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Laptops for Everyone

An ambitious Cambridge-based program to provide children in developing countries with low-cost computers, will now sell the laptops to American customers.

The catch? If you buy one for yourself, you have to buy a second to give to a child in the developing world.

WBUR's Business and Technology Reporter Curt Nickisch reports.

TEXT OF STORY

CURT NICKISCH: People have been pestering Nicholas Negroponte ever since he founded "One Laptop Per Child." They've been wanting to get their hands on the project's low-cost, rugged laptop. Once he got an e-mail that said: 'I'll take a million of them. Jeb.'

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Very terse, and so terse I didn't think it was him.

NICKISCH: Jeb Bush, that is. Governor of Florida. He wanted them for schools. Negroponte had to tell Jeb what he tells everybody: the machine's not for the US.

NEGROPONTE: We're eating our words now and doing it in the United States, albeit for a financial reason.

NICKISCH: Negroponte changed his tune when he realized he could harness that US demand. In addition to selling them in bulk to foreign governments, now American consumers can buy them. For four hundred dollars - one laptop shows up in the mail - a second goes to a schoolchild in the developing world. Negroponte calls it the Give 1 Get 1 program.

NEGROPONTE: It doesn't take much snow to start an avalanche. And if we can trigger it with Give 1 Get 1, that's the whole purpose.

NICKISCH: Those US-funded laptops will go to the poorest countries unable to shell out the nearly two hundred dollars per machine. Just the scale of putting laptops in the hands of children around the world is so huge, getting the ball rolling is critical, says Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge.

JOSH BERNOFF: If they can sell three million this year, the chances they can sell 100 million two years from now is very high. So it's that first step that's the doozy.

NICKISCH: Commercial sales in the US will help the project ramp up production. Even though project head Nicholas Negroponte says he's not sure exactly how the low-power laptop will be used stateside...

NEGROPONTE: I don't think too many kids in the United States will hand-crank their laptop.

NICKISCH: Good thing the low-cost machine also comes with a power supply.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on September 24, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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