Thursday, March 16, 2006

Gates Whines that Windows Won't be on $100 Laptops

Seems Bill Gates has his shorts in a bunch over MIT's $100 laptop program. The laptops are meant for developing countries, with the intent that governments will purchase the laptops and give them to children for free. They will come with GNU/Linux installed, and with the ability to mesh wirelessly with other laptops nearby, allowing for sharing of (possibly rare) Internet connections. They are also designed to be rugged, and have a hand-crank for use without power. The LCD has a high-contrast mode for use in bright sunlight. They will have 500MB flash drives, but no hard drive. Obviously, they are designed for use in environments that normal laptops would last about 5 minutes in. According to the article, Gates is quoted as saying:
"The last thing you want to do for a shared use computer is have it be something without a disk ... and with a tiny little screen..."
Well, 500MB would hold about one or two Word documents of almost any size (anyone else noticed that?), but plenty of OpenOffice.org docs or program text. and
"Hardware is a small part of the cost" of providing computing capabilities, he said, adding that the big costs come from network connectivity, applications and support."
I think Bill is just a little out of touch with the mainstream. Has he forgotten that software is becoming a commodity? Does he get that Windows would cost more than the laptop itself? Applications? Every Linux distro I've used has come with more usable apps than I can shake a stick at, no licenses required. Support? I suppose Bill would love it if kids in developing countries called MS's support line for help every time they blue-screened, oh, wait, most of them don't have phones, let alone a credit card to pay for the support. They can support themselves with Linux, let's give them some credit, kids will be resourceful if offered the chance. Network connectivity? The idea is that kids will be able to form ad-hoc mesh networks amongst themselves, and perhaps share a single Internet connection, if it is available. But the best quote is this one:
"If you are going to go have people share the computer, get a broadband connection and have somebody there who can help support the user, geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text and you're not sitting there cranking the thing while you're trying to type..."
I suppose he wants to pay for the infrastructure to bring broadband to developing nations (the scary thing is, he could probably afford it). I know he's being "funny" with the crank comment, but you crank it first, then type. And I suppose Bill has just such a "decent" computer he can offer? Oh, yeah:
...a new "ultra-mobile computer" which runs Microsoft Windows on a seven-inch (17.78-centimeter) touch screen. Those machines are expected to sell for between $599 and $999...
I suppose we could get MS to give away a few million units for "charity", let's throw in the OS license for free and MS Office licenses and some commercial educational software, since notepad and solitaire don't cut it in the classroom. Don't forget MS Visual Studio, unless you don't want the kids to hack on code in their spare time. Seven-inch screen, eh? Looks to be the same size screen as the $100 laptop's planned design, anyway. So much for the "tiny little screen". I guess the text would look just as small, at least for the first few minutes of use, until the shiny "ultra-mobile" computer was dropped and its screen broke, or the hard drive crashed, or... Well, let's put Windows on the $100 laptop, shall we? I suppose I don't even have to mention how well Windows XP/Vista/whatever would run on a 500 MHz laptop with 128MB of RAM. He could just come out and say that he wishes they had chosen Windows for the $100 laptops, but he has no real way to justify this. At least Steve Jobs kept his mouth shut.

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