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Negroponte Responds to $100 Laptop Criticisms 586

Posted by samzenpus
from the cheap-machines dept.
teefaf writes "Wired News is running an article on the most recent developments surrounding Nicholas Negroponte's (of MIT) $100 laptop project. The project aims to make 'cheap' computers available to children in developing countries. In the article, Negroponte responds to the inevitable criticism from Intel and Microsoft, "When you have both Intel and Microsoft on your case, you know you're doing something right", and elaborates on his vision for the future of the project, "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.'". The article also states that the initial production cost of the laptops is expected to be $135; the $100 price-point probably won't be hit until 2008. It's possible that the cost could drop as low as $50 by 2010."
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Negroponte Responds to $100 Laptop Criticisms

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  • by Baseball_Fan (959550) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @09:50PM (#15063017)
    The project aims to make 'cheap' computers available to children in developing countries. In the article, Negroponte responds to the inevitable criticism from Intel and Microsoft, "When you have both Intel and Microsoft on your case, you know you're doing something right",

    They are making a laptop that will cost $100, and perhaps $50 by 2010. Who cares about the specs, it will not be a buisness machine.

    Even if they stuffed a PII 400 mhz and had a 12" screen, it would be very usefull. People could write reports, surf the web, and compile programs. When I was in school, I compiled Java programs on a PII266 without any problems. Sure, I could not run a fancy IDE, but it was good enough to get the job done.

    I think a $100 laptop is important. The poor get screwed, and go without. Many poor families will be able to afford a $100 laptop. Also, if I was a charity with $5000 to give away, I would much rather give away 50 basic laptops than 5 thousand dollar laptops.

  • by bmo (77928) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @09:58PM (#15063053)
    What about shipping your old stuff overseas?

    http://www.worldcomputerexchange.org/offices/bosto n_contacts.htm [worldcompu...change.org]

    There are plenty of takers for your old equipment. Why fill up a dump?

    --
    BMO
  • by ezavada (91752) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @10:01PM (#15063078)
    I find it particularly amusing that Bill Gates is one of Negroponte's critics. Of the two, Negroponte is much more of a visionary. This is really obvious if you compare Gates' book Road to the Future with Negroponte's Being Digital. Negroponte identifies things that make you smack your forehead and say "oh, wow! Of course!" (Not that I had a sore spot on my forehead after reading it or anything like that). Gates talks about minor evolutions of things that most people in the industry wouldn't find terribly surprising or imaginative.
  • by MarkChovain (952233) <mark.chovain@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @10:01PM (#15063079) Homepage Journal
    You should realize that this Nick Negroponte is the SAME GUY that whored himself to Swatch to promote their ridiculous "Internet Time" initiative.
  • by Arthur B. (806360) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @10:17PM (#15063151)
    Are you kidding me... I have an expensive high-end laptop, yet I would definitely buy a crank for it if it were available. Ok I am a nanoscopic niche market. But still... Other than the cool factor (I am a geek, yes I DO find it cool) there were so many times where I was left battery-less, I would really buy a crank. My only concern is the size of the thing. If they could make it light (carbon fiber) and foldable to the size of a laptop battery, I'd be the first customer.
  • Re:Publicity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by humphrm (18130) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @10:36PM (#15063269) Homepage
    Actually, it was Bill Gates who raised the publicity flag first, by mocking the project. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060316/tc_nm/microsof t_gates_dc [yahoo.com]. But if you're talking about MIT announcing the project, and daring to keep working on the project after Bill Gates mocked it, and responding to his criticism, I guess those soulless bastards are guilty. Frankly, I think Gates feels threatened in two ways: someone is out-tech'ing him, and someone is out-charitying him. Poor guy. He must feel like such an insensitive clod. Too bad he's clueless, this isn't about someone paying $100 bucks for a PC, a poor African child can no more afford that than a $3000 PC. It's about making a PC cheap enough that an NGO can afford to give them away. And that's a far cry from anything even the holy Bill and Melinda Foundation are trying to accomplish.
  • by The Warlock (701535) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @10:39PM (#15063281)
    Not really. What if, when the price of the hardware went down, Apple decided that the free ride was over? What if Apple stripped it down to a crippled edition, like Windows XP Starter (or whatever Microsoft's braindead scheme to compete with rampant piracy in second-world nations is called this week)? What if Apple didn't feel like rooting out hardware bugs, and nobody else can because they own the source?

    Or, most likely, what if Apple refused to allow the device to be sold in the US? That would be an excellent way to raise money for the project, of course: sell the laptop for $250-$299 over here, and bang, every sale over here is one more laptop you can give to the poorer countries.

    No, it's much better to deal with software that you control on a device such as this.
  • by macshit (157376) <(miles) (at) (gnu.org)> on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @10:44PM (#15063300) Homepage
    Gates talks about minor evolutions of things that most people in the industry wouldn't find terribly surprising or imaginative.

    That's what I'm always hearing about Gates' books. I assume the reason B.G. "wrote" books (I don't know the degree to which he actually wrote them) was not because he really wanted to, but because people were always saying to him "Bill, you're the richest man in the world, why aren't you writing a book to share your secrets?!?!"; at some point if you become famous enough, people expect you write a book...

    B.G.'s response was probably "Er, ok, I guess (sigh)...." (starts looking up ghostwriters in his address list).
  • Of the two, Negroponte is much more of a visionary.

    Before making that judgment, take a look at the web site for the Bill Gates Foundation. It's impressive. Based on what I read, Bill was determined that his foundation was really going to make a difference, rather than just throwing money at problems so that everyone "feels good" (as so many foundations do, and never actually solve anything).

    Say what you want about Bill (and his book wasn't that great), but you can't accuse him of lacking vision to doing world-changing things.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @11:39PM (#15063564)
  • Re:god (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Isotopian (942850) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @11:40PM (#15063568)
    Has anyone else noticed the correlation between how Catholic Africa is getting, and how much AIDS Africa is getting? Now, I'm no Jack Thompson, and in no way am I saying that correlation == causation. However, the Catholic's prerogative of teaching abstinence as the only safe sex, and demonification of any form of protection is not only making preventing AIDS difficult, but now blasphemous and immoral among the increasingly growing religious population. My $.02
  • by theLOUDroom (556455) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @12:47AM (#15063834)
    The action in third world countries seems to be in adding features to cell phones, not trimming down PCs. A cell phone is inherently useful; you can make calls. Adding on extra features doesn't run the manufacturing cost up all that much. The niche Negroponte sees will probably be filled by some cell phone based product that looks like a Blackberry or a Game Boy or a Palm Pilot.

    As someone who has owned a:
    • Palm Treo 650
    • Sharp Zaurus
    • Psion Revo
    • Apple Newton
    • +others


    I can confidently say that a PDA simply does not work for the same things as a laptop.

    The user interface is just SOOO much more efficient on a laptop. It's the compination of a bigger screen, a human-sized keyboard, and less comprimses to make it tiny. Let's put it this way, you can sit down in front of a laptop and do work for eight hours. You simply can't get close to the same amount of work done with something like a Treo, Zaurus, etc. It's not that you can't run the software, it's the amount of panning (constant), the awkward keyboard, the tiny touch-screen, the crappy or non-existent speakers, lack of interface for a printer.....
    Put it this way, how many times would you have had to scroll down to get to this comment?

    The tiny size of cellphones and PDAs does not come free.
  • Re:Why (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kadin2048 (468275) <<slashdot.kadin> <at> <xoxy.net>> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @12:57AM (#15063886) Homepage Journal
    It won't need troubleshooting, it will run Linux.

    You had me, right up to there.

    The only computer I've ever been near that "didn't require troubleshooting" was an Apple IIc. And even there I'm not sure that it's a true statement -- it's just that the troubleshooting was so simple, the group of 1st graders that I saw using it could do it themselves.

    Put disk into drive. Turn on computer. Computer runs program. When done with program, turn computer off. Remove disk. Repeat.

    Now that's the kind of computer they should be laboring to build. Maybe make it run on little optical cartridges or something instead of 5-1/4" floppies, but the same idea. Put the disk in, turn it on, it runs. Anything else is needlessly complex and will require support infrastructure.

    Now maybe, like the old Apple II, you could have it do something special, an "advanced mode," if you will, when you turn it on without something in the drive. The old Apples booted to a text prompt where you could program in BASIC. Probably only 1 in 1,000 users will ever see it, and only 1 in 1,000 of them will ever bother to try to go further and figure out what it means and what they can do from there. But maybe you'll teach that 1 in 1,000,000 kid something, and he'll turn out to be the next Linux Torvalds. I can accept that.

    However, if the machine is anything approaching the complexity of today's PCs, which most literate, educated people can hardly understand, much less troubleshoot and support, I think you're setting the whole thing up for failure. IMO, any device you're tossing out there like this ought to be like a Gameboy: just enough onboard, hardcoded intelligence to make the thing turn on and load code from external modules. That way no matter how bad you hose the software, you can't "break it." Plus it makes them a lot easier to share: one person can pull out the cartridge/disk for whatever they've been working on, and another person can plug theirs in and it's like they're on a different system.
  • Re:Gates not all bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kakos (610660) * on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @01:02AM (#15063901)
    Knowledge is far more important than security, clean water, or medicine. Knowledge is, ultimately, more important than life itself. "Who knows only their own generation remains forever a child." We can keep sending food, medicine, etc. to the developing countries of the world, but until they have a glimpse of what possibilities lie outside of their world and what wonders they can strive for, they will never truly be alive. It is knowledge that helps a people grow and ultimately better themselves. Yes, both are important and both types of aid should be provided, but the potential for this $100 is far more important than any crate of food Bill Gates can drop.
  • by AiZ (595385) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @01:45AM (#15064059)
    Sure, but do you think our govs should spend that money on that when you happen to go to a public hospital and you have no bandages? Let them spend U$S 100 on that kind of things, then we will talk about getting computers. Take a look at Maslow's theory of Hierarchy Of Human Necessity and you will find out that before computers, human beings need food, clothing, shelter and health. Education comes after that... and education with laptops comes waaaaay after that. If you were living in third world countries you would see that we got credits from IMF, from several other funds, from the World Bank... and that does not reach "WE THE PEOPLE". This laptops idea is the same thing. And who will pay for that? WE THE PEOPLE. If you lived in a 3rd world country then you will know what half a million dollars mean here. It means A LOT OF MONEY for us, much more than for you. (500k is the minimum amount a govermnet need to "invest" in this project). So please dont sell this idea to our govs. It really sucks to be down here stuck in the 3rd world, paying 21% of sale taxes (instead of 6 or 8 percent as you guys do in the USA) and not having covered even first needs for our population. Regards, AiZ
  • Re:god (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @02:34AM (#15064184)
    When his foundation gave money to African countries to buy AIDS drugs they were had to agree not to buy ANY drugs from countries that circumvent patents to produce generics. Even though the cost of these generics is like 1/4 the cost of the same drugs from big pharma. Bill Gates owns a lot of stock in pharmaceuticals and has a lot of "friends" among those who run them.

    He might care, but he doesn't care anywhere near what the amount of money would imply. Not to mention that 28b$ out of what he has still leaves him with more than any person could possibly spend outside of trying to recreate the pyramids of Egypt at 100x actual size using union labour.
  • by Arketype (958431) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @03:06AM (#15064268)
    NOOOOO!!! Have you ever wanted to go camping for a month and program at the same time? The crank is THE thing which does it for me. I have a portable solar panel, and a dynamo generator on my bike. If I were to combine the three power sources, and use the book for text editing, only occasionally compiling, I have calculated that I could get about 5.5 hours of laptop usage per travelling day for free, with no additional power source! Once I get my hands on one of these, I will live like a wild animal in the woods all summer long, biking from hippy festival to hippy festival. When the season ends, I will come back to society having produced valuable code. PLEASE SOMEONE PRODUCE A DISKLESS LAPTOP WITH A FULL SIZE KEYBOARD AND 20+ HOURS OF BATTERY LIFE AND I WILL PAY YOU $10,000. Even if it has 33mhz CPU and 8mb RAM.
  • by arcite (661011) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:26AM (#15064499)
    Its got the wind up, a rechargable battery, and solar cell on top. Frankly the thing is awsome, and is near indestructable. However, it is also made in China, like most other things in the world. Since I am in Kenya, if it broke, I'm quite sure that it would not be fixable. I would have to buy a new one. I got this radio through an NGO I worked with. In the field I saw dozens of freeplay radios that had the hand crank broken! They were just sitting in a store room gathering dust. Also about price, I think they come out to around $40 each, in quantity. Anyway, I don't really see why people are against the handcrank computer. If they could have even 1 per SCHOOL, that would be a great achievement. If a student could even just send one email a month to a penpal, or do some simple research, that would be a giant leap. I have worked with Interactive radio instruction programs and from what I have seen, the innovation that the windup computer could introduce would be nothing but a good thing. Radio is last century's technology, its time to move into the future (though it may bruise a few radio egos). IMO
  • by vidarh (309115) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:27AM (#15064502) Homepage Journal
    You're on the completely wrong track. If you focus entirely on providing just the basics, you will fail. A country that cares about nothing but providing food, shelter, clothing and health will see it's economy collapse and it's workforce increasingly consist of people too uneducated to bring in substantial foreign investments or to be able to set up competitive businesses to boost export revenues. Once you start down that spiral, it's self-reinforcing.

    I also notice that you obviously do have access to a computer, and the time to post on Slashdot. What gives you the right of speaking on behalf of all of those that don't have that luxury about what their needs are?

    And your idea about the US tax system is completely far out there. Most people in the US pay far more than 21% once you've added up federal income tax, state income taxes (for the states that have them), and local taxes (including property taxes etc.). For most working people in the US the total direct tax burden will add up to more like 25%-30% unless they're on extremely low salaries or live in extremely low tax areas.

  • by maxume (22995) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @08:35AM (#15065290)
    Yeah, those knuckleheads are wasting their time trying to keep people alive. Silly bastards.

    http://www.gatesfoundation.org/GlobalHealth/Pri_Di seases/ [gatesfoundation.org]
  • by shis-ka-bob (595298) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:32AM (#15066290)
    Am I the only one that thought it might be fun to have a 'workstation' that included a built in recumbent exercise cycle. If I'm not tied to a computer, I like to be doing something physical when I think. One time, I was trying to figure out how to do a contour integral while walking around campus. The scary part was that no idea how I got to the other side of Commonwealth Avenue in Boston - not something you should try to cross without paying attention. I honestly think I could focus on my computer better if my body could go into autopilot with a moderate level of exercise to actually keep the oxygenated blood flowing freely. I know that this is really off topic, but if Negroponte can really get a PC down to 2 Watts, you wouldn't even need to break a sweat while pedalling the crank.

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