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India Unveils $20 Laptop

Makers of the Sakshat laptop aim to make it commercially available in six months -- and promise to drop the price to $10.

India's $20 laptop computer was formally unveiled Tuesday, and while there are questions whether the device can be made and sold at that price point, officials responsible for the "Sakshat" laptop are promising it will be available for $10 six months after it goes into mass production.

The Sakshat model scheduled for display in the city of Tirupati Tuesday has 2 GB of memory, which is expandable. It has Wi-Fi and fixed Ethernet capability and will consume just 2 watts of power. The laptop was created over several months in a cooperative effort involving government, academic, and commercial interests.

"A lot of testing has to be done to ensure that the technology works properly," said R.P. Agrawal, according to Indian media sources. "Once the testing is over, the computers will be made available on commercial basis. The target is to make it available in six months' time." Agrawal, who has spearheaded the Sakshat project, is India's Higher Education Secretary.

The Sakshat is thought to use a simple version of Linux open source software as an operating system. Skeptics in India who question whether the laptop can actually be produced and sold for such a low price have noted that the Sakshat announcement precedes important elections in India.

The low-cost laptop standard is represented by the One Laptop Per Child Foundation's XO model, which is produced for $188. The OLPC Foundation pioneered the cause of bringing affordable computing to poor children around the world, and recently announced a shift in its focus. Its founder, Nicholas Negroponte, talked last spring of developing a slimmed-down $75 model of its XO model to be called the XO 2.0.

There have been conflicting reports about subsidies for the Sakshat. India's education ministry has been deeply involved in developing the laptop and a curriculum for it. Indian media sources have reported that Macmillan, Tata McGraw-Hill, Prentice-Hall and Vikas Publishing have been working with the ministry to provide content and digital textbooks for the Sakshat. Some of the content will be available for free. According to the Times of India, government agencies would provide funding to develop infrastructure and connections for Sakshat users.

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