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Negroponte on the future of $100 laptop

January 29, 2008

Here's the 21st century version of a chicken in every pot: a laptop for every child. Nicholas Negroponte, an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) professor, is founder of One Laptop Per Child, an international non-profit organisation that created the XO Laptop, a durable machine that began mass production in November and is designed for kids in the world's poorest and most remote regions.

If nothing else, Negroponte has proved that no grand vision goes unpunished. Last fall a BusinessWeek writer panned the programme in a column titled, "It's time to call One Laptop Per Child a failure." The Wall Street Journal ran a front page story under the headline, "How a computer for the poor got stomped by tech giants."

And it's not just the press. Negroponte has sparred with critics such as Bill Gates of Microsoft and Craig Barnett of Intel. His testy relationship with Intel briefly turned into an uneasy-alliance but blew up this month when, Negroponte says, an Intel salesperson tried to convince the government of Peru to scrap its deal with OLPC and instead buy the company's competing laptop, the Intel Classmate. Intel has blamed the split on "philosophical" differences. Negroponte presses on.

A chicken peers at a One Laptop per Child laptop inside a classroom at Vasti Vidhalaya- a Marathi medium school at Khairat, in Karjat district some 75 kms north of Mumbai. Twenty-two children from the Khairat school have been gifted the $100 laptop weighing 850 gram, as part of the non-profit organisation's India pilot study. With the help of the OLPC laptop these children though studying in a vernacular language, can write words in English, draw and paint, learn maths (through the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tools), play memory games, chat, and even prepare projects using the internet.

Text: Kermit Pattison

Photograph: Pal Pillai/AFP/Getty Images
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