Negroponte's $100 Notebook
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BOSTON -- If Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Lab is right, there will be a day soon when one laptop per child will become a reality in the developing world.
Negroponte delivered the kickoff keynote at LinuxWorld here today, explaining how his MIT Media Lab "one laptop per child" project is an education project that will break the modern cycle of notebook excess.
"The $100 laptop is an education project, and the motivation is to eliminate poverty," Negroponte said.
He told the Linux faithful that the modern cycle of notebook development isn't necessarily providing more usefulness to users.
"Andy [Grove, Intel co-founder] makes a faster process, and Bill [Gates, Microsoft chief software architect] uses it more, and what you and I got is effectively nothing more.
"We have gotten to a point where, in my opinion, every single new release is distinctly worse than the previous one," Negroponte continued. "The fat lady can't sing."
The one laptop per child (OLPC) initiative has already garnered $29 million in funding for engineering. It is expected to launch in 2007 and ship between 5 million to 10 million units initially in China, India, Thailand, Egypt, Nigeria, Brazil and Argentina.
The key to building the $100 laptop is scale.
Negroponte recounted how a major screen manufacturer initially rebuffed his attempt to produce a low-cost screen. Negroponte countered by saying, "Too bad cause I need 100 million units a year."
"That's why you need scale. You need to change the strategic plan. Low price does not mean low margin. Volume is your friend."
The OLPC is a humanitarian project and not a laptop sale. Its partners include Google, Red Hat, AMD, Marvell, Nortel, Brightstar and the United Nations.
Changing the economics of notebook production is about changing the cost involved.
Negroponte said that 50 percent of the cost of a notebook is sales, marketing and distribution. OLPC has no such costs. Twenty-five percent is licensing a copy of Microsoft Windows; OLPC will use Linux.
The display is the remaining 25 percent of the cost. OLPC is going to reduce display cost by leveraging backlight. The OLPC will utilize a dual-mode display that is both reflective and transmissive, such that the brighter the sun the brighter the picture.
From a hardware point of view, the $100 laptop will have a 500MHz AMD x86 process and have 128MB of DRAM and 512MB of Flash memory. It will use fewer than 2 watts of power, which is expected to be generated by windup power. A Wi-Fi mesh network will provide connectivity, and there will be three or four USB ports.
The $100 laptop won't start at $100. Initially it will cost $135, though Negroponte expects it will have a declining floating price and will hit the $100 target by 2008 and may drop as low as $50 in 2010.