100 dollar laptop
People like Nicholas Negroponte (former head of the MIT Media Lab) spend a lifetime building a career in innovative IT. Having achieved personal success and some fame they then want to do something for the wretched of the earth.
The One Laptop per Child project is technically brilliant, highly ethical and well intentioned. But won't it be undermined by the very forces that made Nicholas Negroponte a success in the first place?
There has been quite a lot of detail provided about the technical and entrepreneurial aspects of this project but very little about how it will work in the nitty gritty sense of what will actually happen on the ground when the computers are introduced. The main issue has yet to be addressed fully.
Alan Kay did mention the problems of the grey market and some of the social issues in this talk:
One big problem is the grey market. They’ll be diverted from children unless you do something to protect the laptop. A few ideas: an RFID card keyed to the specific owner helps. The device is networked, so the owner of the device has to log in every few days to get a token to keep it working. The color (green) helps. The child’s picture could be embedded in the plastic case....
From an educational standpoint, this project could be a colossal flop if the content isn’t right. What’s the right interface for children in an environment where the adults can’t help much. Can you connect children to pen-pal like mentors over the Internet? The logistics are monumentally hard.
James Robertson in a commentary on Alan Kay's talk pointed out:
I like that he's recognized the problem of the grey market - but I think his proposed solutions will drive up cost without actually accomplishing much. If you are trying to introduce an item of value into an area that, in general, cannot afford the extant commercial products, then a lot of your target audience will try to sell the item. It's really that simple.
Having said all that, I like this summation:The important question surrounding the $100 laptop is “will it be more than a mere technological artifact?” The answer depends on whether the content, and especially the mentoring, can be brought along with it to have real impact.If they pick their target markets correctly, and are able to provide the right content, it could work. On the other hand, if that market exists, I expect that one or more commercial vendors will end up serving it.
Bill Gates is criticising inaccurately (it's not a shared use computer) from the sidelines gearing up to move into the market that will be produced by the MIT philanthropists
"The last thing you want to do for a shared use computer is have it be something without a disk ... and with a tiny little screen," Gates said at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in suburban Washington.
"Hardware is a small part of the cost" of providing computing capabilities, he said, adding that the big costs come from network connectivity, applications and support.
Before his critique, Gates showed off a new "ultra-mobile computer" which runs Microsoft Windows on a seven-inch (17.78-centimeter) touch screen.
Those machines are expected to sell for between $599 and $999, Microsoft said at the product launch last week.
Reality check: The philanthropist Negroponte is paving the way for the bigger philanthropist Gates to make some more money.
HERE IS SOME BACKGROUND INFORMATION FROM THE PROJECT SITE:
Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of One Laptop per Child, answers questions on the initiative
What is the $100 Laptop, really?
The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, with a dual-mode display—both a full-color, transmissive DVD mode, and a second display option that is black and white reflective and sunlight-readable at 3× the resolution. The laptop will have a 500MHz processor and 128MB of DRAM, with 500MB of Flash memory; it will not have a hard disk, but it will have four USB ports. The laptops will have wireless broadband that, among other things, allows them to work as a mesh network; each laptop will be able to talk to its nearest neighbors, creating an ad hoc, local area network. The laptops will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data.
How will these be marketed?
The laptops will be sold to governments and issued to children by schools on a basis of one laptop per child. Initial discussions have been held with China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand. An additional, modest allocation of machines will be used to seed developer communities in a number of other countries. A commercial version of the machine will be explored in parallel.
When do you anticipate these laptops reaching the market? What do you see as the biggest hurdles?
Our preliminary schedule is 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.
The biggest hurdle will be manufacturing 100 million of anything. This is not just a supply-chain problem, but also a design problem. The scale is daunting, but I find myself amazed at what some companies are proposing to us. It feels as though at least half the problems are being solved by mere resolve. http://laptop.org/faq.html