Monday, May 01, 2006

Cheap-laptop proponent pushes for launch in 2007

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who hopes to give $100 laptops to the world's children dismissed criticisms and said the project could begin Tuesday distributing the computers by early next year.

Nicholas Negroponte, kicking off the LinuxWorld conference in Boston, said he was undeterred by skepticism from two leading forces in computing, Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

"When you have both Intel and Microsoft on your case, you know you're doing something right," Negroponte said, prompting applause from the audience of open-source software devotees.

Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop Per Child nonprofit group, also disclosed a few tweaks to the design of the computers.

One distinctive element of the original design was for a hand crank to provide power to the laptops where there is no electricity. To compensate, the devices are being engineered to use 2 watts of electricity, less than one-tenth of what conventional portable computers typically consume.

Having a hand crank stuck to the device probably would have subjected the machine to too many wrenching forces, so it will now be connected to an electrical adapter. Because the adapter can rest on the ground, the power generator might take the form of a foot pedal rather than a crank.

Negroponte previously had said the devices would have a 7-inch screen. It will save on costs by using the Linux operating system, peer-to-peer wireless connectivity and a 500-megahertz processor, which was top of the line in the late 1990s.

One Laptop Per Child has big-name partners, including search leader Google Inc., chip-maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Linux distributor Red Hat Inc., laptop maker Quanta Computer Inc. and News Corp., the media company led by Rupert Murdoch. All have helped finance the project, which Negroponte said has raised $29 million.

However, skeptics have questioned whether the device can meet Negroponte's goal of inspiring huge educational gains in the developing world.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has criticized the computers' design, although many people in the tech world believe he was more irked by the laptops' use of Linux, the free, open-source system that competes with Gates' proprietary Windows systems.

Intel executives, meanwhile, have suggested that Negroponte's laptop is a mere gadget that will lack too many PC functions. Last week, Intel announced its own plans to sell an inexpensive desktop PC in developing countries.


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