29 September 2005

Critical Mass(achusetts) for the $100 Laptop

I suspected yesterday that I was not alone in seeing the first-world possibilities for the $100 laptop being designed for the developing world; The Economist (subscription required) reports:
The idea is as audacious as it altruistic: provide a personal laptop computer to every schoolchild—particularly in the poorest parts of the world. The first step to making that happen is whittling the price down to $100. And that is the goal of a group of American techno-gurus led by Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the fabled MIT Media Lab.

. . . .

But good news for the world's poor, may not be such great news for the world's computer manufacturers. The new machine is not simply of interest in the developing world. On September 22nd, Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, said the state should purchase one for every secondary-school student, when they become available.

Sales to schools are just one way in which the $100 laptop could change the computer industry more broadly. By depressing prices and fuelling the trend for "good-enough computing", where customers upgrade less often, it could eventually put pressure on the world's biggest PC-makers.

The $100 laptop will not be a speed demon by any stretch -- the anticipated processor is no great shakes and the storage will be flash-based, which is very slow relative to hard drive-based storage. The corners cut throughout mean that the $100 laptop will not be a desktop replacement, but so what? We didn't need the post-it note to replace the legal pad, just to fill a need.

"Good-enough computing" is long overdue. It's great that I can walk into Costco on my way home and buy an inexpensive but top-of-the-line computer; it'll be even better when I can go there and buy a shink-wrapped eight-pack of "good-enough" computers to scatter around my house.

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