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Thursday, March 16, 2006

$100 Laptop and not on Ebay

The recent smoke from the WIntel camp is not without a fire. MIT media lab wants to make a $100 laptop available to all through a program initiated under One Laptop Per Child or OLPC. The program is backed by Google, RedHat, AMD etc basically everyone from the non-WIntel camp. According to the official site this laptop will not be available for sale but will be distributed to schools through large Govt. initiatives.

This is what I call a noble task. And I do not intend any pun in saying that, seriously.

But, looking at the hardware specifications of the laptop I wonder the purpose of this laptop. It sounds like a $100 huge PDA device.

Iterative designing of the OLPC. Source: Design Continuum
The device is WiFi enabled and first generation will be powered by permanent magnets connected to a crank (a mini generator) on the side. The WiFi on my laptop sucks out all the juice from the battery. How long will this last with OLPC? I dunno. But, this can really be discouraging to users if they have to turn the crank every few seconds/minutes to read a blog like this one.

The laptop does NOT have a hard drive. If I put WiFi, no hard drive and Google in one sentence what do we get? GDrive. I am assuming that Google to capture new markets can use this device as launching pad. Talk about retirement plans. But the catch is for the WiFi to work it will require connectivity. In under privilaged localities of the universe that is a luxury, something considered a daily necessity in San Francisco. Though the laptop has a non-volatile memory drive that could go to a range of couple gigs. The non-volatility of the drive comes from an onboard cell that keeps the memory powered at all times - cell gone "hard drive" gone.

Now the display, if this laptop is meant for eBooks this will work just fine but on a display with monochrome: 1110x830 and color: 640x480 rez what will be displayed? Most of the web sites today are optimized for a minimum 800x600 rez and full color.

The operating system is Linux. I understand this is open source and free but what about support? Support personnels are few and expensive for Linux systems. Now, if that cost is going to be covered by Govt. I will say Govt. can cover for a better machine too.

As I said this is noble but what purpose will it serve even for kids? While kids in San Francisco and New York will play computer games on mini-supercomputers (XBoxes) under privilaged kids of the world will be playing on a laptop that will be run by a crank and run I dunno what.

My input, I think this laptop should use solar panels possibly to charge an on board battery. The solar panel I am talking about are thin sheets some are available for cell phones too. Use Linux or stripped down Windows (something that M$ can provide for free through Bill and Melinda foundation), have a small hardrive, a low power LCD display and a WiFi if need be. Given the current configuration I would prefer old Palm Treos instead.

On the whole bravo to the idea but I want to see more than what is on the table.