Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal devoted nearly 3,000 words to the saga of Nicholas Negroponte's plan: "Design a $100 laptop and, within four years, get it into the hands of up to 150 million of the world's poorest schoolchildren." What went wrong? "Mr. Negroponte's ambitious plan has been derailed, in part, by the power of his idea." Huh?
For-profit companies threatened by the projected $100 price tag set off at a sprint to develop their own dirt-cheap machines, plunging Mr. Negroponte into unexpected competition against Intel and Microsoft.
Intel, which normally doesn't sell computers, introduced a small laptop for developing countries called the Classmate, which currently goes for between $230 and $300. It hopes to prevent AMD, whose chips are in Mr. Negroponte's competing computer, from becoming a standard in the developing world.
Some potential buyers are having second thoughts. Officials in Libya, who had planned to buy up to 1.2 million of the laptops, became concerned that the machines lacked Windows, and that service, teacher training and future upgrades might [therefore] become a problem.
It now sells for $188, plus shipping. The higher price has made the laptop vulnerable to competition. Taiwanese, Indian and Israeli sellers of inexpensive Windows laptop see the developing world's more than one billion potential young customers as a big opportunity.
At a private meeting with a group from Rwanda, Negroponte announced that 20,000 laptops, courtesy of the "Give One. Get One." program, would soon be distributed. Carine Umutesi, who works for Rwanda's Information Technology Authority, questioned who would fix them if they break.
Mr. Negroponte said some initial tech support would be provided by Brightstar Corp., a Miami-based wireless equipment distributor. Just who would provide support a few years from now, he said, was "a frightening question." The students, he said, will need "to do as much maintenance as possible."