Five years after the concept was first proposed, the so-called $100 laptop is poised to go into mass production. Previously, the organization behind the scheme said that it required orders for 3millon laptops to make production viable. The first machines should be ready to put into the hands of children in developing countries in October 2007.
Getting the $100 laptop to this stage has been a turbulent journey for the organization and its founder Nicholas Negroponte. Since the idea was first put forward in 2002, the low-cost laptop has been both lauded and ridiculed. Intel chairman Craig Barret famously described it as a "$100 gadget" whilst Microsoft founder Bill Gates questioned its design, particularly the lack of hard drive and its "tiny screen". Other critics asked whether there was a need for a laptop in countries which, they said, had more pressing needs such as sanitation, water and health care.
Professor Negroponte's response has always been the same: "It's an education project, not a laptop project."
Using open source software, OLPC have developed a stripped-down operating system which fits comfortably on the machine's 1GB of memory. The XO is built to cope with the harsh and remote conditions found in areas where it may be used, such as the deserts of Libya or the mountains of Peru. For example, it has a rugged, waterproof case and is as energy efficient as possible.
"The laptop needs an order of magnitude less power than a typical laptop," said Professor Bender. "That means you can power it by solar or human power."
Because it may be used in villages without access to a classroom, it has also been designed to work outside. In particular, the green and white machines feature a sunlight-readable display.
The XO will be produced in Taiwan by Quanta, the world's largest laptop manufacturer.
Field testing is being done in countries such as Nigeria and Brazil. However, the names of the governments that have purchased the first lots of machines have not been released.The XO currently costs $176 although the eventual aim is to sell the machines to governments for $100.
By Jonathan Fildes