Microsoft Would Put Poor Online by Cellphone
By JOHN MARKOFF
Published: January 30, 2006
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 29 — It sounds like a project that just about any technology-minded executive could get behind: distributing durable, cheap laptop computers in the developing world to help education. But in the year since Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, unveiled his prototype for a $100 laptop, he has found himself wrestling with Microsoft and the politics of software.
Mr. Negroponte has made significant progress, but he has also catalyzed the debate over the role of computing in poor nations — and ruffled a few feathers. He failed to reach an agreement with Microsoft on including its Windows software in the laptop, leading Microsoft executives to start discussing what they say is a less expensive alternative: turning a specially configured cellular phone into a computer by connecting it to a TV and a keyboard.
High Internet costs in developing countries are definitely a big barrier for utilizing the $100 laptops to their full potential. However, as Negroponte points out, the laptops can connect to each other to form a mesh network. Villages equipped with the laptops can not only communicate to neighboring villages but even to far-flung villages that are at the edges of the network. I am wondering if someone who knows more about ad hoc networks can comment on whether one can create an ubiquitous network if enough laptops are dispersed in a region without using any other backbone infrastructure. Is there a finite capacity of the wireless bandwidth beyond which throwing more laptops may bring traffic down to a crawl between the laptops.
It is unfortunate that a lot of politicking is involved in helping poor nations get connected. In countries like the Philippines that are know for good programs but poor execution, many computerization programs have either been lagging behind target results or stalled because of lack of full support from private sectors. there are efforts to use cellular broadband technology for internet use here although the backbone infrastructure, as far as i know, is controlled by a monopoly, who still dictates who gets connected or not. I’d like to hear followup news/comments on this.
Hi to everyone at LIRNE! :)
I’ve been talking with some in Microsoft about the need to look at mobiles in disaster relief in general, but in peace processes and what’s called Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) in particular. Some articles in support of my arguments are to be found on InfoShare’s website – http://www.info-share.org and in a recent blog post of mine – hellsdireagent.blogsome.com/2006/01/27/comments-on-un-ict-for-peacebuilding-report/.
Sadly, it’s only when a behemoth such as Microsoft takes notice of what we have submitted through research and practice for years that things move ahead !
Also note that the link in this post takes you to a NY Times Select article – which one needs to subscribe to read in full. Any ideas on how to get full text, even via email, would be greatly appreciated.
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