September 24, 2007 3:00 am

Go-ahead for third world laptop scheme

A non-profit organisation will launch a scheme on Monday that allows adults in North America to donate laptops to developing countries if they buy a computer for four times that price.

One Laptop Per Child is aiming to provide $100 (€71, £49) laptops for schoolchildren in the developing world.

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A two-week programme from November 12 will enable the US and Canadian public to pay $399 for an XO laptop created for the third world – and for each one sold to them, another will be given for free to a child in a developing nation. The scheme comes as OLPC finally goes into mass production, with critics arguing its laptop is too expensive and too late to market.

Walter Bender, OLPC president of software and content, said US buyers could claim $200 as being a tax-deductible charitable donation. He said the real cost of the laptop was now about $185, with the balance covering delivery. He expects 40,000 to be produced in October – the first month of full production – with numbers doubling and trebling in subsequent months.

The new scheme is at odds with OLPC’s statement in January that it had no plans to make the laptop available to the general public. It may provide ammunition to OLPC's critics, including Stephen Dukker of Silicon Valley's NComputing, who argue that the developing world lacks the infrastructure to support OLPC.

The PC industry is also beginning to produce its own cheap laptops. The Taiwanese maker Asustek has announced its “eee” model, a basic notebook PC that could sell for as low as $199 later this year.

OLPC’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, accused the chipmaker Intel in May of trying to drive it out of the market.

He said Intel’s rival Classmate PC was being sold at below cost, although the two companies have since patched up their differences.

Both OLPC and Intel say there is room for both products. “We need to keep pressure on the market to keep the momentum moving,” says Mr Bender.

Paul Otellini, Intel chief executive, told the FT: “It would be premature to back off. We can add a lot to the creative stew.”

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