More computer brands chase the '$100 laptop'
Bye bye, bulk. New lines of tiny PCs fit both in your purse and into third-world classrooms.
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About 500,000 of the rugged, kid-friendly XO laptops have been ordered so far, with the majority already built and shipped, Mr. Negroponte says.Skip to next paragraph
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OLPC has seen Intel, which in January withdrew as a partner in the OLPC project, and other computer companies begin to compete for student markets in the developing world. Sometimes these companies are "dumping" their products at low prices to try to shut out OLPC, Negroponte said in late April. "Last week Asus tried that trick in Turkey," he said.
OLPC is a humanitarian effort, not a business, Negroponte says. He likens the OLPC to the World Food Program, which does not try to compete with McDonald's. "I don't want to compete with anyone," he says.
How low can prices go? OLPC is aiming for a 2.0 version of the XO that will cost only $50, Negroponte says. But don't expect that until late 2010.
Clever solution: 'dumb' computers
Meanwhile Ncomputing in Redwood City, Calif., may be the current price leader for student sales, although its product isn't a laptop. The company's device connects "dumb" terminals to a central computer. That core machine then shares its processing power with each of the networked computers.
This idea of "desktop virtualization" is not new. But what's changed is the mushrooming power of even a single PC. One bottom-of-the-line $350 desktop can act as a server for a half-dozen workstations, or more, at a cost as low as $70 per terminal, says Stephen Dukker, CEO of NComputing. And each student gets his or her own keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
Ncomputing has sold 600,000 of its devices already, says Mr. Dukker. The largest buyer has been the country of Macedonia, which bought 180,000 units for its schoolchildren. The company also has made sales in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Brazil, and a few African countries.
The "dumb" devices use only about 1 watt of power each, he says, compared with many times that much for PCs. That can be especially important in remote areas where electricity is at a premium.
The costs of maintenance and replacement are lower, too, since when a single computer is replaced or repaired it automatically upgrades or restores all the workstations attached to it.
The workstations can't be taken home by students, as with laptops, but that also means that the school's computers are less likely to be stolen or damaged, Dukker says.
"Our technology represents the beginning of the end of [cost] barriers to access to computing," he says.