Potential computer users in the developing world will not want a basic $100 hand-cranked laptop that is due to be rolled out to millions, chip-maker Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett said Friday.
Schoolchildren in Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria will begin receiving the first few million textbook-style computers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) media lab run by Nicholas Negroponte from early 2006.
"Mr. Negroponte has called it a $100 laptop — I think a more realistic title should be 'the $100 gadget'," Barrett, chairman of the world's largest chip maker, told a news conference in Sri Lanka. "The problem is that gadgets have not been successful."
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has welcomed the development of the small, hand-cranked lime-green devices, which can set up their own wireless networks and are intended to bring computer access to areas that lack reliable electricity.
Negroponte said at their launch in November the new machines would be sold to governments for schoolchildren at $100 each but the general public would have to pay around $200, still much cheaper than the machines that use Intel's chips.
But Barrett said similar schemes in the past elsewhere in the world had failed, and users would not be satisfied with the new machine's limited range of programs.
"It turns out what people are looking for is something that has the full functionality of a PC," he said. "Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown-up PC ... not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them, not dependent for hand cranks for power."
Barrett said Intel was committed to delivering IT access to the developing world — and is helping Sri Lanka Telecom set up south Asia's first long-range WIMAX wireless network — but would not produce a cut-price product like MIT's computer.
"We work in the area of low-cost, affordable PCs, but full-function PCs," he said. "Not handheld devices and not gadgets."
He said Intel was also expanding to Sri Lanka an IT teacher-training scheme it says has already reached 3 million schoolteachers worldwide, and praised local projects aimed at producing computer literacy. About 90 percent of Sri Lankans were literate but only 10 percent computer literate, he said.