Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Equal Opportunity via Cheap Laptops...

For quite a few years now there has been a new movement emerging whose mission is to create computers affordable enough to allow underprivileged children and adults to participate in the Digital Economy. Make no mistake, this is not a matter of some corporation seeking to reduce prices in order to sell more goods and make higher profits. It is a true movement intended to help the world's poor and empower them in the Internet Age.

Matthew Elliot reports that the cheapest laptop in the world has just been made available - the Medison Celebrity laptop costs only $150 and is available through online reseller And, yes, it's actually functional - an Intel 1.5 Ghz processor, 40 GB hard drive, 256 MB of RAM, etc. Heck that's better than the laptop I've been using for years to teach computer science! The reason it can be sold so cheaply is because it uses the free Linux operating system instead of Microsoft Windows. Along a similar vein, Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC sells for $175, and Intel's Classmate PC is expected to go for $200.

Furthermore, these laptops not only come WiFi-enabled, but in some cases a portion of the proceeds actually goes toward building a WiFi infrastructure in developing nations. I've also heard that when somebody from the developed world buys one of these machines, fully half of the proceeds actually go towards buying another machine for someone in the Third World. That's your classic 2-for-the-price-of-1 deal, only some African fellow gets your free one.

Sure, people in the Third World have more immediate concerns than obtaining a laptop - food, water, and shelter come to mind pretty quick - and skeptics are always plenty eager to point that out. Nevertheless, these programs are well-intentioned and should be commended for being as such. The equal opportunity that the Internet provides only exists for those who have access to it, after all.

Which raises two questions: 1) Why aren't we pursuing a universal broadband access program in the United States, to foster equal opportunity here as well?, and 2) If it's economically feasible to create a $150 laptop, then why hasn't some firm jumped at the chance to mass market them and gain a tremendous comparative advantage?


At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Windows OEM license costs between $20 and $80 ($80 is rare).

You can't make a $150 laptop taking away Windows.

Plus it's all over the news than Medison are scammers. The offer isn't real.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

Actually, the Windows OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) license is only cheap at the outset - you don't actually get a copy of the CD for yourself. You're right that Linux instead of Windows doesn't solely account for the $150 price, but it contributes greatly towards it (slashing the price by even $80 is a 35% discount!).

As for the offer being real, I've searched around in response to your comment, and there is definitely some confusion over this, however Matthew Elliot reports that he did in fact get his, and the source for the confusion is explained in a comment by "BBDEC1" from the Crave website link: "2CO is the reseller and places holds on all funds until the laptop is shipped, opened and tested as like advertised. When you give the go ahead, they withdraw the funds and pay Medison. My Credit card is not charged until then. Just a hold on those funds."

And besides, my larger point was actually to highlight the movement of digitally enabling people in developing nations. Still smarter than me?


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