Titans, Laptops, and Cell Phones
January 30th, 2006

Davos, Switzerland, famed as a mega resort setting, is the stage today for a New York Times report on possibily competing formats for mobile learning. Nicholas Negroponte, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs are involved as a choice may arise between $100 Laptops and cell phones as the mobile education device for developing countries. From the lengthy and interesting article:

Mr. Negroponte has made significant progress [on his $100 aptops], but he has also catalyzed the debate over the role of computing in poor nations — and ruffled a few feathers. He failed to reach an agreement with Microsoft on including its Windows software in the laptop, leading Microsoft executives to start discussing what they say is a less expensive alternative: turning a specially configured cellular phone into a computer by connecting it to a TV and a keyboard.

Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder and chairman, demonstrated a mockup of his proposed cellular PC at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, and he mentioned it as a cheaper alternative to traditional PC’s and laptops during a public discussion here at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Craig J. Mundie, Microsoft’s vice president and chief technology officer, said in an interview here that the company was still developing the idea, but that both he and Mr. Gates believed that cellphones were a better way than laptops to bring computing to the masses in developing nations. “Everyone is going to have a cellphone,” Mr. Mundie said, noting that in places where TV’s are already common, turning a phone into a computer could simply require adding a cheap adaptor and keyboard. Microsoft has not said how much those products would cost.

Mr. Mundie said there was no firm timing for the cellphone strategy, but that the company had encouraged such innovations in the past by building prototypes for consumer electronics manufacturers.

It is not clear to what extent Mr. Negroponte’s decision to use free open-source software in the laptop instead of Windows spurred the alternative plan from Microsoft. But Mr. Gates has been privately bitter about it, and Mr. Mundie has been skeptical in public about the project’s chance of success. . . .

Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, had also offered a free version of his company’s OS X operating system, but Mr. Negroponte rejected that idea because the software was largely not open-source, meaning users could not get free access to software and its source code, which they could then modify. Mr. Negroponte said in an interview here that he had resolved to use Linux not because it was free but because of its quality and maintainability.

“I chose open-source because it’s better,” he said. “I have 100 million programmers I can rely on.”

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