Miscellaneous · Posts From Sao Tome

Administering Computers With Limited or No Internet

Computers remain a valuable tool independent of their use as a portal to the Internet.  But our experiences in São Tomé are demonstrating the challenges of administering computers that have limited or no Internet access (this includes computers on fast last mile connections like ADSL, but with slow Internet to the whole country, as is the case in Sao Tome).

First, Windows is highly susceptible to viruses unless an up-to-date antivirus software is used on the computer.  But we are discovering that even with dialup-speed Internet access, antivirus programs are unable to download the database updates needed to block the newest viruses.  Many of these viruses can spread through USB flash drives, which are prevalent on island.  As a result, even our laptops brought from the United States with the best commercial antivirus software available were becoming unusable because of viruses spread through USB flash drives.  Once infected, removing the viruses required downloads of special software, something difficult given slow Internet to São Tomé as a whole.

Second, while debatably Linux remains safe from viruses, it has become dependent on the Internet for installation.  There was a day when installing programs on Linux was a difficult process requiring specialized knowledge to turn plain text files into executable binary files.  Today, package managers have been critical in streamlining and simplifying installation.  But in researching how to install applications offline, I discovered that interdependencies between programs and the decentralized update process of those programs, necessitates a careful consolidation by the package manager to assure what is being installed integrates properly with what is already installed.  This consolidation depends on access to an Internet-based database and Internet-based installation files.  The recommendation is that installation first occur on an online computer, that the installation files be captured on that computer, and then transferred to offline computers that otherwise have identical software versions.  But what if downloads to the whole nation slow, and the only recourse is to distribute installation disks for single applications?
Access to high speed Internet is no longer just a requirement to access the vast resources of knowledge stored there, but it has also become a cornerstone for simple and effective administration of computers.  But while this may foster inclusion of many more people into a technology-based society, it is also unintentionally excluding others who do not have access to the necessary base network infrastructure needed to properly administer their computers.

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