This product has been discontinued and is no longer supported.


Basic Language Software Appliance (BALSA) is a hardware+software computer solution for use by language workers in remote areas, where power for computer use is a major problem. It provides language development software to assist in translation, literacy and language documentation tasks. It features a simple, easy to use interface.

Balsa is distributed as an image that can be copied to an SD card. The SD card can be inserted into a computer. Balsa sets up the computer to use the SD card as the system device. The user’s data is stored on the host computer.

To upgrade Balsa, turn off the computer and change the SD card for an upgraded version.

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The Balsa system, based on the Ubuntu 12.04 (precise) version of Linux, is available for use as beta software. This page tells you what you need to download and run Balsa and then points to instructions how to do that.

Balsa uses an SD card to run on a computer. The SD card needs to have a Balsa system put onto it before it can be used to run Balsa.

You can produce a Balsa SD card on one computer and run it on a different computer. The computer you produce it on doesn’t have to run Balsa itself.

What You Need to Run Balsa

In order to run Balsa, you will need the following:

  • An SD card or USB device — at least 8 gigabytes. This device will be overwritten.
  • A computer with the following:
    • If Balsa is using an SD card, an SD card reader — also see: A Note About SD Card Readers
    • RAM: 512 Megabytes
    • CPU: 700Mhz or more; compatible with Intel x86
    • Screen Size: 800×480 (Some Balsa programs need 800×600)
    • Host hard drive: At least 2 gigabyte available space
    • Fully updated BIOS: see these notes
    • An existing Linux or Windows OS for installing the Balsa system

To produce the Balsa SD card, the computer that you produce it on will need 9 gigabytes of space while the card is being built.

More details are available at: Balsa Hardware Requirements

A Note About SD Card Readers

On some older laptops, the SD reader can’t handle an 8 gigabyte SD card. Other SD card readers used by some Dell Computers don’t work with the Balsa system. In either of these cases, Balsa can be run on a separate USB SD card reader.

Downloading and Producing a Balsa SD card

Balsa SD cards can be made on either a Windows or Linux machine. Both Windows and Linux use the same downloaded file for the card, and the card that is built will be identical to one on the other system. Choose one of these:

  1. Download and Produce a Balsa SD Card using a Windows Machine
  2. Download and Produce a Balsa SD Card using a Linux Machine

Setting Up a Machine to Run Balsa

If you have a Balsa SD Card and need to set up a machine, choose one of these:

  1. Set Up a Windows Machine for Balsa
  2. Set Up a Linux Machine for Balsa

Running Balsa

Once you have set up your machine, do this to run Balsa: Running Balsa

Removing Balsa

You can remove Balsa by doing one of these:

  1. Removing Balsa from a Windows Machine
  2. Removing Balsa from a Linux Machine

For Other Configurations

There are also Other Advanced Balsa Configurations, although they are not officially supported.

Further Information

There’s a complete list of Balsa documentation.


Some of that documentation is outdated.


We no longer offer support for this product, but you can visit the SIL Language Software Community to contact other users who may be able to help.


If you have any difficulty following these instructions, or have questions that are not covered here, you can contact the team in these ways:

  • Leave a comment.
  • Use our IRC channel.
  • Send a message to balsa-dev at

If you are unable to obtain support through individual software support pages or the SIL Language Software Community, or have a general question about SIL language software, please contact us.