TUNIS, Tunisia – A cheap laptop boasting wireless network access and a hand-crank to provide electricity are expected to start shipping in February or March to help extend technology to school-aged children worldwide.
The machines are to sell for $100, slightly less than its cost. The aim is to have governments or donors buy them and give full ownership to the children.
"These robust, versatile machines will enable children to become more active in their own learning," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters.
Annan and more than 16,000 people from 176 countries were attending the three-day U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, in its second day Thursday.
Although discussions about persisting U.S. control over the Internet's addressing system have consumed much of summit, its original aim was to find ways to extend communications technologies to the world's poorest — through projects like the $100 laptop.
MIT Media Lab chairman Nicholas Negroponte, who unveiled the textbook-sized laptop on Wednesday, said he expects to sell 1 million of them to Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria.
Negroponte did not say who would build the machine, which will cost $110 to make, but at least five are considering bids to do so. He said a commercial version may be available at a higher price to subsidize machines provided to children.
The laptop will run on an open-source operating system, such as Linux, which is generally cheaper than proprietary systems such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows, said Negroponte.
The devices will be lime green in color, with a yellow hand crank, to make them appealing to children and to fend off potential thieves.
Also at the summit, Microsoft unveiled a new network of learning centers in Tunisia to train people to be teachers in technology. Jean-Phillippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, said the company would replicate the centers elsewhere as part of its outreach efforts.
Addressing delegates on Thursday, Pakistani diplomat Masood Khan said increasing access to communications can help improve relations between regions and religions.
"Information is not just an economic tool," Kahn told delegates in the main hall. "We need its infinite power to combat the rising tide of prejudice and hatred."