playtime, you know, so you know when to turn it on and when to turn it off.
>> Exactly and I saw a really good example of that in one of the art classes I looked at where the teacher was having them use the computers to do research about different cultures. And their assignment was to create a wax sculpture of somebody in this different culture and so they used the computers for the research, but when it came time for the art, they put that laptops aside and they used their hands and that to me seemed like a really good balance of using the power of the technology as a tool, but not the only thing.
>> Now Brazil of course is a country that's known the world over for its great shopping, its leather goods. Did you have the chance to do any shopping and not just for fun stuff, but for actually, you know look out some of the technology?
>> Well, I was too busy reporting to do too much shopping, but I did get a chance to go to some of the department stores that sell computers and really see how the computers are sold. There were some things that were really interesting. One is the first thing you notice at a lot of the -- particularly middle and lower-income department stores is that the price for the computers you see isn't the total price, but it's the monthly price. Again, credit is so important because it's not really can they afford a $1,200 PC because that's just not gonna happen, but it's how much a month can they afford and does that allow them to buy a PC. So in a lot of the places, the price advertised is the monthly price, not the total price. And that's what's really on the mind of the Brazilians.
>> Sure. Now what about the actual hardware? Is it the same stuff that we're going to be seeing at our Best Buy or even the software too?
>> The hardware is some of the same things you see.
>> There are a few differences. In Brazil especially, you will see Linux PCs in part because there's some, you know powerful community around open source, but also the government has programs that incentivize PC purchases, but only for Linux. The Federal Government has an open source first attitude. A lot of those computers later converted to some form of pirated Windows, but at least on the shelves you will see some Linux. You'll also see Windows XP starter edition, which is a low end version of Windows that is only sold in emerging markets. And Brazil is actually the biggest market for this version of Windows, so you'll see that on a lot of the lower and entry level PC's. What you will also see through are PCs that rival high-end PCs here, big flat screen monitors, so there is a full range of computers.
>> And were the stores busy? People are actually buying?
>> People were looking, you know.
>> And I went in the middle of the day on a week day, so I'm not sure if it was peak computer buying time.
>> But, you know the sales numbers tell the story. Definitely the Brazilians are buying PCs.
>> Sure. They're already moving up to fifth in the market, the PC market. That's great. Now I know you were also able to travel to Colombia, which by a lot of standards, Colombia is not nearly at the same level as Brazil and so far as the technology and their integration of technology. But I'm sure they're making a lot of big developments. What did you see?
>> Well, Colombia is using technology in a couple of ways. I mean, one of the issues is like all the Latin American countries they see computers, access to the Internet as a means of social and economic empowerment and so there's a big push there to have not just PC ownership, but also local digital inclusion centers. Places where people that can't afford a PC can still get access. And that's certainly something that they're focused on, but another area that's unique to Colombia is really trying to use the technology as a means of trying to heal the wounds of decades of civil war, you know, it's a real issue particularly rural Colombia. And one of the non-profits that I got a chance to go along with was a group called Vianpas [phonetics], which goes out into those rural communities and tries to give the people living there a viable way of staying in those communities. There's a lot of pressure in Colombia for the people to move to the city or perhaps even join the rebels, the guerillas to provide for themselves and what Vianpas tries to do is create a collective of these rural communities, so that they can pool some of their agricultural exports. So that involves a lot of technology. They also use technology in other interesting ways, you know to say in touch, Vianpas kind of works -- keeps in touch with the government, keeps in touch with the rebels, so they're kind of agnostic in the thing and to make sure that it's actually safe for them to go to the places they want to go.
>> What a fascinating trip. I mean to be there for 2 weeks to capture all these, you must have brought along some of your own pretty fancy technology. Why don't you tell us what you brought?
>> Yeah, I think I had more tech gear than clothes on the trip. Certainly could have used an extra hairbrush. Yeah, there was a lot of interesting technology I used. Things like the Flip camera to record the video that I used in this piece and others, as well as digital recorder, and digital camera, laptop obviously, the really interesting piece of technology I thought was a special lens from 0-360.com, which lets you -- it basically it shoots straight up in the air and hits a mirror then that gives you a 360 degree view.
>> And the result is a Quick Time movie where the user can kind of look in every direction and see a full scene and I really wanted to give people as much as I could a chance to see what I saw.
>> What a great to have in gadget. We look forward to checking out all of your files and videos from the trip. Thanks so much, Ina. Senior writer Ina Fried. I'm Kara Tsuboi, be sure to check out Ina's special report, The Borders of Computing up on CNET News.com.
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