Kerry Howley over at Reason has a very critical piece about the $100 laptop I've written about on this blog. In a very critical piece she does a pretty good job of describing its weaknesses, including the fact that the $100 laptop is only available in bulk purchases of 1 million units.
Over on Emergent Chaos, Adam Shostack points out that $100 is a pretty hefty sum for many smaller and poorer countries, including several in which such a figure exceeds 10 percent of GDP.
But Howley's article directed me to Linspire's Michael Robertson who makes an interesting point on the topic:
Recently, Linspire did some research in several developing PC markets. We traveled around the globe to see how poor people are using PCs. The results were astounding. We saw homes without running water with a very capable PC in one corner that the whole family would use. This wasn't a low-end PC, but a middle-of-the-road machine that the family used for surfing the Internet, playing games, watching movies, listening to music and educating their children.It's the same point made by Intel, but this one seems to be backed up by a bit more insight. I'd love to know more about this research.
To buy the computer, the family would take out a loan for $250-$400 and often assemble their own computer (or have it assembled by friends). They did not buy the cheapest computer available to them, but instead insist on getting a fully functioning computer.
I'm also wondering if we're looking at the wrong solution. One of my clients points out that it all starts with low-cost, high-volume manufacturing, areas such as apparel. These jobs give people money and encourage the building of an infrastructure (roads, communications, ports, etc) and that leads to the next level of jobs. As they earn more education also becomes important, and a generation later a different level of manufacturing takes hold.
Should we instead, be focusing on bringing manufacturing jobs to these countries and encouraging a must slower progression? Of course, political stability is important before even starting such an endeavor.
Certainly more complex problems than dropping in a million laptops.