- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A cheap laptop boasting wireless network access and a hand crank to provide electricity is expected to start shipping in February or March to help extend technology to school-age children worldwide.

The machines are to sell for $100 each, slightly less than cost. The aim is to have governments or donors buy them and give full ownership to the children.

“These robust, versatile machines will enable children to become more active in their own learning,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters.

Mr. Annan and more than 23,000 people from 176 countries were attending the three-day U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, in its second day yesterday. The goal is to find ways to extend communications technologies to the world’s poorest people — through projects like the $100 laptop.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Laboratory chairman, Nicholas Negroponte, who introduced the textbook-sized laptop Wednesday, said he expects to sell 1 million of them to Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria.

The effort is being led by the One Laptop Per Child Initiative, a nonprofit group founded by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), Brightstar Corp., Google Inc., News Corp. and Red Hat Inc., all of which have donated $2 million and work in conjunction with the MIT Media Lab.

Once the laptops are in the hands of schoolchildren, the real fun — and learning — will begin, said Billy Edwards, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at AMD.

“There’s a lot of learning that has to happen before the launch and even more after” because students in different countries will use the laptops in diverse ways and demand a wide variety of applications based on their needs, Mr. Edwards said. It will be up to the technology providers and educators to meet the students’ requests.

Mr. Negroponte did not say who would build the machines, which will cost $110 each to make, but at least five companies are considering bids. He said a commercial version may be available at a higher price to subsidize machines provided to children.

The laptop will run on an open-source operating system, such as Linux, which is generally cheaper than proprietary systems such as Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, Mr. Negroponte said.

The devices will be lime green, with a yellow hand crank, to make them appealing to children and to fend off potential thieves — people would know by the color that the laptop is meant for a child.

Also, Microsoft announced a new network of learning centers in Tunisia to train people to be teachers in technology. Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, said the company would replicate the centers elsewhere as part of its outreach efforts.

Pakistani diplomat Masood Khan said increasing access to communications can help improve relations between regions and religions.

“Information is not just an economic tool,” Mr. Kahn told delegates in the main hall. “We need its infinite power to combat the rising tide of prejudice and hatred.”

Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, said more time and effort is needed to help address the digital divide, but stressed that Africa in particular should do more for itself by providing education and jobs.

“The computer specialists we train in Senegal, the English and the French come in and take them back to France and America,” he told reporters. “We need to keep them with us.”

Staff writer Dan Caterinicchia contributed to this report from Washington.

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