$100 laptop for the poor (and home sweet shipping container)

In today's IT Blogwatch, we look at the $100 laptop for the poor . Not to mention alternate housing made of shipping containers ...

We blogged this subject back in September (actually it was one of the first ones this antipodean writer was involved with). Yesterday the lime green machine -- I think it should be code named "kermit" -- made its debut. Stuart Miles reports: "MIT has unveiled its $100 hand-cranked laptop computer to the United Nations technology summit in Tunisia and said that it hopes to make millions of the devices to give to the poorest people in the world. The lime-green machines, which are about the size of a text book, will offer wireless connectivity via a mesh network of their own creation allowing peer-to-peer communication and operate in areas without a reliable electricity supply. 'The goal is to provide the machines free of charge to children in poor countries who cannot afford computers of their own,' said MIT Media Lab chairman Nicholas Negroponte. ... The computers operate at 500 MHz, about half the processor speed of commercial laptops, and will run on Linux rather than Microsoft’s or Apple’s operating systems as previously hoped by the two companies. The computer uses a screen from a portable DVD player, which can be switched from colour to black and white to make it easily viewable in bright sunlight ... MIT plans to have units ready for shipment by the end of 2006 or early 2007. Manufacturing will begin when 5 to 10 million machines have been ordered and paid for in advance. "  [How charitable is that?  Give us the money up front and then we'll make them.  Perhaps I've been standing on my head too long as that doesn't sound charitable to me.]

» Michael Parekh:  "... I have a suggestion of where MIT, Negroponte, and the UN could get additional funds to pre-pay the order for 10 million machines.  Sell a bunch of them in the industrialized countries at $200 a pop, with the proceeds going towards this worthy cause.  Perhaps offer it in colors other than lime-green.  Even tie it with some celebrity telethons for good measure.  In fact, borrow a page from Apple's book, and do a Bono-themed laptop and sell it for $300.  I know I'd be in line for some."  [Good on you Michael, glad to see someone is thinking outside the square!]

» Loren's Blog:  "I haven't seen anything about whether there will be a digitizer in the display (although this article suggests a digitizer is included and I think previous articles suggested it too), so it may not be a Tablet as in a Tablet PC. But it does have a nice reader-friendly Tablet mode.  One point to keep in mind here is that the $100 price tag is more talk than reality at this point. It's a goal. Current price estimates start at $115. I'm guessing that when the product actually hits manufacturing that the price will be even higher once all the costs come in. In fact, there are plans for making a commercial version that would be priced around $200.  The original intent was to target the laptop to children in emerging countries, however, Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is suggesting that the state purchase 500,000 units for all middle school and high-school students. Other states are supposedly interested too. This could have a huge impact on Tablet adoption in schools -- effectively creating a standard based on the Linux OS's tools in terms of content, ink, and the P2P protocols defined by the $100 laptop. I can see the laptop potentially influencing online content too.

» John Paczkowski:  "Well, it was a nice try, anyway. Apple's play to make OS X the operating system of choice in the developing world by offering it to the One Laptop Per Child project for free fell apart when the initiative's founders balked at the idea of putting a proprietary OS on their low-cost laptop for the masses ... that hasn't kept Microsoft from talking to the folks in charge of the project, after initially snorting at the idea of a $100 laptop. 'Their first reaction was to laugh at the idea, then the next reaction was kind of antagonistic,' Papert [Seymour Papert, at MIT] said. 'Recently, they're very friendly.' "

»  David Kirkpatrick:  "The computer doesn't even exist yet, and it faces huge obstacles. Many veterans of past efforts to empower the world with technology are skeptical, but that doesn't deter Negroponte. He's jetting around the world, lobbying presidents to commit to at least one million laptops. So far, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva has agreed to buy a million, he says, and Chile, Argentina, and Thailand are lining up ... Not surprisingly, the tiny laptop will be a stripped-down affair, usable for basic word-processing, Internet, and e-mail. It has no hard drive, instead using flash memory like that in a digital camera. ... Though spartan, the design is also ingenious: Each laptop will include a Wi-Fi radio transmitter designed to knit machines into a wireless 'mesh' so they can share a Net connection, passing it from one computer to the next. Though the laptop has a power cord, that cool little crank can also provide roughly ten minutes of juice for each minute of turning. ... Negroponte's team is seeking not only a technological breakthrough but also a teaching breakthrough. They believe that illiterate kids can, with a little instruction, learn to use computers on their own and then use the laptops to teach themselves to read. After that comes math, history—you name it. .... The impediments, needless to say, are numerous and daunting. 'Most schools in the developing world don't even have textbooks,' says Allen Hammond of the World Resources Institute. 'How the heck are they going to pay for Internet access?' .... If anyone can pull off such an unlikely challenge, it may be Negroponte, who combines his infectious bluster with a gilded résumé that encompasses the Internet Age. ... Negroponte's laptop-with-crank has sparked such envy that he now plans to partner with a hardware company and market a pricier version to subsidize the nonprofit model. Friends warn him that if he doesn't use Windows, Microsoft might launch a similar PC. That, Negroponte says, would be great. Poor kids might then get laptops even faster. 'What if we fail?' he asks. 'Failure means it's $142.07 and six months late. Failure doesn't mean it doesn't happen or it's a bad idea.' "

» Erick Schonfeld:  "Negroponte is not alone in his quest for cheap computing for the world's poor. Novatium is pursuing a similar goal in India by creating a thin client that plugs into a TV as a monitor."

Buffer overflow:

And finally...  Home Sweet Shipping Container

He's gone walkabout again.. Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at blogwatch@richi.co.uk. Also contributing (mostly) to today's post: Judi Dey, our very own Antipodean.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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