MIT has developed a 100 dollar laptop, for use by children in undeveloped nations. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) non-profit association was started by Nicholas Negroponte. Co-founder and director of the MIT Media Laboratory, Negroponte developed the idea of the 100 dollar laptop as a tool for independent interaction and learning. The idea being, that in countries where public education is not readily available a child may still be able to learn on their own.
The laptop itself is a marvel of simplicity and self sustainability. Basically, developers used existing laptop technology, then stripped away the fat so that the bare bones system will be able to perform it’s function as a learning tool without the more consumer oriented features. Lacking a hard-drive, the 100 dollar laptop uses the open-source operating system Linux to save space and allow for easier development of programs and tools. Each laptop will include a word processor, an Internet browser, an email program and a programming system. The laptop will also include a wireless network card, though one that runs at a low bit-rate to minimize power consumption. The Wireless card will be sufficient to create a mesh network of any other 100 dollar laptops, allowing for email and messaging between them. If one of the laptops in the local network is connected to the Internet, then all other laptops in the network will able to utilize the Internet as well. To increase durability, the 100 dollar laptop is purposefully laking any motor driven parts. This means it wont have a hard drive, floppy drive, or an optical drive. The laptop will have four USB ports for accessories and flash-memory storage. Recent plans for the laptop include certain Wikipedia articles being packaged along with the other software.
Bill Gates recently criticized the 100 dollar laptop, touting instead Microsoft’s own lightweight computer, codenamed Origami. The Origami is expected to run between $600 and $1,000.
Others have criticized the laptop as well, claiming the non-profit designation is simply a clever way to sell the computer to various third-world educational systems, essentially finding a market in the poorest of people.
Personally, I’m disappointed that the laptop may not be available to consumers, even if it was only available at double the price. I can’t afford even the cheapest of laptops, and the 100 dollar laptop has all the features that I would want one for: Wireless Internet, and word processing. The lack of a hard drive can be overcome thanks to the four USB ports the laptop will include. I could for instance, operate a free word processor, such as OpenOffice.org, off of a flash drive and still have plenty of room to store documents. Shell out a couple of bucks more to get a better wireless Internet card, and I’d have the only laptop I’d ever need.
While I am glad that someone is trying to tackle the educational concerns of under developed nations, I hope that eventually a similar device will be made available to the average consumer.