Why Gates is right about the $100 laptop

Negroponte is hand-waving about how $100 laptops will get connected. Cellphone connections make more sense. But is Bill's proposal a vaporphone?
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor on

USA Today's Kevin Maney had dinner with Bill Gates and the conversation turned from Bill's philanthropic work in the developing world to his squabble with Negroponte over the right kind of computing device to blanket the developing world with. As noted here, Gates doesn't like the $100 PC and is pushing for some sort of cellphone-based device.

Since Negroponte opted to go with Linux for his hand-cranked, lime green machine, the natural conclusion is that Gates is bitter that Windows is not in the game, and that he's jealously trying to scuttle the device (note to Nick: hire Steve Jobs to name the device, "$100 laptop" doesn't cut it. Perhaps the iCrank?). As Maney draws the reasoning out to its logical extreme:

On the face of it, Gates seems to be taking his position only because that darn $100 laptop doesn't run on Microsoft's Windows operating system. Negroponte chose a free Linux-based operating system - and then gored Microsoft by saying he picked it not because it's free, but because it's better.

Worse for Microsoft, if tens of millions of Negroponte's Microsoft-free laptops spread through the Third World, that kind of product base would lure developers to create more software for the machines. Major manufacturers such as Sony or Dell might decide to make better, competing supercheap non-Windows laptops.

To be sure, there are substantial Windows vs. open source issues when you discuss the developing world. But Gates has a fundamentally correct point of view around cellphones. In Maney's telling:

Gates says that laptops aren't going to do much for the poor if they can't get on the Internet and that most of the poorest regions don't have Internet connections. But there might be answers to that, too - with Wi-Fi and microwave or satellite connections. Lockheed Martin is working on geostationary blimps that could act as a wireless Internet tower serving a large area.


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