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WA's tech truck bridges digital divide

WA's tech truck bridges digital divide

While government departments in the Eastern states grapple with ways to promote technology adoption among young people, Western Australia's Department of Industry and Resources (DOIR) has stopped talking and taken IT trucking.

Established with a number of sponsors including DOIR, Telstra BigPond, and truck company Scania, the roadshow began visiting regional centres in the state's South late last year as has been a great success according to the department's infrastructure division manager, Kevin Russell.

"It's been a huge success because people in region are crying out for this," Russell told Computerworld. "The acceptance is terrific and absolutely amazing."

The truck has so far made its way through farming centres, mining towns, schools, TAFE colleges, and universities. With most of the South finished, the truck will head North in April and complete its journey around September.

"The technology roadshow is taking technology to the regions of WA to bridge the digital divide [and] there is a huge demand," Russell said. "We're informing people about the use of the Internet and how they can do business, and basically pointing people to better technology. For example, about using a content management system over a standard Web server."

Russell said the feedback from business people has been "excellent"; one person in the process of starting a company discovered about $15,000 in software savings after visiting the roadshow.

The roadshow also aims to heighten awareness of how the Internet can assist with communications for distance-learning, employment, and health. In addition to the demonstrations and advice, the roadshow has given out "thousands" of copies of Ubuntu Linux and TheOpenCD - a collection of popular, open source applications for Microsoft Windows.

"We're not aligning ourselves to any one vendor; we can demonstrate what you can do with open source," Russell said.

Russell said while the TheOpenCD is "really good" it doesn't have some applications which people need, so the team is looking at creating its own distribution of open source software.

"It will be a mixture of business and education applications to cater for the diverse range of people out there," Russell said.

"I was surprised at the number of people in the region already using open source software, [because] the whole roadshow hasn't been an open source promotion. Some really smart kids out there have been using Linux which is really enlightening and it's good to see them getting involved in a global project. They have a great opportunity to be part of a global system in some way."

Other IT initiatives in WA include next month's "Go Girl Go for IT" two-day event for school students in Perth, which the state's Women in IT chapter has organized.

"The number of women in IT is as not as high as we would like so we are introducing IT to schools and expecting 2500 people [at the event]," Russell said.

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