The low-cost, Linux-based handheld Simputer (Simple Inexpensive Multi-lingual Computer), has finally gone on sale in India, Bharat Electronics and PicoPeta Simputers said last week.

The two companies agreed 18 months ago to jointly develop the Simputer under the brand name Amida Simputer. The device aims to make computing technology and Internet access available to Indians on lower incomes. One version of the product will be available for under 10,000 rupees (£120), the companies said.

The Simputer is one of several recent efforts to take advantage of open-source software to build high-quality, low-cost IT equipment that is free of expensive proprietary technology. In theory, the Linux operating system - which is not controlled by a single company and is based on industry-standard file formats and protocols - could allow PC software to be commodified in the same way hardware has been. The recent introduction of cheap Linux PCs in Asia has led Microsoft to produce a scaled-down version of Windows for the region.

With the Simputer, users can write or doodle on the screen in any language and then e-mail the handwritten or drawn message. To connect to the Internet, they need either an external landline modem or a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) mobile phone from Indian telecommunications company Reliance Infocomm, and must use one of two USB ports provided in the device, Bharat and PicoPeta said. The Web browser allows access to any Web site, they said.

Indian language keyboards are also included, in Hindi and Kannada, with more languages under development.

A motion sensor allows users to turn the pages of an e-book, zoom in on a picture or shift the display between portrait and landscape modes through simple movements, the companies said.

The Amida Simputer, which looks similar to a PDA (personal digital assistant), comes in three models. The cheapest, the Amida 1200, has 32MB of RAM, a 206MHz processor, a limited amount of bundled software and a touch-sensitive 240 pixel by 320 pixel grayscale screen. It costs 9,950 rupees, plus tax and shipping, or $240 (£130) plus shipping to buyers outside India.

The Amida 1600 and 4200 both have 64MB of RAM, the same 206MHz processor, plus an infrared port and built in microphone and speakers. The Amida 1600, at 12,450 rupees, has a grayscale screen and the same chocolate brown shell as the basic model, while the Amida 4200, at 19,950 rupees has a black shell and a color screen.