- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who hopes to give $100 laptops to the world’s children dismissed criticisms yesterday and said his project could begin distributing the computers by early next year.

Kicking off the LinuxWorld conference in Boston, Nicholas Negroponte said he was undeterred by skepticism from two of the leading forces in computing: Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

“When you have both Intel and Microsoft on your case, you know you’re doing something right,” Mr. Negroponte said, prompting applause from the audience of several hundred open-source software devotees.

Mr. Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop Per Child nonprofit association, also revealed a few new tweaks to the design of the computers.

One distinctive element of the original design was for a hand crank to provide power to the laptops where no electricity is available. To compensate, the devices are being engineered to use 2 watts of electricity, less than one-tenth of what conventional portable computers generally consume.

But having a hand crank stuck to the device likely would have subjected the machine to too many wrenching forces, so it will now be connected to the AC electrical adapter.

In fact, because the adapter can rest on the ground, the power generator might take the form of a foot pedal rather than a hand crank altogether.

Mr. Negroponte said previously that the flexible devices will have a 7-inch screen that can be read in sunlight. It will save on costs by using the Linux operating system, peer-to-peer wireless connectivity and a 500-megahertz processor, which was top of the line in the late 1990s.

One Laptop Per Child has big-name partners, including search leader Google Inc., chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Linux distributor Red Hat Inc., laptop maker Quanta Computer Inc. and News Corp., the media company led by Rupert Murdoch. All have helped finance the project, which Mr. Negroponte said has raised $29 million.

Skeptics have questioned whether the device can meet Mr. Negroponte’s goal of inspiring huge educational gains in the developing world.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has criticized the computer’s design, including its lack of a hard disk drive — though many people in the tech world thought he was more irked by the laptops’ use of Linux, the free, open-source system that competes with Mr. Gates’ proprietary Windows systems.

Intel executives, meanwhile, have suggested that Mr. Negroponte’s laptop is a mere gadget that will lack too many functions. Last week, Intel announced its own plans to sell an inexpensive desktop computer for beginners in developing countries.

Mr. Negroponte expressed frustration with Mr. Gates in particular, saying that the $100 laptop designers are still working with Microsoft to develop a version of the Windows CE operating system that could run the machines.

“So why criticize me in public?” Mr. Negroponte said.

Microsoft did not return calls for comment.

Mr. Negroponte plans to begin distributing up to 10 million laptops in Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Nigeria and Thailand by early next year.

Governments or donors will buy the laptops for children to own and use in and out of school, and the United Nations will help distribute the machines.

Mr. Negroponte expects many other governments, not just those in technology-deprived places, to come on board eventually. For example, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, has expressed interest in buying the machines for schoolchildren in the United States.

In time, Mr. Negroponte expects the $100 laptop to be a misnomer. For one thing, he thinks the cost — which is about $135 now and isn’t expected to hit $100 until 2008 — can drop to $50 by 2010 as more are produced.

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.”

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