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A group from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) believes affordable personal computers will help developing world to become better in overall as a result of tangible improvement in the level of education. It is said that a laptop that costs just about $100 will be a way to prosperity for countries like Cambodia, it is not said, however, whether such regions would like to afford such computers for its residents.

The $100 laptop will be a Linux-based, full-color, full-screen laptop, which initially is achieved either by rear projecting the image on a flat screen or by using the so-called electronic ink. In addition, it will be rugged, use innovative power (including wind-up), be WiFi- and cell phone-enabled, and have USB ports galore, the group said. Its current specifications are: a central processing unit clocked at 500MHz, 1GB of storage space, 1MP screen. The cost of materials for each laptop is estimated to be approximately $90, which includes the display, as well as the processor and memory, and allows for $10 for contingency or profit. When these machines pop out of the box, they will make a mesh network of their own, peer-to-peer.

MIT wants to distribute the machines through those ministries of education willing to adopt a policy of “one laptop per child.” Initial discussions have been held with China, where there are approximately 220 million students (for which an order would drive prices way down). In addition, smaller countries will be selected for beta testing. Initial orders will be limited to a minimum of one million units (with appropriate financing).

The MIT Media Lab, which launched the program in January, 2005 claims that mobile computers are more feasible for developing countries than desktops, as they can be used both at school and at home and also can work on a battery, which is extremely important for villages that may lack electricity.

Organizationally, MIT will host a consortium of a small number of companies of complementary skills to develop a fully working and manufactured laptop (50 000 to 100 000 units) in fewer than 12 months, with an eye on building about 100 million to 200 million units by the following year. Three initial companies who have committed to this project are Google, AMD, and News Corp., and the Lab is in discussion with several others. MIT also expects to work with not-for-profit partners, including the 2B1 Foundation.

The preliminary schedule is to have $100 laptop units ready for shipment by the end of 2006 or early 2007.

It is unclear, however, whether, for instance, Cambodia, where MIT explored the demand for ultra-cheap laptops and whose budget is roughly $0.5 billion, would like a million of its children to have laptops, rather than to invest in more traditional educational programs.

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