Friday, December 09, 2005

Godsend or Gadget

A few weeks ago I wrote about the $100 laptop unveiled by the folks at MIT. It turns out that the great minds at the Design Contiuum had a hand in designing it--they're located up the street from me and are responsible for some beautiful products including the Swiffer.

Regardless, today Intel Chairman Craig Barrett called it a "gadget." This isn't that surprising, as the device wouldn't use Intel chips and wouldn't run Microsoft software.

Miguel de Icaza has long said that emerging economies who make deals with Microsoft are selling their own soul. His argument is that people on the poor end of the spectrum need access to technology in order to advance, and being locked into an expensive and closed system from Microsoft limits that access. He would prefer these countries use open source software, which is cheaper and encourages involvement by those using it. Meaning, people are more likely to start learning to code to make the software do what they need it to do.

To be fair, de Icaza has a stake in this as he's one of the leaders of the open source movement and also founded Ximian, which early in its evolution specialized in open source desktops.

The machines, as designed, rely on Linux and other open source systems. Nicholas Negroponte pointed out that by using simpler software the machines don't need to be as complex as the computers we use every day and can still be as useful.

Barrett apparently doesn't think so. According to Reuters:

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 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."

For their part, Intel and Microsoft are working toward similar goals and you can make your own judgments as to who has more altruistic goals. Regardless, I like what I've seen so far from the folks at MIT and I'm looking forward to reading more about these devices in the future.

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