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Nicholas Negroponte of the One Laptop Per Child initiative is waking up to the business realities of equipping millions with low cost hardware: "I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a check written." No kidding. Some degree? A commitment for three million down to no orders for the production of 120,000 cheap laptops is some degree. To spur sales, the low-cost laptop will be offered to North American consumers for $399. The price includes an additional laptop donation for charity. But come on: Wal-Mart sells computers for less.

Even while embracing reality, Negroponte clings to idealistic expectations: "Negroponte explained that if donations reached, say, $40 million, that would mean 100,000 laptops could be distributed free in the developing world. The idea, he said, would be to give perhaps 5,000 machines to 20 countries to try out and get started." These, of course, would be the same countries that have so far demurred on placing actual orders. Perhaps, it turns out, that for all the complexities of designing and distributing the laptop, the truth is simpler: None of his prospective customers are interested in Negroponte's machine.