A number of papers are carrying articles about Nicholas Negroponte's $100 computer (on orders of one million or more!). While at the MIT Media Lab he started the Digital Nations project to enlist governments in developing countries to become paying partners with the lab. Judging from the web site, nothing new has been posted for two years. This piece is a good one because it raises the issues I don't think Negroponte and associates have considered: connectivity and cost of electricity--even if it is available. I say this because in one grass roots project in Uganda, men would take the batteries from their radios, thus preventing the women in the family from listening while they were away. It seems it was a matter of control, of cost, and of ownership.
Nevertheless, a low cost laptop would be very popular. Negroponte uses the analogy of the French Minitel system where the state-designed terminals were very cheap and very popular. In urban areas they effectively replaced phone books. There have been other schemes for cheap equipment: sending container loads of recycled PCs, but the recipients have vary opinions about the practicality of this. Some welcome the machines; others find the effort at refurbishing, maintenance, and provision of software for different generations to be a poor use of labor--even at the rates in poor countries. The Indian Simputer excited many people but it has never gained traction. (photo from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)