You may recall that in November of last year, the United Nations sponsored a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis where MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte demonstrated a hand cranked $100 computer which he hoped could be distributed widely in developing nations. Since then the idea has picked up support from various Third World governments and recently, the UN itself. Well, it turns out that Negroponte ran the idea past Microsoft first and that sparked an alternative idea as well as some rancor. John Markoff at The NY Times has the details:
It sounds like a project that just about any technology-minded executive could get behind: distributing durable, cheap laptop computers in the developing world to help education. But in the year since Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, unveiled his prototype for a $100 laptop, he has found himself wrestling with Microsoft and the politics of software.
Mr. Negroponte has made significant progress, but he has also catalyzed the debate over the role of computing in poor nations — and ruffled a few feathers. He failed to reach an agreement with Microsoft on including its Windows software in the laptop, leading Microsoft executives to start discussing what they say is a less expensive alternative: turning a specially configured cellular phone into a computer by connecting it to a TV and a keyboard.
Bill Gates apparently demoed a mockup at the Consumer Electronics Show, but if so, it sank without a trace in the press release blizzard coming out of there. He apparently brought it up again at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he has been attending.
Craig J. Mundie, Microsoft’s vice president and chief technology officer, said in an interview here that the company was still developing the idea, but that both he and Mr. Gates believed that cellphones were a better way than laptops to bring computing to the masses in developing nations. “Everyone is going to have a cellphone,” Mr. Mundie said, noting that in places where TV’s are already common, turning a phone into a computer could simply require adding a cheap adaptor and keyboard. Microsoft has not said how much those products would cost.
Much more by following the link including suspicions of Microsoft jealousy over Negroponte’s use of Linux and criticisms of the wisdom of Negroponte’s plan. Frankly, both of these ideas seem like the hopeful belief of IT folks that a computer solves every problem and now I suspect we are in for a prolonged discussion.