Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cheap laptops for poor children programme runs into problems

he One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) programme that aims to provide an innovative portable computer to poor children around the world is running into difficulties that have forced major changes to the initiative.

The small computers, which were originally meant to run on an open-source operating system and sell for $100 each, will now also run a version of Microsoft's Windows operating system and cost $175 each, Fortune magazine reported Friday.

The Fortune report quoted project creator Nicholas Negroponte as saying he had still not succeeded in landing the three million orders for OLPC that were needed to get production started, prompting a new strategy to also market the laptops to state governments in the US.

"We need to trigger a supply chain for three million units to get started, and need a few large agreements to kick it off," Negroponte said.

He said the project was now "at the most critical stage of its life", but he remained optimistic about its prospects, adding that new countries, including Peru and Russia, have inquired about taking part. He said he was hopeful that the price would drop to $100 per unit once sufficient volume was reached.

In addition, the rising cost of materials - in particular nickel, was responsible for the increased price of the machine. The rollout had also been pushed back because of changes in the design, which were "not unusual in technology development projects".

The lime-green-and-white devices feature a string pulley to charge its batteries, with a minute of yanking yielding 10 minutes of electricity. The computer relies on flash memory rather than a disk drive, and features a digital video camera, wireless connectivity and Linux open-source operating software tailored for remote regions. The display can switch from colour to black-and-white for viewing in direct sunlight and the computer uses just two watts of power compared to the typical laptop's 30 to 40 watts.

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