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Notebooks for the world

The design of a $100 laptop is unveiled

CAMBRIDGE (U.S.): The $100 (about Rs. 4,400) laptop computers that Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers want to get into the hands of the world's children would be durable, flexible and self-reliant.

The machines' AC (alternating current) adapter would double as a carrying strap, and a hand crank would power them when there is no electricity. They will be foldable into more positions than traditional notebook personal computers, and carried like slim lunchboxes. For outdoor reading, their display would be able to shift from full colour to glare-resistant black and white.

And, the laptops would have a rubber casing that closes tightly, because "they have to be absolutely indestructible," said Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT Media Lab leader who offered an update on the project on Wednesday.

Mr. Negroponte hatched the $100 laptop idea after seeing children in a Cambodian village benefit from having notebook computers at school that they could also tote home to use on their own.

Those computers had been donated by a foundation run by Mr. Negroponte and his wife. He decided that for kids everywhere to benefit from the educational and communications powers of the Internet, someone would have to make laptops inexpensive enough for officials in developing countries to purchase en masse.

Within a year, Mr. Negroponte expects his non-profit One Laptop Per Child to get 5 million to 15 million of the machines in production, when children in Brazil, China, Egypt, Thailand and South Africa are due to begin getting them.

In the second year — when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hopes to start buying them for all 500,000 middle and high-school students in this state — Mr. Negroponte envisions 100 million to 150 million being made.

While a prototype is not expected to be shown off until November, Mr. Negroponte unveiled blueprints at Technology Review magazine's Emerging Technologies conference at the MIT.

Among the key specifications: A 500-megahertz processor (that was fast in the 1990s but slow by today's standards) by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and flash memory instead of a hard drive with moving parts. To save on software costs, the laptops would run the freely available Linux operating system instead of Windows.

The computers would be able to connect to Wi-Fi wireless networks and be part of "mesh" networks in which each laptop would relay data to and from other devices. Plans call for the machines to have four USB ports for multimedia and data storage.

Perhaps the defining difference is the hand crank, though first-generation users would get no more than 10 minutes of juice from one minute of winding.

This certainly would not be the first effort to bridge the world's so-called digital divide with inexpensive versions of fancy machinery.

Other attempts have had a mixed record. With those in mind, Mr. Negroponte says his team is addressing ways this project could be undermined. — AP

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