William Kramer

Is the Hundred Dollar Laptop a Real Business?

100It was reported last week that Nicolas Negoponte and Libya reached an agreement to supply 1.2 million of the $100 computers to Libyan schoolchildren for $250 million. I was intrigued by the agreement, the math for which points up one of the problems with the effort – the computer itself may ultimately cost $100, but the infrastructure necessary – pipe, training, deployment, content etc. – takes a lot more money to make the deployment useful in local conditions. Will the Libyan money actually materialize? Who knows?

Myself, I would tend to exercise some caution when dealing with Col. Qaddafi and his bureaucracy. And the extra $130 million is just the down payment. But that is no argument against. It takes money to build infrastructure, and there will be broad benefits when a more robust IT network covers Libya. Rob and I argue whether OLPC is a “real” business. I say that $250 million is money, and even if the government is the buyer, there are lots of companies making lots of money selling things – real and imagined – to governments. Selling to governments is a business model, and if you can jumpstart the production – get the costs down – by selling to them, go for it. As my last post on this topic pointed out, the real benefits of the OLPC may accrue to all of us and the industry in general. We’ll see.