India is poised to unveil the ultimate in credit-crunch computing: a 500-rupee ($10) laptop.

A government-developed prototype, due to be shown for the first time Tuesday, will mark the most ambitious attempt yet to bring computers to the developing world and to bridge the "digital divide" between rich and poor.

It is also the latest example of ultra-cheap engineering to emerge from the subcontinent.

India has already given the world a 100,000 rupee ($2,000) car, the Tata Nano, and a super-basic $15 phone — goods that might be expected to find favor among relatively affluent Westerners as the global economic downturn bites.

However, the launch of a viable computer that costs less than some paperback books would herald a startling new era in thrifty manufacturing.

The Indian laptop, which has been on the drawing board for at least three years, will be the center of attention at the launch of India's new National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology, a scheme to boost learning in rural areas through the Internet.

It comes as an answer to the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, which set out to produce a computer designed for children for $100.

The U.S. venture ran into problems when large companies including Intel, the biggest chip manufacturer, refused to cooperate. As a result, the OLPC laptop now sells for $200.

In the light of the OLPC experience, experts have suggested that India's plans for an even cheaper machine are unrealistic and details of what exactly will be unveiled Tuesday are scant.

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