05.24.09

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Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher Versus OLPC

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, OLPC, Ubuntu at 12:37 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: A reader’s article about Computer Aid International

SEE this registered charity, they donate ‘free’ computers to the third world. Except they charge a ‘handling’ fee of £42.00 per PC plus shipping charge of £72 per PC. That’s £19,705 for a 40ft container. This is surprising as they get the PCs for free and the refurbishment is done by people on the dole, who are paid £10.00 a day expenses. It doesn’t sound very free to me. According to this, “We charge a handling fee of £42 plus shipping per computer to recover our costs.”

So, on the day, the average worker would refurbish 5 to 10 PCs (yes), so that’s £204 worth of computers at £10 a time for the worker. It’s not as if this money is going on the workers. Most of it is going on the salaries of the 22 staff members, who never put in an appearance in the workshop.

Looking around the site, there are other important details. For example: “Computer Aid International is, however, a Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher, which allows us to install a Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP licensed operating system only at a cost of £10.00 per machine.”

“It shows up the ‘charity’ sector and what are they doing charging for Ubuntu.”Get a load of this, they charge £10 a time for installing Ubuntu GNU/Linux: “We can also provide Ubuntu Linux and Open Office open source software (operating system and applications). If supplied on CD-ROM this is free. To pre-install on hard drives we charge £10.00 per PC. Please ask if you require this service.”

It shows up the ‘charity’ sector, so what are they doing charging for Ubuntu? I have just done some Googling and they do seem to be very lukewarm on anything that isn’t Microsoft. See this report where CAI and ZDnet tested GNU/Linux on low-specifications machines and the ASUS comes out better than the OLPC. In their report [PDF] they say: “it was the slowest of all tested systems, and the operating system didn’t include software for spreadsheet or video playing.” But this is simply not true, as this article points out.

Our reader could recall them criticising the OLPC, as one of their officers said OLPC wasn’t suitable for the third world etc. And indeed, in ZDNet it said: “The One Laptop Per Child, or OLPC, plan is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the IT industry, according to Tony Roberts, chief executive and founder of U.K. charity Computer Aid International.”

“It’s like he got his material directly from Redmond,” says our reader.

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13 Comments

  1. twitter said,

    May 24, 2009 at 1:28 am

    Gravatar

    It is difficult to tell how funny this money is other than their love of M$ Windows and charging for free software. Many of the 22 staff members may be volunteers and the number of cargo containers of toxic waste shipped per year may be low. If so, they would have to charge a lot per PC to pay salaries but that does not excuse them wasting money on Windows. Free software is not only zero cost, it’s much easier to duplicate and more useful where it is going. Let me recount what I know about shipping charges and dip into their site for more numbers.

    Shipping containers should not cost more than $5,000. That’s projected from a $2,000 quote from Hong Kong to US or Europe in the early 90s. I’ve doubled the price for inflation.

    Now how many computers do they ship a year? The 2007/2008 annual report claims 140,000. If they really charge 120 lb per machine they ship, they are taking in close to 32 million US dollars. That’s a lot of computers, warehouse and dole labor.

    Verdict: Total Scam. They take in as much as many small businesses that pay real wages. The big question is where does the money come from and why is it not being put to more productive use? For that kind of money, they could have shipped OLPC, which has power consumption more suited to the destination than Pentium 4 (the most power hungry per performance chip ever)) trash. If they bothered to install free software they would be performing a service worth the money. It’s a well labled form of dumping as it is.

  2. Sara said,

    May 25, 2009 at 2:50 am

    Gravatar

    An ill-informed article.

    “shipping charge of £72 per PC” – Computer Aid passes on the exact shipping cost. PCs air-freighted to Rwanda cost a lot more that ones shipped to Nigeria; if you want just 10 PCs it works out a lot more expensive than a container load. I have no idea where you get the £72 a PC charge from – if you are looking at this page http://www.computeraid.org/costings.htm then you need to know that the prices there are not just the shipping charge but include the handling fee.

    “It’s not as if this money is going on the workers. Most of it is going on the salaries of the 22 staff members, who never put in an appearance in the workshop.”

    Well there is the Production Manager and Workshop manager – they are full time. You cant run a system based on volunteers with someone permanent to organise / train them. And the inventory control person – every donated PC is bar-coded on arrival so it can be tracked throughout the refurbishment / shipping so that donors can get reports on where their PCs have gone to. Those three are in the workshop full time.

    Then there is the shipping clerk – pretty obvious what he does. And the team in charge of getting donations from companies and collecting them. And the marketing and fund raising staff. If no one has heard of Computer Aid it wouldn’t get many donations. A full time finance manager of course. Then there are the people to liaise with the recipients – in French and Spanish as well as English.

    And apart from staff costs, there are the costs associated with running a large warehouse – rent, rates, electricity, fork lift trucks. And the cost of recycling parts of PCs that cannot be used. And buying spare parts – PCs that are donated without monitors, or laptops that are donated without power cables etc

    “charging for Ubuntu” – as you said, Computer Aid will include the software on a disk for free if the recipients want. But if they want it installed, then that takes time – it’s not the cost of the volunteer doing it that matters, it’s the opportunity cost that installing an operating system takes up workbench time which reduces the amount of PCs that can be refurbished.

    OLPC – they are in a different market to Computer Aid. OLPC look to ship large quantities and only to schools. They are not interested in requests for a couple of hundred PCs. Nor is OLPC remotely suitable for many of the other recipients Computer Aid has – special software for blind and partially sighted; tertiary education; flying doctor service; meteorological office; libraries etc etc

    Roy Bixler Reply:

    What I don’t understand is why it’s cheaper to go with Windows as the default. I was under the impression that Microsoft considers that it’s illegal to use Windows on a PC that is passed on by the original purchaser. Even if that’s not true, then I would think that the donor would want to wipe it for privacy reasons and the refurbisher would also want to wipe it simply because it might be compromised or otherwise not in good working order. That would suggest that the refurbisher would need to licence Windows for each PC on which they choose to install Windows. I don’t see how that could be cheaper than installing Ubuntu.

  3. meekers said,

    May 25, 2009 at 9:23 am

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    > I have no idea where you get the £72 a PC charge from -

    a handling fee of £42 plus shipping per computer .. A 40 foot container to South Africa, Cape Town £19,705 or £44 per PC

    http://www.computeraid.org/TechnicalSpecs.htm

    > Well there is the Production Manager and Workshop manager .. And the inventory control person .. Those three are in the workshop full time .. Then there is the shipping clerk .. A full time finance manager ..

    This is curious as there are no shortage of volunteers who could carry out such duties. What do the other 18 full time staff members do?

    > And apart from staff costs, there are the costs associated with running a large warehouse – rent, rates, electricity, fork lift trucks ..

    Is there an itemized report available as to your total running costs, salaries etc.

    > “charging for Ubuntu” .. if they want it installed, then that takes time – it’s not the cost of the volunteer doing it that matters, it’s the opportunity cost that installing an operating system takes up workbench time which reduces the amount of PCs that can be refurbished.

    You could have an unattended installer so as the volunteer be doing other things while it installed. And there is no shortage of volunteers, one of which could be allocated to burn in an image on a stack of hard-drives. Then all they need to do is swap in a Ubuntu HD or Windows.

    > OLPC – they are in a different market to Computer Aid. OLPC look to ship large quantities and only to schools. They are not interested in requests for a couple of hundred PCs. Nor is OLPC remotely suitable for many of the other recipients Computer Aid has – special software for blind and partially sighted; tertiary education; flying doctor service; meteorological office; libraries etc etc

    I would have thought the OLPC would be ideal for your market. A single hi-spec server and five to ten PLPCs would be ideal in a school. And according to your own website you are already working on assistive technology for the visually impaired.

    http://www.computeraid.org/vifoss.htm

    Ubuntu Linux and ORCA for visually challenged
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzLIKxpZV0U

  4. Sara said,

    May 25, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Gravatar

    “A 40 foot container to South Africa, Cape Town £19,705 or £44 per PC”

    I think that figure is slightly out of date, but it includes the handling fee – it is not just the shipping charge.

    “This is curious as there are no shortage of volunteers who could carry out such duties. What do the other 18 full time staff members do?”

    You need full time paid employees to manage and train an ever changing force of volunteers. Similarly finance, fund raising, securing donations of PCs, and the programme officers we have who work out of Nairobi. We have plenty of volunteers and interns in the office, but they need to be managed by paid staff. You cannot run a company with a large turnover solely on volunteers. Our fund raisers for examples are professionals who raise multiples of their own salary each year in donations – if we did not employ them we would have to charge more for our PCs, not less.

    “Is there an itemized report available as to your total running costs, salaries etc”

    A fully audited set of accounts is available on request.

    “You could have an unattended installer so as the volunteer be doing other things while it installed”

    If you had read my reply carefully, you would have seen that I said the volunteer’s time was not important, what mattered was the workbench time that is taken up with OS installations. Installing operating systems decreases the number of PCs we can refurbish, which is why we charge for it.

    I would have thought the OLPC would be ideal for your market. A single hi-spec server and five to ten PLPCs would be ideal in a school.

    a) schools are only a part of our market, OLPC do not deal with the rest
    b) OLPC are not interested in people who only want a few hundred PCs, which is the majority of the schools that we deal with

    They are not in competition with us at all in practice. I am not rubbishing them, they are just irrelevant. To the best our our knowledge, we have not lost a single order to them or vice versa.

    And according to your own website you are already working on assistive technology for the visually impaired.

    indeed. But it is best to start with a screen that is as large as possible ie the opposite of OLPC…

    I don’t know where you are based, but you are welcome to come and visit Computer Aid in north London.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    > A fully audited set of accounts is available on request.

    Can I have a copy, please?

    twitter Reply:

    Workbench time? This makes no sense because it is faster to duplicate free software than it is to duplicate Windows. Because it’s software that actually makes the hardware useful, I would think this is something you’d have a grip on. Your site claims you work with trainers to make sure the hardware is well used where it lands. Donors should hope that information about what’s useful travels in the opposite direction. Me thinks there has been a change in management at Computer Aide since 2004 when the place was shipping Ubuntu and praising it as better for the developing world than expensive, non free software. I’d hate to think it’s been turned into a sham that promotes software that proved inadequate for it’s previous owners.

    I won’t hold my breath for the promissed set of accounts. Anyone who could read and agree with G.Michaels libel is not to be trusted. The lengths people go to for M$ is truly sad. Here we have another case of impersonation or, worse, the elimination of free software advocates at a charity. Either way, you won’t be seeing a set of accurate or useful books. How low can M$ go with charity? As low as they come. M$ really is on it’s last legs to do this kind of thing.

    The saying remains accurate, “Free software will make trash run like a new computer. Windows turns new computers into trash.” No green outfit would promote Windows.

  5. Sara said,

    May 25, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Gravatar

    Sure . Just contact CAI and ask for one.

  6. G. Michaels said,

    May 25, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Gravatar

    @Sara:

    Sorry, but you’re wasting your time. You see, you’ve become the target of a group of people who represent the worst of the free software and open source communities. They’ve already decided that your “petty” excuses related to paying salaries and the electric bill are nothing but lies, and that you are in league with a corporation they pathologically hate. No amount of logic or reasoning will change that.

    As for this “twitter” character (actually one William H. Hill of Baton Rouge, Louisiana) that called your charity a “total scam”, if you’re bored I suggest some light reading to see what kind of people you’re dealing with.

    While I am not even close to being what’s called a “FOSS advocate” or activist of any kind, I hope you don’t fall into the trap of believing Schestowitz and his cadre are representative of the various communities that promote the use of Linux and other free software. There are many people out there who do that without laboring to fill daily post quotas, engaging in leaps of twisted logic to fabricate guilt by association or simply misrepresenting facts to fit their kafkian reality. Those people are worth listening to – these are usually not.

    Finally, although this server is hosted in the US, Roy Schestowitz is a resident of the UK (although he is a German national, I believe), so there might be a slander law in the UK or the EU itself that you could turn to if this proves to reflect negatively (and obviously unfairly) on your organization (there are perhaps a half dozen people associated with this operation that unfortunately use the power of social media to actively spread these extremist views, so this might not be the end of it). A talk with your legal counsel might be a good idea if that’s the case. I obviously don’t know where he lives, but I believe the University of Manchester staff or undergraduate student offices might be a good place to start, as well as the domain registration information for schestowitz.com

    Good luck, and sorry you had to be added to the long list of people, companies and groups who have been dragged through the muck by this kid in his quest for “freedom”.

  7. Sara said,

    May 26, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Gravatar

    hey thanks, G.Michael. Always interesting to have some background :)

    The silly thing is that Computer Aid has always been very much in favour of linux. Just a couple of examples:
    http://www.apdip.net/news/ubuntu
    http://www.computing.co.uk/computing/features/2072448/old-pcs-lease-life-developing-world

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Thanks.

    Be aware that “G. Michaels” is an ad hominem troll on this Web site.

    G. Michaels Reply:

    You can call me whatever you want, as long as you actually publish the audit I’m sure you obtained from them, which I’m sure shows the evilness you have so heroically detected here.

    Nothing much to it of course – your “readers” (all jokes about credibility aside) pulled container shipping costs out of their proverbial crevices, you pulled the daily operational output of an organization you know nothing about out of yours, and the rest is blogosphere history, as they say.

    The next step is to report them to whatever passes for the IRS in Britain, as they are clearly not a charity, but something else. Something much more eeevil (funnier if you say it the same way Mermaid Man does). FOSS advocates everywhere are counting on you to do The Right Thing (TM) and take this thing to its logical conclusion. I know I am. These kinds of sneaky underhanded goings on simply cannot be tolerated.

  8. Doug said,

    May 26, 2009 at 6:28 am

    Gravatar

    > hey thanks, G.Michael. Always interesting to have some background :)

    You don’t really want this deranged psychopath as an ally, been stalking the Intertubes for the best part of a decade .. :)

    What specifically that was said here that you would deem requires legal counsel?

    > The silly thing is that Computer Aid has always been very much in favour of linux. Just a couple of examples:

    How many Ubuntu Desktops have you shipped since 2004?

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