Virtuous cycle

Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

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100$ “laptop”

Nicholas Negroponte is a mastermind behind “100$ laptop” initiative; after Wikipedia:

In November 2005, at the World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis, Negroponte unveiled a $100 laptop computer designed for students in the developing world. The project is part of a broader program by One Laptop Per Child, a non-profit started by Negroponte and other Media Lab faculty, to extend Internet access in developing countries.

The homepage of the “One Laptop per Child” association provides the following illustrative on how the Linux-powered device would look like:

Nicholas Negroponte 100$ laptop OLPC

Reactions of the computer industry players are quite mixed.

While the initiative has support of some heavyweights including AMD, Google and Red Hat, Intel has little good to say about it, judging from this article in Wired:

Potential computer users in the developing world will not want a basic $100 hand-cranked laptop due to be rolled out to millions, according to Craig Barrett, ECO of Intel.

Then:

“It turns out what people are looking for is something is something that has the full functionality of a PC,” he said. “Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown up PC … not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them, not dependent for hand cranks for power.”

Also Microsoft was not delighted:

Major computer industry players appear to be taking the venture seriously, including companies like Microsoft Corp. that aren’t yet participating. Microsoft could be confronting a laptop that could become a standard in the developing world — one that, for now, would come without its dominant Windows software.

It’s understandable why Intel or Microsoft would not fall in love with the idea of rock-bottom cheap computers, flooding the developing countries in millions. The argument of people wanting the real thing instead of cheap alternative, even if they are poor, has something to it.

On the other hand I wouldn’t underestimate what can happen if you give children a toy to play with. I recalled an experiment in India a few years ago:

Dr. Mitra heads research and development at NIIT, a leading computer software and training company in New Delhi. Just outside his office is a wall that separates his air-conditioned 21st-century office from a slum. Mitra decided to place a high-speed computer in the wall, connect it to the Internet, and watch who, if anyone, might use it. To his delight, curious children were immediately attracted to the strange new machine. “When they said, ‘Can we touch it?'” Mitra recalls, “I said, ‘It’s on your side of the wall.’ The rules say whatever is on their side, they can touch, so they touched it.”

Within minutes, children figured out how to point and click. By the end of the day they were browsing. “Given access and opportunity,” observes O’Connor, “the children quickly taught themselves the rudiments of computer literacy.”

Coming back to Mr. Negroponte and his laptop, he is reported to plan producing “five to ten million units beginning in late 2006” and millions more a year later.