Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 20/06/2006 The MIT '$100 laptop' project continues to draw flack. OK, so it's really a $150 PDA, the famous hand-powered dynamo's been dropped from the main unit, and I've railed before about the advisability of introducing three new and untested technologies to an environment where you can't get an aspirin, let alone IT support.

Tuesday 20/06/2006

The MIT '$100 laptop' project continues to draw flack. OK, so it's really a $150 PDA, the famous hand-powered dynamo's been dropped from the main unit, and I've railed before about the advisability of introducing three new and untested technologies to an environment where you can't get an aspirin, let alone IT support.

But the latest complaints include the distribution of the device. The project will only sell to governments – which is exactly what people on the ground say should not be done. Governments are concerned with staying in power, with cultivating helpful friends, with making the most of their position. They're also temporary and thus poor at long term projects, but good at diverting funds and resources.

It's far better to deal with NGOs – non-governmental organisations, such as charities, trusts and offshoots of the UN. They're not perfect, anyone involved in the developing world will have plenty of tales of white 4x4 syndrome, but they do hang around, they do have experience across countries, they have better governance and better connections across the board within a country. They're also highly focussed, concentrating on one task, and maintain that focus for decades.

If I was in charge, I'd be out there raising the necessaries to build a decent satellite networking system, together with some robust, simple local gateway box that converted the satellite connection to mobile phone internet access. That would work with existing technology such as Intel's Community PC – designed to survive and thrive in difficult conditions – to provide the difficult business of connectivity to as many people as possible at as low a cost as possible. The terminals are not the big problem, they're just the attractive one.

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