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India says no thanks to the $100 laptop

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 28, 2006

Just a few days after the announced departure of the Intel exec overseeing the company’s efforts to launch low-cost PCs for the developing world (see this Asiatech blog post), another project has suffered what may turn out to be a much bigger setback. MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s ambitious plan to create a $100 laptop has won lots of attention; his One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) non-profit, working with Taiwanese PC maker Quanta Computer, is working to come out with its first models by the end of the year. (See this story I did a while back in BusinessWeek, for instance.) But according to a wire story picked up in the Indian newspaper The Hindu , the Indian government – one of the largest would-be customers for the machine – has decided that it’s not interested in buying them. Worse for Negoponte, the Indian official who announced the news didn’t hesitate to criticize the whole idea of the $100 laptop. Education Secretary Sudeep Banerjee’s view: “We do not think that the idea of Prof Negroponte is mature enough to be taken seriously at this stage and no major country is presently following this. Even inside America, there is no much enthusiasm about this.” Ouch.

The criticism from India is certainly not the end of the project. And it’s important to remember that there’s a history of bad blood between the Indian government and MIT. Years ago, the two tried to set up an Indian version of MIT’s Media Lab, but the project flop, embarrassing New Delhi and creating bad feelings among many in India’s elite toward Negroponte. ZDNet UK points out that the setback is just the latest problem that MIT’s Media Lab has had in India. Negroponte, according to ZDNet, is “persona non grata” in India because of the bad feelings that came from the aborted attempt to set up a Media Lab in the country. That, says ZDNet, puts MIT at a big disadvantage: “There are plenty of large technology organisations that are making an impact in the developing world with, frankly, much better track records of operating with governments, NGOs and individuals in the field.”

That said, I think it’s too early to write the obituary for the OLPC project – or for plans by Intel and others. There is certainly a need to provide low-cost computing for children and their parents in developing countries. But clearly selling the idea to decision makers in those places is going to take a lot more work.

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Reader Comments

Shankar Kambam

August 1, 2006 01:51 AM

It is certainly true that there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm on part of the government agencies in India towards the idea of OLPC. It can very well be understood in the context of the other pressing needs of a rapidly develping economy such as India.

What is required more urgently is investment in (Quality) basic education infrastructure which can cater to the bursting children population in the country. I cannot imagine a child studying in his $100 laptop under a leaking school roof or worse under the shades of a tree - shirtless and wearing his half pyjamas. In a country where nearly one-third of the population goes un-educated the more pressing need is to ensure that all the children have ready access to elementary education rather than indulging in fancy concepts such as OLPC.

Clearly the OLPC idea has some vested interests of companies such as Intel who would like to increase their sales under the garb of so called social projects such as OLPC.

RIP OLPC in India.


August 1, 2006 01:59 AM

These are pathetic comments coming from Indian diplomats but then that's Indian bureaucracy for the World. They simply want to follow the US or developed countries without taking the opportunities that are available at hand. It could also be to appease a certain section of the Indian businesses who are presently giving out $200 computers. I sincerely hope they revert their stance soon.


August 1, 2006 09:45 AM

Well, that's India for you. Nobody can trust the beureuacracy in India. They expected MIT to present the media lab in a silver plate to them. When MIT failed to do that, they blame MIT. Now, they do the same with the $100 laptop.

Chiou-muh Jong

August 1, 2006 11:19 AM

I think US$100 is not enough to buy a really functional laptop unless government heavily subsidizes the product for all poor students. Here I have a better idea. I have a pending Patent application US20060061546 titled "Handbag/purse based combination electronic gadgets", in which I propose to integrate handbag/schoolbag/purse with laptop/pda by using wide surface areas of schoolbag and the like for display(LCD sreen) and imbedding all circuit/accessories inside the layer of schoolbag and bottom portion of the bag such that the schoolbag can be used to carry normal books/stationary as usual, yet also have basic computer functions. I strongly believe that this is a better solution than the current one initiated by MIT. I also believe that it makes more sense to susidize, if governments need to do for their pupils and students to avoid digital gap gradually getting worse. For more information about this pending patent application, anybody can search USPTO PGPUB Production Database. However, you need a tiff file reader to be able to see the drawings. I can provide if somebody is interested in this application.

rajeev bajpai

August 1, 2006 11:50 AM

OLPC perhaps was a good idea or a bad one - that time will tell. One has been hearing about such a move and the product for a very very log time but even the prototype of the product is not avaialable...leave apart what functions, it can do.

I am also not sure as to why we are criticising the government for I have not heard any such move as to discredit the product. secondly and more importantly if the product is good and it works then it will have a commercial success ..even without the aid or support of the government. People buy gadgets as they feel that the gadgets can enhance the value of their lives or thier children....let the product be the judge.


August 1, 2006 11:54 AM

That is one bombastic official's comment on the project. So please do not purport that as the opinion of India as a whole. There has been no serious debate about this issue. And the Indian press is still too immature and unfocused to carry out such a conversation. But he does make an important point that there is a much bigger need for well-paid teachers at the primary and secondary level than computers.

India is a federal democracy, so the OLPC project can be picked up by other actors in the Indian landscape. That the project is not picked up by the commie-infested Human resources ministry, does not mean that individual states and organisations cannot or will not do it.


August 1, 2006 11:57 AM

While some of you are quick in criticizing the Indian bureaucracy, this time it has got it right. The problem here is providing quality education to the kids in India and Negroponte's $100 laptop is not going to do it. Do you really expect/want the Indian government to spend millions of dollars on laptops (which btw, no one knows how user friendly will be) when it can be better used in bringing kids to school and teach them the multiplication table instead of Windows VISTA or linux?

While we are at it: Don't make it a rule to blame bureaucracy for everything. Sometimes it can get it right.

Cathy Katz

August 1, 2006 12:42 PM

I think $100 for a laptop is still costly for a poor student in India, unless Indian government subsidizes the price. But, the reason that the indian government has given citing other countries that has not adopted this policy is pathetic, showing its inability to make the first move.


August 1, 2006 01:33 PM

The laptop for children between 5th grade and 10th grade should cost only $20 and weigh less than 1 lbs. I think $100 used to be a good number 5 years back. But our technology has changed so much that we can make laptop with basic softwares for $20. I understand the goal is shooting beyond the moon, but it is certainly possible.


August 1, 2006 03:06 PM

I strongly agree with Shankar when he said india's priorities are different. most westerners dont understand what india lacks and what it desperately needs help on. over a hunder year ago, a saint called Swami Vivekanada went to Chicago for an international religions conference wherein he said, you dont have to come and preach india about god and religion for we have been teaching the world about those things for over a 1000 years. but what we need is bread for our children, shelter and healthcare. over 100 years have gone by and nothing has changed in india. what our children need now are food, shelter, healthcare and education, basic one at it. definitely not a $100 laptop. i will give you an example, there are a few social organizations here that provide all the above 4 to one child in india for each $10 a month that you can donate. if a government will do so, it can do it for one third that cost because it holds free real estate. now you know what's our priority.


August 1, 2006 05:12 PM

Hi, i fully agree with the naysayers of the laptop. Surely the needs of our country are much basic. Also i do not think this is about the vested interests of Intel or any other business organization.

Even if Intel wants to sell more computers and create a new generation of indians that are familiar with its brand, they surely are not that stupid to imagine that kids would know how to use Windows without knowing how to read and write.

Frankly speaking we should not care where and how our children are educated. If they have the education with the benefit of Intel, surely they will have the common sense to choose between Intel/ AMD/ others based on cost/ performance when they grow up.

I think what is the the crunch issue here is that wether the Indian government has any real reasons to refuse this program or is it just some old rivalries? Hopefully somebody would explain that.

Otherwise it doesn't make a difference how much money Negropente or his cohorts stuff in their pockets (directly or indirectly) if indian children learn to read or write. And the beauracrats should realize the same!! But would politicians and beauracrats who try to profit from the death of their citizens (as has been visible throughout the Mumbai bombing case) really talk sense???


August 4, 2006 12:13 AM

hi Bruce, i was a little dissappointed that you skimmed the surface of the MIT venture and why it went kaput. to add credibility its important to understand that. there were serious issues there which made the Indian Govt queasy about another encounter with Dr Negroponte. how about delving into those?
regarding the $ 100 laptop, depends on which segment we are looking at, the bottom of pyramid kids certainly dont need a laptop to study, a blackboard on the table and a full meal will be good. for the middle of pyramid, a laptop focused on educational segment will be good but then, they should get something that is low cost but is really fully functional. the OLPC does not seem that.
wanting to create something for the poor / lower than the creamy segment of the market is a good idea and getting large organizations to re-work their research, pricing, features to get more products and the competition going in this segment can only benefit everyone. look at CK Prahlad and his theories for starters. we would not have had a PC in every home if large corporations were kept out of the equation and they had not beaten down the product for mass production...

v bosco

August 5, 2006 12:14 PM

Give a computer to a child in an indian village - a kid with 6 siblings who have not had anything to eat, no clean water, no electricity!!! What is the child going to do with the computer???


August 9, 2006 01:21 PM

I agree with Auritha, Indian children need basic educational needs like schools with proper roofs, books, blackboards. I never required a laptop to finish my education, so why would anybody else require a laptop to finish their basic education?


August 16, 2006 03:44 PM

Initial design of the laptop looks more like a lunch box than a serious laptop. Similiar experiment by IIT was a big flop, reason being the so-called Simputer was second grade. However a $200 desktop is quite successful as it provides all the functionality of a normal desktop computer (though at lesser speed).


August 17, 2006 08:26 AM

I don't know why every Indian has to blame the Indian system and still cherish living in it!

Nicholas if he earns $100 a year will first dream of a loaf of bread, a place to stay and adequate clothing!! Then comes education, et al. You go give our have-not children a laptop they (or surely the parents) will sell it in the grey market and have three sqaure meals (if the deal was well made though!) $100 for a laptop is still a luxury for lower income groups in India.

So understanding India and its priorities is a must before assigning to such a program. Atleast stop criticising India for every step it takes and i mean it!

Gnaneswar Joshi

August 21, 2006 10:17 AM

There is not a single credible initiative taken by a technology house or otherwise that has had a significant impact on the lower socioeconomic strata. The reasons are human greed and no strong will.

Mark Aggrey

August 30, 2006 05:20 PM

A 100 dollar laptop will certainly be of interest in some African countries where computer prices are so high, and beyond the means of even the lower middle class, and certainly the poor.

Granted some of these countries may have similar or worse socio-economic issues, however, the desire to be computer literate certainly provides the impetus for some of the poor in Africa to "pay" or borrow to get their children computer education.

Don't forget - lots of very successful people from India and Africa have made it to the top of their professions, starting from leaking classrooms, lack of text books and once a day meals etc..


September 8, 2006 08:38 AM

I think there is enough debate on $100 laptop. What India needs is quality basic education and not the computers at nascent stages. What's a kid going to do with computer if he doesn't even basic maths knowledge? And also note that Indian kids have been winners in global science fairs.

sami shaikh

January 2, 2007 02:12 AM

It is a good news that now poor childrens also will enjoy using laptops .


February 14, 2007 03:36 AM

I think that CURRENTLY in India, being largely poor and illiterate needs more functional primary schools. Only after the country has a literate poor population, does the idea of a 100$ laptop makes sense. However, comments of the Indian Beaureaucrat should not have been historically motivated.


February 14, 2007 03:23 PM


We need both - a $100 computer and basic education.. There are still so many who are educated but are not connected to the world. A $100 would solve that problem.

At the same time, we have so many children who don't know to read and write.

Regd 100% literacy, let me tell you that anyone who is able to write his/her name is deemed literate... I think, it is time when indian govt start releasing figures on literacy levels as well...


March 5, 2007 04:03 PM

I think one way of looking at it is to ask, 'What is the role of the $ 100 laptop?' It is to put technology in the easy reach of the masses. You cant view the laptop in isolation but have to view it in combination with the learning tools, methodology of teaching and creative possibilities for learning that it offers. If the entire package in combination, reduces the total cost of education or makes it more efficient at the same cost, the whole initiative is worth it.

Jim bob

March 8, 2007 11:16 AM

why not sell them a $1,000 laptop and get 10 of them to share, the plan seams to be just as sensible, they can all learn between themselves as a group as well making them adopt more of a group learning attitude. (cut training costs)

rajeev bajpai

April 20, 2007 02:34 AM

the OLPC project has been delayed again. while lot of hue and cry has been made on the importance to the emerging market, the delays are frustrating and perhaps the technical feasibility of such a product is itself in question.

now i understand that the product availability itself has been pushed to Q4/07.

the story need to be followed up again...??


May 8, 2007 12:11 AM

Anyhow when the $100 laptop is out in the global market, it will be in the Indian shores too. People who would want to buy will buy it.If the manufacturers dreamt big of selling the $100 laptop to Indian masses throught the Indian government and now licking their wounds, is not a big issue to argue. Well a full restructuring of the education policy in India needs to be done if India Inc has to susteain its growth rate

Nikhil Mathew

May 16, 2007 05:23 AM

$10 laptop ? and what configuration they expect to have ? what is the configuration of $100 laptop in offer ?
Rather than just telling LAPTOP... it would be nice if they say what's the configuration..

rajeev bajpai

July 16, 2007 06:24 AM

Now Intel has announced that they are joining OLPC project. with amd failing to deliver their pet trumpeted price of $100 perhaps this is one of the good news for the market (people in the developing countries. Now the price closer to 200 dollars also looks reasonable in terms of product specs and the system config.

Guess the action is begining.

Birendra Kumar , Dy. General Manager - Mfg, eSys Technologies Ltd

August 5, 2007 01:36 PM

Usage of notebooks and handhelds is booming among India's small and medium businesses (SMBs).
The era of mobile computing has dawned globally, and in keeping with worldwide trends, India SMBs have surged ahead in their adoption of notebooks.

Indian PC market growth is already realized @ 30 % ( inclusive Notebook growth of 168 % ) in past Year on Year Growth. Rapidly & substantially growing H/W market needs branded but cost competitive suppliers to take the huge share of upcoming market demand for PC&Notebook.

This fact with Demand generation in Manufacturing and Services industries for IT through offset of Excise duty & cost effective skilled mnapower has set a rapid fast realization by all MNC's to use this fastest growing Mfg platform to cater there global demand of PC & Notebook .

bodani vikas

August 17, 2007 02:26 PM

Why would anyone buy a $100 child laptop when the real laptop is available in India for $200? Btw, Indians are tech-lovers.. All the latest phone or pda's of the world sell in India which do not even see the light elsewhere. Talking about laptops, may be it doesn't even have anything to do with the government; those who like it may buy it, others may not. And I think Govt. officials comments have got nothing to do with Negroponte or MIT's history either. Since, govt is namesake. It is the people who are taking initiatives. Even when it comes to education, I don't see govt taking the lead. Its the private schools that are teaching the toppers and bringing out the best results. The Govt is the gatekeeper here. May be OLPC should be sold to corporates. If they don't buy it, it is going to be a severe flop., (On $100 laptop)

September 14, 2007 10:28 AM

A few months ago, I read that India was planning to manufacture $10 laptop. Therefore I am not surprised that they said no to Negroponte's $100 laptop!


November 16, 2007 12:34 AM


November 16, 2007 01:09 AM

Present Govt have no vision the authorities are blind unless they watch through a foreign woman's spax. Even no authority has right for a positive opinion on a right project.

India is a future Pakistan. Oh god save India from such sick mind people.

rajeev bajpai

January 5, 2008 06:56 AM

We are living in interesting times Intel has now announced that they are withdrawing from the OLPC project. On the other hand we have heard about a little success from asus on their EEEPC and also Intel going ahead with their own classmate PC. One thing looks to be sure - arrival of 7 inch screen, flash memory on the notebook (children computing) market..OLPC or not ?

Karthik Naralasetty

January 6, 2008 08:52 AM

What India needs is Basic Education,If they are unable to provide that how can one expect OLPC?


January 16, 2008 03:31 AM

The Indian private sector is doing what the MIT could not achieve till date.
[url=]HCL launches sub-14K laptops[/url]

Indian hardware manufacturer HCL Infosystems on Tuesday launched an ultra portable range of laptops with mobile Internet computing experience under Rs 15,000.

It was a wise decision of Indian government to pull out of the MIT project and save millions of rupees of public money which are being used for rural development.

A late happy new year to everyone.


May 15, 2008 02:15 AM

going by the exchange rate, a laptop for $100 = 49K.
I am a software engineer, and hell, even I don't own such a costly laptop. I have an acer laptop that cost me 29K and i use linux on it... works perfectly, no hassles.
and now you get the same model for 22k.
useless. the govt. did right by refusing it.


June 2, 2008 11:56 AM

Looks software engineers cannot count in India !!! Wanderlust : $100 = 5K !
About HCL : the ultra portable laptop they sell is the Intel Classmate ! They just put the name 'HCL' on it. What a shame... Indian hardware manufacturers are just nowhere in the business.
Now about XO : nothing compares to it. This is a wonderful machine and we decided to use it for our school projects in India. At least some Indian children will benefit.
And sorry to say that, but a country doesn't develop by giving free food to the poor, it is by giving GOOD education to the children.
See what we do :

rajeev bajpai

October 29, 2008 03:47 AM

The biggest beneficiary of the OLPC project is indeed ASUS and ACER who launched Atom based laptops..oops sorry netbooks and laughing all the way to the bank..increased marketshare, increased visibility...and what not.

rajeev bajpai

January 20, 2009 11:42 AM

whats happening on the OLPC front anyway. what happend to the the noble cause ? the goodthing that OLPC project has delivered is the Netbooks...and the beneficiary is not the third world children but the developed world !

perhaps a time to revisit the story ....can U please

rajeev bajpai

February 1, 2009 10:22 PM

an interesting development hapening in India.

A $10 laptop (Rs 500) prototype , with 2 GB RAM capacity, would be on display in Tirupati on February 3 when the National Mission on
Education through Information and Communication Techology is launched.

The $10 laptop project, first reported in TOI three years ago, has come as an answer to the $100 laptop of MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte that he was trying to hardsell to India. The $10 laptop has come out of the drawing board stage due to work put in by students of Vellore Institute of Technology, scientists in Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore , IIT-Madras and involvement of PSUs like Semiconductor Complex.

"At this stage, the price is working out to be $20 but with mass production it is bound to come down," R P Agarwal, secretary, higher education said.

Apart from questioning the technology of $100 laptops, the main reason for HRD ministry’s resistance to Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project was the high and the hidden cost that worked out to be $200.

rajeev bajpai

February 15, 2009 01:22 AM

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project will release its hardware design for the XO laptop under an open-source licence and offer it to commercial manufacturers.

wondering if this open source licesnse improves Netbooks further ??

rajeev bajpai

May 3, 2009 12:25 AM

A silver lining in the OLPC project perhaps with a news posted on OLPC news indiscating that the indian government has ordered closed to 2,50,000 laptops for schools, and he deliveries may get started in june 2009. surprisingly the article keeps silent about which government organisation ordered the laptops !!

cheap computers

September 29, 2009 07:28 AM

I think in india over 100 years have gone by and nothing has changed. what their children need now are food, shelter, healthcare and education, basic one at it. definitely not a $100 laptop.

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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