Nicholas Negroponte's been talking about his vision of creating a $100 laptop for the world's poor for quite some time now, and says that the first batch of devices could reach users in the middle of the year. It's never been clear to many people just why this project is so important, mainly because Negroponte and his group haven't clearly explained its benefits, particularly to the countries they expect to buy the machines, some of whom say their resources are better spent on more teachers and classrooms. Negroponte's in the news again, talking up the device, or XO, saying that despite its meager specs, it's actually better than a "real" laptop, and that he'll give up his current laptop for one. He also derides current uses of computers in education, saying that it's "criminal" that kids are being taught how to use applications like Excel, Word and PowerPoint, instead of "making things, communicating, exploring, sharing". Again, it seems like Negroponte's a little bit out of touch and very obtuse in his communication. It's not hard to see why schools in developing nations would want to teach kids how to use office applications, since they likely see it as a skill that will serve students well down the line, particularly when compared to the much more nebulous activities Negroponte mentions. He's right in that there's much more computers can offer than word-processing and spreadsheets. But to sell developing nations on the XO, he's got to make it much more clear what kids can do, and why it's beneficial, not just talk in abstract expressions in an attempt to sound visionary. Still, it remains unclear exactly why his special efforts are needed, when the market is driving down the price of "real" laptops pretty well on its own -- keep in mind, too, that the $100 is just a target that can only be reached once economies of scale kick in, and the XO will initially cost more.
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