Intel’s Barrett shoots down $100 laptop

Posted on December 12, 2005 
Filed Under Uncategorized

Intel’s Barrett says world’s poorest don’t want $100 laptops
They’re aimed at bringing computer access to areas that lack reliable electricity

News Story by Peter Apps

DECEMBER 11, 2005 (REUTERS) – Potential computer users in the developing world will not want a basic $100 hand-cranked laptop due to be rolled out to millions, chipmaker Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett said Friday.

Schoolchildren in Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria will begin receiving the first few million textbook style computers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) media lab run by Nicholas Negroponte in early 2006.

“Mr. Negroponte has called it a $100 laptop — I think a more realistic title should be ‘the $100 gadget’,” Barrett, chairman of the world’s largest chipmaker, told a press conference in Sri Lanka. “The problem is that gadgets have not been successful.”

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has welcomed the development of the small, hand-cranked lime-green devices, which can set up their own wireless networks and are intended to bring computer access to areas that lack reliable electricity.

Negroponte said at their launch in November the new machines would be sold to governments for schoolchildren at $100 a device but the general public would have to pay around $200 — still much cheaper than the machines using Intel’s chips.

But Barrett said similar schemes in the past elsewhere in the world had failed and users would not be satisfied with the new machine’s limited range of programs.

“It turns out what people are looking for is something that has the full functionality of a PC,” he said. “Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown up PC… not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them, not dependent for hand cranks for power.”

MORE.

CLOCKWORK RADIO INVENTOR RUBBISHES MIT $100 PC
Prototype ‘could have been made with Lego’, says Trevor Baylis

Ken Young, vnunet.com 21 Nov 2005

Celebrity inventor Trevor Baylis has said he is “not convinced” that Nicholas Negroponte has got very far with the $100 laptop he is developing for the Third World.

Baylis, who invented the clockwork wireless radio, was recently invited to MIT Media Lab to meet Negroponte and see the prototype, but said that it “could have put together with a Lego kit”.

“Nothing worked. I was expecting him to show me the screen in action or the wind-up feature, but I saw nothing but a basic prototype,” he said.

“If Negroponte has done it, full marks to the guy, but I am not 100 per cent convinced. It was all something of a PR stunt.”

Baylis clearly has a lot to contribute to the project as he invented a wind-up radio that is now used widely in the Third World. He also lays claim to demonstrating the world’s first wind-up computer.

“A few years ago I was in Botswana seeing the radio in use and people from Apple were there,” he explained. “So for fun we hooked up my wind-up system to their eMate. We managed to get the screen to activate for a few seconds which amazed everyone.”

Baylis believes he could develop wind-up technology for the MIT laptop but questioned whether such technology is currently available.

“The hard part is not developing the wind-up technology but finding a low-power screen,” he said. “I would love to be involved in something like this. I have seen what an impact on lives my radio has had. This could be the same.”

But Baylis said he came away from Boston feeling non-plussed. “Negroponte did not ask me to provide the technology,” he complained. “He was more interested in looking at my wind-up torch, which I didn’t develop anyway. I bought it in China for £3.”

Baylis is keen for a UK initiative to make an attempt at a similar device. “HP has told me that the screen can’t be made yet, but you never know,” he explained. “Perhaps we can all get together and make it happen.”

Lee Felsenstein, designer of the Osbourne computer, is working on a similar wind-up computer project. The details are on his blog here.

Meanwhile the US National Science Foundation is funding the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions project at the University of California, Berkeley.

Michael Robertson, chief executive at open source firm Linspire, said that his company has researched the viability of the project and has deemed it inadequate.

MORE.

$100 MUFFIN STUMPS by Michael Robertson
May 12th, 2005

Once a month an article comes out talking about a $100 PC. Most recently MIT, with a coalition of backers, is talking up an economical PC as a digital necessity for emerging markets. As you probably know, I’m a huge advocate of low-cost PCs, but the $100 computer as conceived today will be a failure. The specifications I’ve seen for an ultra-low-cost PC are woefully underpowered and unable to perform common computing duties and will be rejected by the intended beneficiaries.

It reminds me of a classic Seinfeld episode where Elaine has an idea for a bakery to sell only the tops of muffins. In a magnanimous gesture, she decides to donate the bottom halves to the local homeless shelter and here’s what happens:

Rebecca: Excuse me, I’m Rebecca Demore from the homeless shelter.
Elaine: Oh, hi.

Rebecca: Are you the ones leaving the muffing pieces behind our shelter?
Elaine: You’ve been enjoying them?

Rebecca: They’re just stumps.
Elaine: Well they’re perfectly edible.

Rebecca: Oh, so you just assume that the homeless will eat them, they’ll eat anything?
Mr. Lippman: No no, we just thought…

Rebecca: I know what you thought. They don’t have homes, they don’t have jobs, what do they need the top of a muffin for? They’re lucky to get the stumps.
Elaine: If the homeless don’t like them the homeless don’t have to eat them.

Rebecca: The homeless don’t like them.
Elaine: Fine.

Rebecca: We’ve never gotten so many complaints. Every two minutes, “Where is the top of this muffin? Who ate the rest of this?”
Elaine: We were just trying to help.

There’s a great analogy from the muffins to low-cost PCs. Well-intentioned advocates are offering a muffin stump of a computer to the “digital homeless”. Those with the top-of-the-muffin computers are expecting others to be satisfied with just email and other lightweight tasks.

Recently, Linspire did some research in several developing PC markets. We traveled around the globe to see how poor people are using PCs. The results were astounding. We saw homes without running water with a very capable PC in one corner that the whole family would use. This wasn’t a low-end PC, but a middle-of-the-road machine that the family used for surfing the Internet, playing games, watching movies, listening to music and educating their children.

To buy the computer, the family would take out a loan for $250-$400 and often assemble their own computer (or have it assembled by friends). They did not buy the cheapest computer available to them, but instead insist on getting a fully functioning computer. To put it another way, they are making a decision to take out a loan that takes several years to repay rather than have a computer “stump”.

They recognize all the benefits a computer can bring, and they want it all and are willing to make sacrifice to get it. They are not content with an email-only or feature-limited solution.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for ultra-low-cost computers (ULCC). Over the last few years Linspire, along with our OEM partners, has blazed a trail of low-cost computers. We started with the $299 PC, then the $199 PC and the $169 disk-less Webstation. On the laptop front it started with a $799 laptop and late last year culminated with a $498 laptop from Walmart.com. We continue to do great business through partners like Sub300, who offer low-cost computers without any rebate gimmicks.

Our experience with these initiatives has taught us a couple of things about ULCC:

1) Even poor people will hold out for a complete muffin, rather than a stump.
Although it’s tempting to try and hit a magic price point like $100 – which is really just an arbitrary number given the US dollar conversion – and ship a slow, memory-constrained computer, it is likely to be rejected by its intended beneficiary. Better to ship a reasonably performing computer, even at a slightly higher price. In our experience, this means a minimum of 800MHz computer with 256MB RAM with a 10GB hard disk.

2) Ease of use is critical.

A computer that is low cost but too difficult to use will disappoint customers. This is why Linspire has dedicated so much engineering to make the first version of Linux that does not require the command line to operate. (Of course you can still use it if you prefer, but it’s not required.) We’ve also made sure to include audio-assist interactive tutorials, a fantastic printed manual and self-running demonstration mode.

I look forward to the day when a $100 computer is a reality. And I believe that the MIT initiative and others can bring new innovations to the business that will cut the costs. (The display technology MIT is working on is fascinating.) But it would be a mistake to champion a computer stump when what the world needs and wants is a complete muffin.

MORE.

Comments

Leave a Reply




Feedburner RSS
Subscribe by RSS
RSS logo
Subscribe by email

Facebook TrinetizenTwitter TrinetizenLinkedin Trinetizen