Nicholas Negroponte's '$100 laptop computer' will cost about $135 when available to children in developing countries by the middle of next year, the head of the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) said Friday.

But the MIT professor and Media Lab founder said in a speech at the Red Hat Summit that he expects economies of scale to help bring the cost of the ruggedised 2-pound Linux laptops to $100 by 2008, when the OLPC hopes to ship 100 million of the computers, up from 7 million to 10 million in 2007.

By 2010, Negroponte predicts that the price will drop to $50 per computer by 2010.

No time for pilot scheme

"The World Bank asks us, 'Have you done studies?' Well, we haven't. But there is no time for pilots. Those days are over. This is a slam-dunk, as long as we execute, execute, execute," he said.

Companies participating in the OLPC include Red Hat, Google, Advanced Micro Devices, News Corp, BrightStar, Marvell Technology, Nortel Networks, eBay, 3M and Quanta.

Those companies' efforts, along with the elimination of a sales and marketing team, which Negroponte estimates makes up half of the cost of a typical laptop computer, are helping to cut costs.

Countries line-up to help their children

Four countries - Brazil, Thailand, Argentina and Nigeria - have already committed to buying and distributing one million of the PCs next year, and three others - China, India and Egypt - are close, Negroponte said.

Negroponte hopes to get final commitments by September, delivering prototypes to developers in the third quarter and to educators in the fourth quarter. The target shipment date is sometime in the second quarter of next year.

Red Hat, which joined the OLPC in January, is leading an effort to shrink its Fedora Core version of Linux to run on the laptops.

Red Hat has been able to cut down Fedora, which normally requires 1.3GB to install, to about 250MB, engineering manager Chris Blizzard said earlier this week.

It is aiming to deliver an even skinnier version of Fedora, bundled with essential applications such as email, the Gecko web browser, document-creation software and a VoIP application, that requires just 130MB of flash memory storage, leaving more than 350MB available for children to store documents, photos and more.

To prevent damage from dust or water to the 2lb laptop, keyboard and expected three USB ports will be sealed. The computer will be designed to require just 2 watts of power.

The laptop will sport a 500Mhz AMD x86 chip, which Negroponte called "a damn good processor".

It's no wind-up

Negroponte admitted to being wedded to a design where a crank is attached to the laptop itself, but he said more recent designs attach the handle to the AC adapter, which puts less physical stress on the computer. The OLPC is also considering designs where children can power-up their computers using either a cord similar to one used to start a lawnmower, or pedals.

The low-power 7-by-4-in LCD screens will be the most innovative part of the notebook. In black-and-white mode, the 1,110-by-830-pixel, backlit screen will be readable under direct sunlight. In color mode, the screen will revert to 640 by 480 pixels.

The latest designs, viewable at, also sport fold-out antennas that double as rabbit ears that "make everyone smile," he said.

Swipes at Microsoft, Intel

Negroponte took swipes at Microsoft and Intel, both of which have publicly criticised the practicality of OLPC.

"If I'm annoying Microsoft and Intel, I'm probably doing something right," he said.

He pooh-poohed criticism that poor Third World children won't immediately benefit from the computers. Kids, he asserts, possess an unselfconscious curiousity and natural adaptiveness.

"You take a kid out of the jungle with zero literacy and drop them in the middle of Paris for eight weeks, and they will learn to speak French," he said. Similarly, "Kids just dive into technology."

Google matters

He cites his experience bringing fifty laptop computers to a rural school he founded in Cambodia several years ago. "The first English word those kids learned was 'Google,' because that's where they were spending all their time," he said. The parents, he joked were "thrilled" for a different reason: "The computer instantly became the brightest light source in their homes, which were usually one-room huts."

To overcome infrastructure issues such as a lack of internet access, the OLPC hopes to distribute cheap satellite dishes whose range will be lengthened by the laptops themselves, which will connect to each other in a mesh network. He also said that the OLPC has already designed a $100 server with 200GB of storage that can be sent to individual villages for caching or storage purposes.

Domestically, the OLPC is considering distributing the computers to children in Massachusetts, says Negroponte, though he claims that 30 state governors have asked about it. He said such distribution is definitely a possibility, though he hopes to enlist partners. "It is not our job; it's someone else's job," he said.