[Kictanet] $100 Laptop moves closer to reality

Brian Longwe brian at pure-id.com
Wed Sep 28 22:15:52 EAT 2005

The $100 laptop moves closer to reality
Published: September 28, 2005, 8:55 AM PDT
By Mike Ricciuti
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--A low-cost computer for the masses moved one step  
closer to reality on Wednesday.

Nicholas Negroponte, the co-founder of the Media Lab at the  
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, detailed specifications for a  
$100 windup-powered laptop targeted at children in developing nations.

Negroponte, who laid out his original proposal at the World Economic  
Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, said MIT and his nonprofit  
group, called One Laptop Per Child, is in discussions with five  
countries--Brazil, China, Thailand, Egypt and South Africa--to  
distribute up to 15 million test systems to children.

In addition, Massachusetts is working with MIT on a plan to  
distribute the laptops to schoolchildren, Negroponte said.

"This is the most important thing I have ever done in my life,"  
Negroponte said on Wednesday during a presentation at Technology  
Review's Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT. "Reception has been  
incredible. The idea is simple. It's an education project, not a  
laptop project. If we can make education better--particularly primary  
and secondary schools--it will be a better world."

He said a goal of the project is to make the low-cost PC idea a  
grassroots movement that will spread in popularity, like the Linux  
operating system or the Wikipedia free online encyclopedia. "This is  
open-source education. It's a big issue."

Negroponte said the idea is that governments will pay roughly $100  
for the laptops and will distribute them for free to students.

The proposed design of the machines calls for a 500MHz processor, 1GB  
of memory and an innovative dual-mode display that can be used in  
full-color mode, or in a black-and-white sunlight-readable mode. The  
display makes the laptop "both an electronic book and a laptop," he  

One display design being considered is a flat, flexible printed  
display developed at MIT's Media Lab. Negroponte said the technology  
can be used to produce displays that cost roughly 10 cents per square  
inch. "The target is $12 for a 12-inch display with near-zero power  
consumption," he said.

Power for the new systems will be provided through either  
conventional electric current, batteries or by a windup crank  
attached to the side of the notebooks, since many countries targeted  
by the plan do not have power in remote areas, Negroponte said.

The machines, which will run a version of the Linux operating system,  
will also include other applications, some developed by MIT  
researchers, as well as country-specific software. "Software has  
gotten too fat and unreliable, so we started with Linux," he said.

For connectivity, the systems will be Wi-Fi- and cell phone-enabled,  
and will include four USB ports, along with built-in "mesh  
networking," a peer-to-peer concept that allows machines to share a  
single Internet connection.

"In emerging nations, the issue is not connectivity," Negroponte  
said. "That was the issue, but there are many people working on it,  
(thanks to) global competitiveness. But for education, the roadblock  
is the laptop."

Five companies are working with MIT to develop an initial 5 million  
to 15 million test units within the year: Google, Advanced Micro  
Devices, News Corp., Red Hat and BrightStar, Negroponte said. He said  
the current plan is to produce 100 million to 150 million units by 2007.

Negroponte admits that his goals are ambitious. Currently, the world  
production of laptops is just under 50 million, he said.

While the initial goal of the project is to work with governments,  
Negroponte said MIT is considering licensing the design or giving it  
to a third-party company to build commercial versions of the PC.  
"Those might be available for $200, and $20 or $30 will come back to  
us to make the kids' laptops. We're still working on that," he said.

Others have launched low-cost PC ideas in the past, though MIT's  
project may be the most ambitious.

Last year, Advanced Micro Devices announced plans for its Personal  
Internet Connector--a prototype with a price tag of at least $185,  
with no display. And an Indian company called Novatium said it plans  
to offer a stripped-down home computer for about $70 or $75.

In addition, Microsoft's antipiracy-minded Steve Ballmer last year  
called for a move toward the $100 PC for developing nations.
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