December 13, 2005 4:35 PM PST

Quanta to build the $100 laptop

Taiwan's Quanta Computer, the biggest manufacturer of notebooks in the world, has signed on to the $100 laptop project.

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) organization, which hopes to bring a $100 laptop championed by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte, has selected Quanta to serve as its original design manufacturer, or ODM. ODMs typically manufacture products, but also participate substantially in the final design.

Although not many U.S. consumers know the name, many own Quanta's products. The company produces systems for Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others. It is engaged in a long-running rivalry with Compal, also based out of Taiwan.

The signing of Quanta isn't an entire surprise. Earlier this year, MIT and the company signed a five-year, $20 million research pact. Still, lining up one of the world's major contract manufacturers further demonstrates the feasibility of the project, according to backers.

"Any previous doubt that a very-low-cost laptop could be made for education in the developing world has just gone away," Negroponte said in a statement.

Quanta will try to bring out a product in the fourth quarter. The machines will run Linux and require little energy (turning a hand crank will be enough to power them). Connecting to the Internet will be possible through mesh networking.

The first 5 million to 15 million units will get shipped to China, Brazil, India, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria and Thailand.

Other participants in the project include Advanced Micro Devices, Brightstar, Google, News Corp., Nortel and Red Hat.

While many have saluted the goal, others have expressed skepticism. Intel Chairman Craig Barrett has said that the idea won't travel far. Consumers in emerging markets want full-fledged computers, he asserted.

History has also shown that bringing PCs to the poor is extremely difficult. Attempts to bring low-cost PCs to Brazil have failed several times. The Simputer, a cheap computer designed in India, fell flat, and AMD has not sold many of its cheap Internet devices for the emerging world, according to sources.

Partly because of this, some entrepreneurs, such as India's Rajesh Jain, and some of India's leading academics have decided to tackle the problem by deploying thin clients. Other companies are promoting full-fledged, full-price computers that can be shared by communities. To save energy, thin clients and PCs can run on car batteries or solar panels.

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25 comments

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They need free PC - $100 is expensive for poor people
They need free PC, they even cannot feed themselves enough, it's not possible to have $100 to buy a PC.
I think more useful is to have a project to gather free 2nd hand PCs and provide to poor people in those areas.
Posted by X-C3PO (126 comments )
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thye are not buying direct
i believe the point is that government bodies, ngo's, non-profit's, etc. will be purchasing and distributing the laptops. organizations that serve the poor are usually strapped for cash, of course, but with grants and donations, $100 is not that unreachable of a goal.
Posted by (19 comments )
Link Flag
2nd hand PCs
Second hand PCs are more expensive than most people think. It is hard to get parts for them, it's hard to get software to run on them (not impossible), they use lots of power, they are costly to ship, they don't handle dust, and humidity very well....
Posted by MKenzie (23 comments )
Link Flag
Great
1. Now is the time to set up corporate or business sponsoring of the laptops. Imagine IBM buying 1000 laptops (only $100K) for a university in zambia, or Small-Business-X sponsoring 10 laptops through a charity recognised by the United nation...

2. To the manufacturer: Look at Puppy Linux. It needs very little hardware specs but is amazingly fast abnd full-featured. You coul even help the project and have a version adapted to the developing countries.
Posted by (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I Wonder How Much the $100 Laptop Will Cost?
I Wonder How Much the $100 Laptop Will Cost?
Posted by josquin2 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Here's my guess
The cost to build = probably more than $100 (price brought down artifically by subsidies)

Cost to a poor person = Free (supposedly some nice organizations and governments will foot the bill)
Posted by (12 comments )
Link Flag
Do people really think the poor will use these?
People are going to sell these as soon as they get them so they can replace the tin roof on their homes, get a new bed, or buy food.
Selling laptops to impoverished communities is going to be the biggest waste of money this world will see. Instead of giving them laptops, give them what they NEED.
Posted by kc311 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe...
Yes, they need those other things. Education is important, though, and the laptops may help. Some of those poor people might want to learn so they might help themselves and others. Not everone thinks the same way.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Interesting comment by Kdiggy Dogger
I completely disagree with Kdiggy, a cheap laptop will reveal some knowledge to the poor and it may help their life. And we have to be extra precautious about 'poor' definition here. If Kdiggy's definition of 'poor' is the outback people in Africa that still hold spear and bow to hunt their food, then I completely agree.

But how about those 'poor' people that live in civilized country? that can't afford $600 PC? $100 PC will enable them to get exposed to computer and they can learn from it.

And remember, food-shelter-cloth and computers are 2 different things. Computer is an education tool, so providing cheap computer means providing cheap education to them. And hopefully their life can be a better life one day.

Mentioning all of this, I'm not in socilogy or anthropology forum right? =) ...
Posted by jonyk (1 comment )
Link Flag
Certain poor... yes
In Western countries that are not as bad off as the third world countries there may be a good market for these $100.00 computers. They are the working poor who get by but cannot a laptop or computer with all the bells and whistles. Those who like from paycheck to paycheck and do not have much most of the year but can afford a small Christmas. Or those who cannot but relatives can buy these are a gift.

Third world countries where the poor of Niger or India or Pakistan do not have enough to eat, no. A laptop is not what they need right now. Once cannot learn at school is one is dying of starvation, cold or disease. I certainly hope that the manufacturers do not have these people in mind (at least not immediately) as the poor they are targeting. Even if a foundation or charity bought the computers...it would be a waste until their lives are stabile. Please give to a charity that uses at least 85% of their money for programs so that children can have at least the basics. Here you can tell: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.charitynavigator.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.charitynavigator.org/</a>
Posted by pjdw (33 comments )
Link Flag
Those poor people can recognize enabling tools
Yes, they are poor but they recognize some things as useful. Cell phones sale are good in poor countries because for the first time, they can stay in touch. ANothe ruse I have seen is people checking when certain goods will make it to market so they can start their day long journey to go get it.
They are also willing to help their children get ahead. Yes food and housing is important, but they can view this computer as a tool to better their life.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Don't Bridge the Digital Divide
Because poor people have many more basic, essential needs that aren't yet being met, even within the US --- such as food, shelter, access to good quality and affordable medical care.

And if we look at other countries (i.e. "emerging markets") we can add such essentials as clean water, immunization and education to the list.

In my opinion, until the basic needs of food, water, shelter, education and medical care are met for a region, trying to provide computers and/or Internet access is wasted effort.

When the essentials for living are satisfied, then it is a good time to look at providing computers/Internet access to the poor.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
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The basis of change?
The flip side to the argument is that these could be used to provide better communication, and better education. This, combined with strategies to assist in sustainable development, could lead to better standards of living worldwide. If people are not only getting fresh water, but are becoming educated, then that gives these developing nations an educated workforce with a local interest, as opposed to an international focus. This can be good for all.
Posted by Bueller (8 comments )
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Parallel development
I think it is incorrect to expect technology companies to feed the poor. Every industry sector has its own duty towards people. The Tech world is doing its part in bringing technology to the masses. What remains to be seen is other companies do their part. Needless to say, most of the plight of the poor is accessibility to food, shelter and medicine. But that does not go to say that technology is not needed. Development and help need to be parallel. These people need every help they can get. Besides, peple who can afford a $100 laptop can definitely help themselves to decent food and shelter. I know this because i am from such a country myself: India. This offer is targeted at lower middle-class households where access to technology for children is greatly needed for them to realize their goals. I am sure the program will be great step in history to enable the "not so fortunate" people to help themselves and others around them.
Posted by srikanth_janga (29 comments )
Link Flag
Don't look only at greeneries.
Everybody is looking at greeneries, but ignoring the after effects. We are going to turn untouched villages and natural places into plastic and electronic garbage. Instead, resolving subsidized farming issue will help much more those villager as compared to luring them with cheap laptops.
Posted by hsekar73 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Not a Bad Idea ...
if you're a computer hardware manufacturer like, oh, I don't know, let's say, Quanta, who's going to make a very small profit on every unit sold (which could add up to a sizeable amount if enough are sold). These could be effective if they are built to be rugged, are configured for local languages and customs (make sure they don't have any inadvertant double-meaning words that could offend), distributed equitably (girls as well as boys), provided with adequate training (which could be just the basics on how to use a web browser at the point-and-click level, and all initial links have meaningful icons/images, as well as text, so that they could access further training using built-in, or on-line, software), and that maintenance skills are also taught (along with providing adequate repair parts, at least at the module level). The stated intent of the MIT project is to make distribution of educational material less expensive, as $100 doesn't buy much in the way of books that last only a year or so in very hot and humid environments, which is where a big chunk of the world's population lives (which is why the laptops would have to be made to be rugged, and I don't know if that's feasible at a $100 price point).

Just providing water, food, shelter, medical care, and sanitation to people solves an immediate problem (e.g., the victims of natural and man-made disasters, like the Indonesian tsunami, Pakistani earthquake, Darfur, Rwanda, etc.), but without education immediately after those basics are provided, you've fed a man a fish for a day, instead of teaching him how to fish for a lifetime. Education is so important in breaking the cycle of poverty, but it will also be important that these not become tools for propaganda by repressive governments. However, the risk of that is relatively low, as it's a two-way, highly-distributed medium, as opposed to the traditional one-way, centralized broadcast radio and TV media that were so useful to totalitarian regimes.

It will be interesting to see how many individuals and small companies in developing countries will buy these, an possibly even in developed countries, where this is well under the impulse price for most consumers. How many pre-school kids in developed countries could make use of such a device, not to mention having a spare low-end machine you can toss under the seat of your car (it's got to be ruggedized, right?), and literally a billion other uses by people at all economic levels. The more of these made and sold, the better the economy of scale for the manufacturer, which could mean the cost of production - and hence price - could go down even further, below $100, eventually. Remember how people were trampling each other a few months ago when a school system was selling used four-year-old iBooks for under $100? This may be the most popular consumer electronics item ever sold in history, if that behavior is any guide.

I would worry somewhat that these could wind up being stolen/diverted/sold before or after they reached their intended recipients, but hopefully the low price means that they're not worth the effort, since the customers would mostly be the very same people who couldn't afford to pay for them individually in the first place. I just hope against hope that at least one of these winds up in the hands of some brilliant people who make a great discovery, or come up with a world-improving idea, and who would otherwise have never become well-educated enough to become a significant contributor to the body of world knowledge. Hey, once we lose our ability to dream, we might as well just climb into the coffin.

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'll buy one - good for emergencies and other
A laptop that is simple, most probably reliable (to be checked) and works even when everything else fails???
Sign me up!!!

Between Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and what not, it can come in handy.
Hey, it might be good for vacation too when there is no power nearby!!!
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A worthwhile investment
The emerging countries whose children would be the recipients of these $100 computers represent an enormous reservoir of brain-power and untapped talent that could potentially reward humankind with solutions to problems and spawn new inventions and technologies that might otherwise never even be conceived.

The negligible costs involved will present great opportunities for corporations of all types and sizes to capitalize on the good-will and public relations potential and the favorable publicity they will certainly receive (and the long-term loyalty of the people they have sponsored).

Plant the seeds now and we will reap the abundant harvest in the form of a smarter world.

A rising tide lifts all boats.
Posted by ParaLegalStar (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Completely agree....finally someone makes sense
It´s so good to hear someone actually have common sense.

It´s OBVIOUS that these laptops are aimed to the lower middle
classes....they won´t be for the lower classes because they have
other needs.

I wish some readers could think for half a minute before
babbling the first thing that comes to their minds.

It just takes a minute to figure that Non Profit Organizations are
not going to go to slums nor poverty zones and just give these
away like candy.

They have cranks because electricity is expensive or unreliable
in lower middle class zones in the third world.
They are EXCELLENT tools to bridge the digital divide.
To hope different is going back to the middle ages or to some
weird society where blood, race, kin or zip code makes people
differente.
I am completely astounded that people who have acces to the
internet and suppossedly went to college could be so selfish and
plain gullible to think this is a bad idea.
This is REAL change.
Posted by efabo (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Books versus Computers
As enamored with technology as I have been, about two years
ago I gave up on the idea that computers could seriously help
my elementary school students. For the price of one computer a
school or teacher could purchase hundreds of books.

These low cost computers (the upcoming $100 ones) _and_ the
new tendency for books to be available online could change all
that. These laptops specs are ideal to replace text books. They
may be much more limited than full fledged computers but they
are light and compact. Each of my students textbooks cost
between $30 and $50 not to mention the workbooks which are
around $15. This is about $45 in consumables and at least
$105 in texts. The present renewal cycle for texts is 7 years in
Los Angeles Unified School District.

These computers will allow schools to customize the delivery of
information and shorten renewal cycles dramatically. These
computers would be instramental in revolutionizing our
information delivery alone. However, we can continue well
beyond simple information delivery with these computers. They
can provide practice and more importantly the ability to
colaborate with others students, the teacher, the community,
and people around the world much more easily.
Posted by WSafranek (2 comments )
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