OLPC To See General Release?

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The One Laptop Per Child Project might have just seen its first XO units come off the assembly line for developers and testing in developing nations, but the project’s backers are already floating new plans to offer the inexpensive machines for sale to the general public—so long as consumer also buy one for use in the developing world.

The OLPC effort is currently planning to deliver up to 5 million of the inexpensive laptop computers to developing nations in mid-2007; the first countries on board for the OLPC project are Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan, and Thailand. The Linux-based XO laptops offer a customized graphic interface and applications, 500 MB of flash storage, 128 MB of RAM, a 500 MHz processor, wireless networking, and a dual-mode display offering both full color and high resolution black-and-white for use in full sunlight—and they’re designed to take the abuse dealt out by young hands and non-climate-controlled conditions. Although obviously intended for use in education—the project is working with Google on tools which will enable children worldwide to publish their work on the Internet—computer enthusiasts have expressed considerably interest in the systems. Although they may be underpowered compared to mainstream notebook computers today, they will offer flexible capabilities for everyday computing tasks which would have been hailed as groundbreaking only a few years ago.

Now Michalis Bletsas, chief connectivity officer for the OLPC projects, has said this week at CES work is underway with online auctioneer eBay to offer the machine to consumers "sometime next year," although the organization’s main focus continues to be on launching the systems in the developing world. Although still in very preliminary stages, the plan could be set up to enable consumers to purchase two of the OLPC laptops at once: one for themselves, and the second one going to a child in the developing world with the idea that the buyer of the laptop stays in touch with the child who receives the laptop.

Bletsas also notes that the supply chain cost of selling computers in the developed world is high, and the project is working to keep costs associated with ordering and delivery down: "It’s much more difficult to do this than making the laptop," Bletsas said.

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