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Revolution with crank

The data giants are arguing about how to spread IT in developing countries. But do you solve development problems by distributing second-class computers?


One laptop for each child is UN's Kofi Annan and IT professor Nicholas Negropontes goals. Norwegian researchers fear that the investment in cheap machines in developing countries is a derailment.

[IT development] The big guys disagree. MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte and Intel chief Paul Otellini are facing two different campaigns to disseminate information technology in developing countries. The number of Internet users in the world is growing rapidly, but still no more than 14 percent of all adults in the world are on the Internet, a new report from ComScore Networks shows.

Negroponte's initiative, "One Laptop Per Child," is to produce cheap, portable computers that governments in poor countries can buy for $ 100. Initially, the idea was that the PCs should be equipped with a crank that could recharge the battery if power is not available. Eventually it turned out that the crank would cause too much physical strain on the rest of the machine, therefore Negroponte has now decided to replace the crank with a pedal the users can tread, even while the machine is in use.

- Rather get a decent machine where you can actually read the text on the screen and where you do not have to sit and crank while trying to write, was Microsoft CEO Bill Gates comment to

Another reason, and probably more important reason for Bill Gate's sour statement, may be that Negroponte has not chosen to rely on Microsoft's Windows operating system. Rather, he chose Linux, which is free software developed by the principle of virtue.

Easiest possible

Knut Yrvin, project manager at Skolelinux Norway, is in dialogue with the "One Laptop Per Child" project.

- We have provided input on how to remove all functions that are not needed, so that Linux will use the least possible machine capacity.

If you had to install manufacturer-owned software, it would require more computing power, more memory and it would be very expensive, says Yrvin.

He says that Skolelinux has good experiences from primary school in Norway where students switch seamlessly between free and licensed software.

- Large countries such as India and Brazil do not need alms. Rather, they want to take control of the technology and the ability to further develop the software themselves. This is about becoming a producer, and not just a consumer of technology that is owned by others, says Yrvin.

Old machines

Negroponte has raised $ 20 million to cover development costs, and is

now well on the way to getting commitments from Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, India, China, Nigeria

and Thailand, for the purchase of a total of seven million computers for $ 700 million,


- One laptop per child is the key to expanding the learning process from being limited to

school, to become a better integral part of children's lives, both at play and with the family. Also the teachers

knowledge level is important, Negroponte said in a press release.

With him on the team he has UNDP, Google, News Corporation and AMD.

The latter is one of Intel's main competitors.

Lærke Toftlund has worked on these issues in practice. In the village of Hluhluwe,

far in the bush in South Africa, she worked half a year teaching high school students to

use PCs.

- It was the first time most students and teachers saw a PC. When we came down we thought that

we had to plan for a month, and then teach the teachers so that they could eventually teach the students.

But we were met with an expectation of getting started as soon as possible, and after five

days we had taught 175 students.

- Was it difficult for the students to learn to use


- Absolutely not. They lack the experience

having been exposed to technology throughout life, so they learn very quickly. They have

start clicking ahead and trying things out on your own, without asking us first.

- Did you get the classroom online?

- It will be possible, but the school has only one telephone line, and the machines have old 486 processors.

We have purchased a lexicon on the CD-ROM, which covers the concept understanding and when they can

navigating around it is not a long way to understand what the internet is all about.

Intel is the world's largest manufacturer of microprocessors and has launched an alternative to Negropontes

"One Laptop Per Child".

Intel is going to spend a billion dollars over the next five years providing its citizens in developing countries

better access to computers and the internet through the "World Ahead" project.

- We see this as good both for the world and for Intel. We expect a solid commercial

returns, Intel boss Paul Otellini told

Unlike Negroponte's "One Laptop Per Child," Intel is aiming for a full-fledged PC that will cost about $ 300. The properties will be specially adapted to conditions

rural in developing countries, and every PC will be designed to get a lot of users. The box

should protect the feed from heat and moisture.

The power supply will withstand interruptions and the PC will be able to connect to alternative power sources such as

car batteries or bicycle-driven alternators. The PCs should be removable, allowing maintenance

and bug fixing does not require on-site experts. The user interface should be on

local languages. The PCs should have an authentication system that allows users to fill

out and sign forms to the public, writes.

- The big advantage of the "One Laptop Per Child" project is simply that the machines

is much cheaper compared to Intel's "World Ahead". Thus, countries can bet on it

cheapest solution get far more machines distributed, and that is what is important, to get the equipment out

to school students, says Knut Yrvin of Skolelinux.

Port guards

The high expectations of IT development in developing countries are met with skepticism from a fellow at the Institute

for media and communication at the University of Oslo, Kristin Skare Orgeret.

- There are many reasons why radio is, and will continue to be, the most important medium in Africa.

There has been a tendency in parts of the aid environment that it was thought to be the solution

on many issues, but it requires training and maintenance, stable access to mains and

telecommunications networks.

The grantee sets out an example where those who are to organize the conditions for the users in

Countries like Uganga and Kenya also act as gatekeepers.

- I know of a case where two young people had walked several kilometers to the community center

with a handwritten note that they would publish on the internet, but the person in charge knows

the center refused to post the text, says Skare Orgeret.


Linux is a computer operating system in line with Windows and Mac OS. But i

Unlike the other two, Linux is free, ie open source free software.

Linux is created on a daily basis, and anyone can customize and further develop the software.

The core is written by Finnish Linus Torvalds with the help of hundreds of volunteers all over


- Technology fetishism

[it] Media professor Helge Rønning warns against unilateral investment in cheap machines.

- To think that one should solve development problems with handing out computers

reminiscent of technology fetishism. Communication is not a tool, it is one

process, says Rønning on the phone from Mozambique.

- The first thing I thought when I heard about this initiative was that here you have to solve

development problems by handing out second-class computers, says Rønning. He sees

on IT as just a small element that needs to be put into a much larger context with

education, communication and a functioning civil society.

Roening points out that there are many problems that are related and that one does not

solves development problems by solving only one element of a development complex.

- In addition, cheap computers are vulnerable, there are many middle-aged PCs around

about in the non-used third world. The digital divisions within developing countries are more important

than the gap between north and south, says Rønning.

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