Balsa: Basic Language Software Appliance

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Balsa's main website is here: Balsa.

On this wiki:

Balsa in one sentence

Balsa is a hardware+software computer solution for use by language workers in remote areas, where infrastructure for computer use is a major problem.

Balsa Goals

Balsa's goal is to simplify three aspects of the language computing experience:

  1. Computer administration and IT support (installation, maintenance, repair, backup)
  2. Application complexity (it is designed for practical language program tasks such as dictionary-building, Bible translation, future--formatting of books, rather than for complex linguistic analysis**)
  3. Low cost: Affordable to a larger group of people
**although Fieldworks for Linux should run well if installed on a Balsa system, providing the SD card has room for the installation.

How it works

Balsa is a complete Ubuntu distribution customized with applications for language work. One can install new programs, retrieve system and program updates automatically (or not, if no internet is available). A regional working group may specify what software, languages, fonts, etc, users require; then a local or off-site IT person can produce a localized Balsa card image for copying to distribute within that group (see Balsa Prototype).

Balsa offers a preconfigured "locked down" User account for beginning computer users but elements can be unlocked to make it more like a "normal" Ubuntu experience. Balsa is not just a "beginner's system." It works with any Linux-friendly processor and ram, and it can handle large amounts of data.

Balsa user profile

An "ideal" Balsa user is a language worker who has a computer of his own located in a remote area, far from technical assistance. A BalsaRoot SD card is installed (one-time procedure) and remains permanently plugged into the computer.

Portable Computer on a Stick?

Balsa is not designed to serve as a "Computer on a stick" for users who need to borrow different computers here and there-- especially public computers in libraries or internet cafes. Data should not be copied onto those computers' hard drives. A different type of LiveUSB system, with backup capabilities, would be needed. (add link for something that might work here)

Automatic safety net for data backups

The difference between Balsa and "normal" operating systems is in the specialized safety net that saves user data and settings both onto the SD card itself and onto the computer's internal drive. This means that (1) if a computer fails the user can obtain another computer, plug in his Balsa card and keep working where he left off: The card will re-sync to the new hard drive. Or (2) if the SD card fails... either electronically or due to some software corruption... the user can obtain a fresh Balsa card, plug it in and keep working: The card will retrieve user data from the computer's hard drive.

Users should be taught to make backups onto removable media as well, and where available to use the synchronised repository features built into several of the pre-installed applications. The more copies, the better!

Easy to support

Thus a regional group of language projects, or a cluster project, can support multiple Balsa users with little or no on-site IT specialist help. Someone in the region just needs to be able to copy and distribute SD cards, and to help in obtaining replacement computers as they fail. "Dead" computers can be sent off-site for repair; if possible an extra loaner computer might be available in the region.

The current Balsa version which is coming out of "testing" is based on Jaunty. It is the final Balsa version which will be XO-1.0 compatible. A Lucid Balsa is being developed as of September 2010.

How to use Balsa


Install and use Balsa

Balsa Strategy Outline


A strategy for implementing Balsa answers these questions:

  1. Who are we? (The purpose and values of all stakeholders)
  2. Where do we want to go and why? (impact statement)
  3. How do we get there?
  4. How do we know when we get there?


Components of a strategy statement

  1. Executive summary (brief problem statement, benefits, support for bigger picture, key elements of plan, alternatives, costs, action hoped for)
  2. Current situation (Strengths, weaknesses, challenges, opportunities, stories)
  3. Target End-State (Outputs, outcomes, impact in time frames or phases, success factors)
  4. Requirements (resources, standards, commitments, pitfalls to overcome, coordination)
  5. Implementation Program (Activities, phasing, budgets, marketing, monitoring, closing)