Negroponte Hits Back at Gates, Other $100 Laptop Critics
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who hopes to distribute
$100 laptops to the world's children dismissed recent criticisms Tuesday and
said his project could begin distributing the computers by early next year.
Kicking off the LinuxWorld conference in Boston, Nicholas Negroponte said he
was undeterred by skepticism from two of the 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 several hundred open-source software devotees.
Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop Per Child nonprofit association, also
revealed a few new 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, which are being engineered to use just 2 watts of electricity,
less than one-tenth of what conventional portable computers generally consume.
But having a hand crank stuck to the device likely would have subjected the
machine to too many wrenching forces, so it will now be connected to the AC
In fact, because the adapter can rest on the ground, the power generator might
take the form of a foot pedal rather than a hand crank altogether.
Negroponte had previously said the flexible devices will have a 7-inch screen
that can be read in sunlight. 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
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, including
its lack of a hard disk drive -- though many people in the tech world believed
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 for beginners in developing countries.
Negroponte expressed frustration with Gates in particular, saying that the
$100 laptop designers are still working with Microsoft to develop a version
of the Windows CE operating system that could run the machines.
"Geez, so why criticize me in public?" Negroponte said.
Microsoft did not immediately return calls for comment.
Negroponte's current plan is to begin distributing 5 million to 10 million
of the laptops in China, India, Egypt, Brazil, Thailand, Nigeria and Argentina
by early 2007.
Governments or donors will buy the laptops for children to own and use in and
out of school, and the United Nations will help distribute the machines.
Eventually, Negroponte expects many other governments -- and not just those
in technology-deprived places -- to come onboard. For example, Massachusetts
Gov. Mitt Romney has expressed interest in buying the machines for schoolchildren
In time, Negroponte expects the $100 laptop to be a misnomer. For one thing,
he believes the cost -- which is actually about $135 now and isn't expected
to hit $100 until 2008 -- can drop to $50 by 2010 as more and more are produced.
He also said the display and other specifications could change as enhancements
are made. In other words, he seemed to be saying to his critics: Don't get too
hung up on how this thing operates now.
"The hundred-dollar laptop is an education project," he said. "It's
not a laptop project."