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10/7/2005
04:35 PM
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Special Laptops For A Special Price

Here's an innovative idea: Build a laptop that costs less than $100 so more than 150 million children around the world can use computers to learn.

The sub-$100 laptops will be provided to more than 150 million children worldwide.

The sub-$100 laptops will be provided to more than 150 million children worldwide.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of MIT's Media Lab, heads up the nonprofit group, One Laptop Per Child, with the goal of distributing these specially designed laptops within the next three years. It's a huge endeavor, considering PC makers will manufacture only about 50 million laptops this year. Negroponte says producing 150 million of anything is a significant challenge. Though daunting, he says, the problem is being solved by "mere resolve."

A prototype will debut in November at the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Tunisia. The first 5 million to 15 million laptops could be distributed by early 2007, with another 100 million to 150 million to be handed out a year later.

How can One Laptop Per Child produce such a cheap laptop? Half the cost of a commercial laptop is in sales, marketing, distribution, and profit, items that don't weigh down a laptop designed for a nonprofit program. And commercial laptops require operating systems that can handle byte-intensive applications. The first-generation machine likely will employ a dual-mode LCD display found in inexpensive DVD players but that also can be used in black and white, in bright sunlight, and at four times the normal resolution--all at a cost of less $30.

Despite the low cost, these machines will be robust. Negroponte envisions a Linux-based, full-color, full-screen laptop that will use innovative sources of power--including manual wind-up. The laptops will be Wi-Fi- and cell-phone-enabled, and have at least four USB ports.

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