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Computing Dec. 2007

The One Laptop Per Child Project Takes Wing
By John R. Quain
Bringing the digital world to the developing world--and to developing minds

XO LaptopMicrosoft may have made fun of it. And Intel may have dismissed it. But the One Laptop Per Child initiative is finally a reality.

The brainchild of MIT's Nicholas Negroponte, the non-profit One Laptop Per Child project combined the talents of a dozen different technology companies to create a low-cost computer for children in the developing world. The project's goal is to give children the technological tools needed to learn and develop in what has become a digital world. The result is the XO laptop, a rugged, low-cost computer that can become a child's window on the world. One Laptop is hoping that through donations and government purchases in developing countries that it can bring a new generation into the digital age. (Uruguay has signed up to purchase 100,000 laptops and Mongolia has committed to buying 20,000 models; organizations in Rwanda, Haiti, Cambodia and Peru are also planning to buy XOs.)

We've been testing a couple of the XO laptops here at J-Q.com and found that so far the machines live up to the promise. The computers cost about $199 but come with all the necessary tools for growing minds. There's a built-in writing program, art program, music program, Web browser, and even a built-in video camera. The system includes an AMD processor with 256 MB of DRAM. It does not have a hard drive but instead uses 1 gigabyte of flash memory, making the system much more impact resistant and durable. For future expansion, there are three USB ports and an SD memory card slot.

The XO has also been designed with some unique features. It has a reduced-size, water and dirt resistant keyboard, for example, and it can connect to the Internet using a so-called wireless mesh Wi-Fi network. Essentially, this means that the laptops can reach the Web even if they don't have a direct connection by wirelessly connecting to other laptops that are directly connected to the Net. It's a technique suited to remote and rural areas where links to the online world may be few and far between.

Furthermore, the XO has a 7.5-inch color screen that can run in a black-and-white mode so that it can be read more easily in direct sunlight. A concomitant benefit of this is that the machine will run for up to 24 hours on a single battery charge in this mode.

If you think the One Laptop Per Child project is a worthwhile cause (and we do), then you may want to participate in the foundation's Give One Get One promotion. From now until November 26th, for a donation of $399 you can have one XO laptop sent to a child in a developing country and receive one XO in time for Christmas for a child in your life (with one year of free hotspot Internet access courtesy of T-Mobile).. With Thanksgiving approaching in the U.S., we think it's a great idea. (Watch JQ's segment about One Laptop on CBS News.)

 . J-Q.com

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