What’s sadder than people in Burundi earning an average of only $90 a year? It might be Bill Gates‘ criticism of MIT’s efforts to bring affordable, networked computers to the poorest countries of the world in hopes of improving education (and communication and healthcare and more).
The challenge is enormous: the technology needs to be durable, require low-power (and be easily rechargeable), as easy to use as an egg timer, have networking in a land without infrastructure, and be cheap, cheap, cheap. Yet somehow, the MIT folks have figured it out, and the project — known to most of us as the $100 laptop project — seems to be on its way to success.
It’s the sort of thing that you’d figure a philanthropic guy like Bill Gates would be on top of. But alas, he seems not to understand. Gizmodo, ArsTechnica, TeleRead, and others are all reporting the world’s richest man went critical over the MIT project.
What are Big G‘s complaints?
- The screen is too small
Hmmm…it’s the same size as on the $1000 Ultra Mobile PCs that Microsoft’s pushing.
- Doesn’t have broadband
Um, well, Bill doesn’t work in telecomm, but you’d think he’d know that there ain’t much broadband in Africa or in poor countries anywhere.
- Doesn’t have a hard drive (it uses flash-based storage)
Apparently he worries that it’ll get filled with MP3s.
- The charger requires cranking
It’s just a generalization, but people usually turn the lights on at night if they can, but there aren’t many in Africa or in poor countries anywhere. Maybe Bill has a line on power fairies?
- Ongoing support, maintenance, and network access costs are far more expensive than the hardware
Right. So, Bill has first hand experience with the hidden costs of Windows, no?
I’m not sure what Bill thinks should be done instead, and I’m kinda thinking that his remarks will be recorded in history as being about as stunningly stupid as the old “who needs more than 640K” line. Ars Technica’s Nate Anderson was as dumbfounded as the rest of us:
It’s hard to see how a philanthropist could not love a device designed to put basic computing power in the hands of every child on earth, but Gates reached deep down inside and found a way
Perhaps what Bill really wanted to complain about was that the $100 laptops don’t run Windows and that Microsoft hadn’t figured out how to profit off of them yet.