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January 30, 2006

Microsoft disputes Negroponte on PCs for Third World

Posted by David Hunter at 8:18 AM ET.

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.

Filed under Bill Gates, CES06, Conferences, Craig Mundie, Executives, General Business, Governmental Relations, Linux, Open Source, Public Relations

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3 Responses to “Microsoft disputes Negroponte on PCs for Third World”

  1. Microsoft News Tracker » Bill Gates visits Turkey Says:

    [...] There was no word as to whether they will be cellphone based. And, yes, there were some protestors with “Microsoft Go Home” signs. Filed under OS – Client, Executives, Bill Gates, Governmental Relations, General Business, XP Starter Edition, Public Relations Listen to this article   [Permalink] [...]

  2. “Bill Gates mocks MIT’s $100 laptop project” -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Stand by for the media furor. I think the idea is fairly wacky myself, but the chairman of Microsoft needs to be crisp in his arguments if he’s going to take on this one. Gates didn’t help his case by holding up one of the newly announced $600-$1000 Origami UMPCs or thinking that the $100 computer involves sharing – there’s supposed to be one of the hand cranked gadgets per kid. I also wonder what happened to Microsoft’s cell phone alternative. Filed under Executives, Bill Gates, Technologies, Governmental Relations, General Business, Public Relations, Origami, Microsoft Listen to this article   [Permalink] [...]

  3. Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting recap -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Microsoft shows off cell phone-PC prototype. It’s called FonePlus and is intended for emerging markets and rivals Nicholas Negroponte’s “$100 PC” as we have mentioned previously. It’s merely a research project but drew disproportionate press interest. [...]

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