One Laptop Per Child

Category: Laptops

Nicholas Negroponte has a dream... to provide a laptop with internet access to hundreds of millions of children in developing countries around the world. Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child is a non-profit group that has been working for several years to create a fully functional $100 laptop, powered by a hand crank.

A Laptop in Every Lap?

At the November U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, a prototype of the $100 laptop was unveiled. Powered by a 500 MHz AMD processor and one gigabyte of flash memory, the diminutive laptop sports a tough green exterior and runs the free Linux operating system.

With a 7-inch LCD screen that swivels like a tablet, built in wireless networking, and a hand crank that provides 40 minutes of power from one minute of cranking, the machines are capable of connecting to the Internet and forming peer-to-peer "mesh" networks.

By setting up a central server with a satellite link in a small village, children in remote locations could have Internet access in places where there are no books. A built-in microphone and speaker will enable the machines to make phone calls through VOIP, and software development tools will be pre-loaded to encourage children to learn computer programming skills.

This week, One Laptop Per Child selected Quanta Computer to mass produce the $100 laptop, and they expect to initially ship between 5 and 15 million units to China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria and Thailand. Their ultimate goal is to continue reducing the cost of the units and to distribute a half billion laptops -- both as an educational tool and as a means of alleviating world poverty.

Why Didn't I Think of That?

But the project is not without its detractors. Andy Carvin, director of the Digital Divide Network (an activist group dedicated to including more people in the digital age) says "It's not as simple as 'if you build it, they will use it'". Sigh... In the amount of time it takes Carvin to blather on about why lack of training, technical support and local content will doom the One Laptop Per Child project to failure, a needy child in Africa could crank the thing up, open a web browser and start LEARNING something.

Sure, it's important to teach the teachers. But I guarantee that if you give these things to a whole village of kids, they WILL figure out how to use them. They'll explore and share their knowledge together. Just because you didn't invent it, don't dismiss it.

Intel (NOT) Inside

And of course Intel doesn't like this one bit. Intel's Chairman Craig Barrett calls the device as a "gadget" and predicted that poor children in third-world countries would not want them, because they are not "grown up" PC's. Surely his criticism has nothing to do with the fact that arch-rival AMD is supplying the processors that power these machines. Nah...

"It turns out what people are looking for is something that has the full functionality of a PC," Barrett opined. "... not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them, not dependent on hand cranks for power."

Hmmm. If Mr. Barrett lived in a place where there was no electricity, no hard-wired high speed Internet access, and no air-conditioned ivory towers, he might want such a "gadget", even if it had an AMD processor inside.

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Most recent comments on "One Laptop Per Child"

(See all 25 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

23 Dec 2005

What about the kids in America that can't to eat ever night? Never mind afford a computer!!!!

Posted by:

23 Dec 2005

I would emphasize the MIT link and background and just ignore Barratt. Giving voice to a vested interest is not news, its just whining. Ignore him.

Theres no particular reason a program could not be implemented in North America as well. A slightly more expensive unit (the "commercial version" mentioned on MITs site) could be sold here and used to fund the implentations elsewhere.

Don't forget the story - give a man a fish or teach him to fish... Knowledge is power.

And there is a lot of power in a mesh-networked system connected to a global library.

Posted by:

C. Konrad
24 Dec 2005

AMD is to be commended for their compassion on 3rd world children/adults, by their willingness to supply the necessary cpu's for the '$100 Computers.'

Posted by:

24 Dec 2005

Unless you have actually lived (and I don't mean vacationed)among a really destitute population, you cannot comprehend how much any help is truly appreciated by kids and adults alike. I lived and worked nearly half of my adult life in third world countries. People begged me for paper and pencils which I gladly passed out. I can only image how they might react to this “gadget”. Its unfortunate that political and financial incentives have caused Americans to criticize the good works of others as well as ourselves. Our narrow mindedness continues to amaze me.

Posted by:

bill wald
24 Dec 2005

I'd be happy to pay $250 for one as it is described.

Posted by:

24 Dec 2005

Give computers to Chinese and Egyptians? How many times will we repeat mistakes? I'm not the least interested in helping those who hate us and want to destroy this country... why not help "friends" only?
He'll probably send a batch to Iran and Syria too. Why not send a few hundred thousand to Louisiana!

Posted by:

24 Dec 2005

On the surface it seems like a good idea but when I think of all the time I spend "maintaining" an operating computer and system, not to talk of virii, security, updates, system collapses, errors, etc.....

I also have trouble separating the intenet bulls..t from the real info and many of my friends and relatives keep sending me these "warnings" about "dangers" which are really urban legends. How are these "innocent" kids/adults going to know what is "real" and what is "not". But, if we are trying to bolster the Western Living Ideal Life, it seems to me to be a good idea. Then they'll really want all the tech goodies like we do.

The only "good work" I've read being done is when a really fine, well-educated teacher/ instructor/ knowledgeable person works with the kids. Where are these people going to come from?

Sounds like something Richard Branson might dream up for publicity. Mr. Negroponte has always seemed to me to be more of an ivory tower dreamer. I wonder if he has ever really worked in the field building irrigation canals, houses suited to the local climate or tried to get crops to grow and seeds to be viable. Call me cynical. There are much better ways to help these people.

Posted by:

25 Dec 2005

I can't afford cable, and I certainly can't afford a computer for each of my kids, at current prices. If hand-crank versions were available I'd buy them for my kids, for me, and for my many nieces and nephews... I think it's a fantastic idea.
Bravo to those who help the world's kids. I don't care what their parents believe; this helps the kids.
(I just bought a hand-crank radio for my son for Christmas. I wish more "gadgets" had a hand-crank option.)

Posted by:

26 Dec 2005

My heart bleeds for these poor kids of the world.I grew up in a poor broken home.But I feel that china will be our next great nemisis.I feel we are already helping them out enough by buying at wal-mart.I didnt see were any of these machines were going to the U.S., maybe thats just was takin for granted.Sounds like a great tool thow!

Posted by:

27 Dec 2005

Hope you were joking about shopping at wal-mart :/
I think these are awsome, and you people who think we shouldn't help third world countires you are freeking nuts. You probably support us bringing democracy to iraq, but you slam people that want to help kids in other countries? This isn't even paid for by tax money (in other words you). I can't belive how close minded people are..

Posted by:

27 Dec 2005

All I see is another 5-15 million more US tech jobs being offshored as soon as these kids reach working age. I wonder if in 20 years they'll be buying *our* kids computers?

Posted by:

28 Dec 2005

I have wanted an extremely simple, yet useful, text entry "laptop" for a long time. My desktops at work and home suffice for all the real work I ever want to get done, and the ability to do some typing or other minor tasks when not at those desktops would be extremely useful to me, but not at the current cost of laptops out there now.

Posted by:

Callie Jordan
02 Jan 2006

The entire computer industry pooh poohed a company that wanted to make inexpensive computers that would receive all their applications from remote servers rather than have each individual purchase and maintain the software. The benefits, besides cost, would be that the software would always be up to date. "They" said no one would want a dumb terminal, which is the unfortunate term for such a computer. Now, of course, it's cutting edge --- but it killed the IPO for that little company.

Posted by:

John Howard Oxley
03 Jan 2006

There is much here to tease apart:
1) Some computer is infinitely better than no computer -- the hand-cranked minimalist approach looks sensible to me, considering its environment.
2) Were I making my money from Wintel devices, this would cause me not to sleep well at night -- because potentially millions upon millions of people would have devices which don't need my technology for access and function.
3) No good deed goes unpunished -- as some others on this thread have suggested, distributing information power to those who have every reason to envy and hate the industrialized world in general and North America in particular may have some consequences which the initiators of this happy scheme may bitterly regret.

Posted by:

02 Feb 2006

I can see a multitude of potential for an appliance of this nature. The colorations proposed were intended to discourage theft. Its use would create a potential of allowing a portable device that could potentially be linked to storage on your own network that then allows further work to be done on the file started on the crank-up now finished with a desktop or desktop replacement. It also allows the potential for saving backs/shoulders of the mobile computer user, by being lighter [batteries weigh]. Additionally the ruggedness would be an advantage for some that currently have difficultly in obtaining a laptop that could survive bumps and bounces [they exist but at a large premium.]

When will they be available in North America? A price higher than that for the 3rd world would still be acceptable for the utility [and to assist subsidizing distribution] perhaps with tax receipt deductions for the extra sum!

Posted by:

Travel Writer
15 Feb 2006

Flash memory is the best thing about my Psion Series 5 handheld computer. I am writing a travel book in Europe and Africa and the word processor on the Psion 5 is ideal. It runs on two AA batteries for about thre weeks. This 100 dollar laptop is very interesting for out and about, robust users like myself. Why is it I have such a pool of discontent about the conventional hard drive and Windows based personal computer, whereas nothing of that animosity exists with my Psion 5? In answer I say it's the amount a conventional computer promises and how that rarely matches up with it's performance. How many hours per day do I spend rebooting and sparring with "Illegal operations" on Windows system? About a thirds of my computing time. The Psion 5 does what it says on the tin - a word processor, a nice searchable "notes" application and a filing system, plus expandable with Compact Flash memory. Bring on the 100 dollar laptop in the shops I want one - simple.

Posted by:

geek of washington
08 Apr 2006

Great comments! Aside from the ironic consequences by John Howard Oxley I am all for Martins suggestion. The Mesh Network functionality in a urban U.S. city environment is seriously intriguing! Just think Mesh networking for all cell phones and all mobile computing devices all connected within a single city! That is some major connectivity available to all!(any of the major laptop Cell phone manufacturers out there listening?) Sell them here in America for $250. One for the customer and one for the kids overseas!

Posted by:

Nazmul Huda
03 Jun 2006

100-Dollar Laptop: UN Secretary General’s Office shouldn’t be used for exploiting the poor...

My eyes were stuck to the news that the UN Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan, while launching a 100-Dollar Laptop, on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia, said “the invention is an impressive technical achievement. The project promises to provide flexible technology that can be used in any place, even in the desert without energy supply”. It is also reported that the U.N. is backing the project even with financial support thinking that it could help to promote education in the Third World. A professor and his team mates of MIT (USA) have claimed the credit for the project and the invention (!).

At the very outset, let me state certain hard facts, which I believe will largely explain the title of today’s write-up. Long 31 years ago, in 1975, I invented the Free-play Radio technology and demonstrated a working model in a jam-packed press conference on 23 July 1975 in Dhaka. The news came out in almost all the news papers in the country in addition to an editorial the following day. Raymond Lee Organization, Inc.(USA) wanted to take initiatives for patenting the invention and marketing the product (Receipt No.71001, dated 13 February 76 ) when I contacted them from the then West Germany. On the request of Bangladesh Science Museum, a working model was presented to them in 1978. The invention, although apparently a simple (addition of storage facility to a hand generator) one, was never conceived and publicly demonstrated by anyone on this earth before 23 July1975. It opened the gate for free playing and playing low-powered electrical gadgets and equipments in remote and yet vast electricity-less areas of the world.. Thus the technology is especially handy for mass communication, mass literacy, emergency weather forecasting or as a life-saving communications tool following a natural disaster ( be it in the coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal or New Orleans city), mass-scale low-powered emergency medical equipments etc.

Read more in :

Written by: Nazmul Huda, 38/10 Siddheswari Road, Dhaka-1217, Bangladesh. E-mail :

EDITOR'S NOTE: In fairness, I don't think the folks at MIT are claiming credit merely for a hand-cranked laptop. It's common knowledge that hand-cranked radios have been around for decades, and this was just one feature of the innovative machine they developed.

Posted by:

03 Dec 2007

I was wondering how I can get a free laptop for my two granddaughters.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I've heard that the "Give 1 Get 1" program is still open. Check the link above...

Posted by:

10 Dec 2009

Uruguay was the first country in the world to buy and distribute these laptops to all elementary school children. Over 280,000 laptops were distributed. The total cost was less than 5% of the country's education budget for elementary schools. The laptops have an annual maintenance cost of approx. $21, which includes internet access.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- One Laptop Per Child (Posted: 16 Dec 2005)
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