The sub-$100 computer

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This has been a point of discussion rumbling around the various geek news sources. The latest is a column by John Carroll wondering about this very same idea.

An answer to the $100 PC? (Posted by John Carroll, October 13, 2005, ZDNET)

Obviously one of the problems to building a $100 computer is the cost of the parts. How much do you strip it down in order to make the cost incredibly low? But my mind right now is more interesting in "why" would one want to do this?

Why? I remember reading the idea started with something Nicholas Negroponte said, and that he couched it as something the industrialized world needs to do to help the poor third-worlders to join the modern age. There's a certain value to that, as even with the wonders of modern technology much of the world's people cannot benefit. The cost for the computers, as cheap as they seem to us, are perhaps several years earnings to these people.

What of the many who don't use money at all, but exchange value in other ways? Which raises an interesting question about ... modern interaction between people in our society uses money, but that's not the only way to construct society. Pre-modern civilizations around the world lived perfectly well without money for millenia. Money is a modern figment of our collective imaginations. Is it the best choice for our society? Especially if you think money is the root of all evil. But that's a tangent from the current discussion.

One thing that might result from the quest for the sub-$100 computer is the lower cost price point might create a disruptive wave in computing in the industrialized countries, but never reach the poor masses. This would be like the freeplay radio originally developed for the same poor thirdworlders who can't even afford batteries, but instead became a pop culture item.

John Carroll's article, I think, totally misses the point. He suggests using the "memory stick" as the basis for a sub-$100 PC. The memory stick can hold enough data to provide a decent desktop OS along with enough space for many personal files. Think - memory sticks are in the 4GB range nowadays, and it wasn't that long ago when that was the size for a hard disk in a regular computer.

He suggests marrying this memory stick with a computer of some kind that's bootable from a memory stick. That would enable some kind of public kiosk where you carry your "computer" on the memory stick, and plug it into available kiosk's everywhere you go.

Let me interrupt John Carroll's presentation and point out what he's done is diverge from the original concept. Would it make any sense for poor thirdworlders to be expected to own memory sticks?

I can see his scenario being attractive in the industrialized world. We already see some number of public kiosks, such as in airports or some coffee shops. But that's not what exists in the rural villages of the world.