Friday, September 30, 2005

100 Dollar Laptop is a Stupid Idea

The $100 laptop idea is being promoted by the venerable Nicholas Negroponte, head of the MIT Media Lab. It is also strikingly similar to Larry Ellison's idea of the network computer from almost exactly a decade ago.

What can a $1000 laptop do that the $100 version can't?
Not much. The plan is for the $100 Laptop to do almost everything. What it will not do is store a massive amount of data.

The network computer idea has been updated:
But that does not make it any better:
The $100 laptop from MIT reminds me of the Simputer idea from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore. The Simputer was a PDA designed for Indian farmers. It was going to cost $200 (cheaper than some of the better PDAs of the time), and would run - guess what - Linux. It was going to change the world. It would also have WiFi, Bluetooth, USB etc.

Contrast these flops with an idea that has worked, and worked spectacularly - the mobile phone. Cell phones are everywhere - Indian fishermen, Chinese farmers, they all have it. Cell phones have transformed people's lives and vocations. Cell phone charges are lower in India than anywhere in Europe or US. There is tons of cell phone innovation happening in Microsoft and Motorola's labs in China and India, geared towards cell phone users in the Third World as well as the First.

Do-gooders beware: if an idea does not work in the First World (network computer, Linux PDA), it is unlikely to work in the Third World.

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