By way of the very useful and positively glowing with goodwill and open source optimism mailing list Bytes for All, I learned about India’s ambitious $10 laptop answer to Negroponte’s $100 laptop. The Times of India article reads like The Onion, I must say, and the first thing I did was go to The Onion website and look up related keywords. Unfortunately nothing about the $100 laptop, though I did find a good picture of MIT researchers and their $30 million dollar love tester and other silliness.
It doesn’t take an engineer to realize that $10 per laptop will be a very ambitious project indeed. The current (and final) iteration of MIT’s OLPC stands at $176, 76 percent higher than originally estimated.
Can India do it? The inner philanthropist hopes so, but the realist who buys technology says, “No way.” Why? Component prices are simply too high. The screen for the XO laptop, which is probably the single most innovative thing OLPC has to offer, was estimated to cost $28 per unit, in volume, by Merrill Lynch. OLPC has said that the complete motherboard/CPU package will cost roughly $75, and based on the Merrill Lynch estimates, it looks as though a third of that cost will be for the CPU alone. In other words, the CPU itself, the motherboard, the screen, the NAND flash storage, and the RAM… each of these costs more than $10 to manufacture for inclusion in the OLPC. India’s $10 price hopes appear to be nothing more than pure fantasy.
My question is, can Negroponte do it? I am by no means an insider to this story, but I have always had an uneasy, queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I read about the cleverly named One Laptop Per Child program. I am sold on the basic concept and love the design of the gizmo itself. I am very enthusiastic about those smiling, curious kids they use in their clipart playing with the computers, and want to go out and buy one myself and one for them. But at the end of the day, with the million unit orders requirement and the massive publicity, this is fast turning into a development aid disaster, a dam project with bunny ears and a touch screen.
The fact that the $100 laptop now costs $176 (with $1 going to the OLPC program for admin costs – add that up, will you!) surprises me not one whit, but I was massively discouraged to learn that the reason for it is to give it an “upgrade” so that it can run Windows software. Oy vey! This was supposed to be a completely free as in freedom device! From Newsfeedresearcher.com:
The Windows addition is a surprise for two reasons. OLPC has explicitly stated that, “Our commitment to software freedom gives children the opportunity to use their laptop computers on their own terms. While we do not expect every child to become a programmer, we do not want any ceiling imposed on those children who choose to modify their machines.”  The laptop features a keyboard so tiny it seems suited only for childrens hands, with game controls on either side of the screen that turn it into a big Gameboy. Negroponte said the computer can run Windows, but its current operating system is a simple, open-source menu with big, friendly icons stripped across the bottom of the screen.
The news is that Microsoft couldn’t get Windows to run on it without getting the OLPC project to increase their hardware specs, and instead of just telling Microsoft to go jump, they compromised and now the laptop is going to cost more. Two days ago, OLPC News, a blog that that covers the project, speculated that Microsoft’s involvement may be approaching due to the announcement that Windows will sell for $3 in some parts of the World. With the OLPC project “at it’s most critical stage,” according to Negroponte, it appears, at the very least, that Microsoft wants in.
Can someone say Mission Creep? How about Dead On Arrival?
Now check out the $30 million dollar love tester to cheer yourself up.
[edited April 28, 2011 to add new 2328574980 flickr image]