An MIT plan to develop a $100 laptop computer for developing countries is picking up speed, supporters, and money.
What operating system will it use? Microsoft’s Windows? Apple’s Mac OS X? Or a version of Linux?
The plan for a $100 laptop was announced earlier in 2005 by Nicholas Negroponte, founding chair of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.
The idea is to provide an inexpensive, yet compatible laptop, complete with operating system and basic applications, for $100. A prototype is scheduled to be released this week.
The project is called One Laptop Per Child and is being funded by a number of companies, Google, AMD, Red Hat, News Corp, and others—to the tune of $2-million each.
Negroponte says plans call for production of five to ten million laptops in late 2006 or 2007, with tens of millions more each year thereafter. To date, there are no reports of contracts signed by various developing world countries, who would fund the project’s laptop production.
150-million laptops would cost the developing world approximately $15-billion. The objective would be to provide the inexpensive laptops to every middle school and high school student in selected countries.
Negroponte claims, in published reports, that five companies are bidding for the rights to manufacture the laptop.
Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has said his state should spend up to $54-million to provide one of the laptops for children in his state.
The Media Lab head has been in talks with Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft, and others regarding an operating system for the $100 laptop. One of the requirements is that the laptop must have an ‘open source’ operating system.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple’s Steve Jobs offered to provide free copies of Mac OS X for the $100 laptop.
MIT’s answer? No thanks. The project wants an open source OS, one that can be ‘tinkered with’ as the WSJ report states.
Not only will the $100 laptop not have Mac OS X, it won’t have Windows, and won’t have Intel.
Current plans call for the laptop to have an AMD chip and use a version of Linux provided by Red Hat. Open source software does not have patents, and can be freely distributed.
Plans from the MIT project indicate both wireless and network capabilities, though a power adapter is required, a wind-up power mechanism may be available.
The MIT group has expressed a desire to also sell a commercial version of the laptop for $200 to help fund the educational project and the $100 laptop.
Other requirements for the low-cost, non-Mac OS X laptop, include a word processor, a web browser and email program, and a built-in programming system.
Negroponte is also quoted as saying, “The machine will run anything, including Windows.”
That brings up a few interesting questions. Will Microsoft provide a low-cost, developing world version of Windows? Will Apple’s new version of Mac OS X run on an inexpensive laptop with an AMD chip?
Will Apple provide a low-price version of Mac OS X for such a system? Could both Windows and Mac OS X be bundled with the $100 laptop, ostensibly to let users choose which OS they prefer to run?
It’s hard to argue with the desire and a plan to move real world computing into the hands of tens or hundreds of millions of children in disadvantaged countries. Will it see the light of day? Probably not at $100.
$100? How many developing nations can afford an extra $100 per student for such a venture? What about ongoing costs? Upgrading? Hardware problems? Even $799 cheapo Dell laptops barely last a year or so. How can children in developing countries be expected to take care of what will be a flimsy device?
I like the idea of bundling other operating systems with a $100 laptop. It would be interesting to see which OS, Windows, Linux, or Mac, that users gravitate to.
Carol Mary Miller
It’s a pipe dream. $100 doesn’t get you much these days, even when produced in the tens of millions. Screen. Keyboard. RAM. CPU. Motherboard. Power supply. Hard drive. Those components are already produced in the hundreds of millions and the cost isn’t anywhere close to $100.
Tera Jean Patricks
The world is full of dreamers. That’s what we use to advance the human species (lots of room for debate there). A $100 laptop may end up costing $200 or $300 but certainly becomes more affordable for hundreds of millions of people in less privileged areas of the world.