Quanta Mulling Commercial OLPC Laptop

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Taiwan’s Quanta Computer is already manufacturing the XO laptop for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, designed to get inexpensive, network-capable computers into the hands of students and educators in the developing world. Now, in an interview with Financial Times, Quanta president Michael Wang says his company plans to launch a commercial product similar to the OLPC, but aimed at developed markets. Wang notes that concepts, designs, and manufacturing techniques developed for the OLPC project could be used to create commercially-viable low-cost computers, and the company has created an “emerging PCs” business unit with the intention of bringing inexpensive machines to market.

Wang said the ultra-low-cost computer could be available this year or next, with prices as low as $200.

Quanta is one of the world’s leading computer manufacturers, making systems for HP, Dell, and Acer, among others.

The OLPC XO laptops offer a custom, education-focused “Sugar” interface based on Linux; it seems likely any new commercial system based on OLPC concepts would also run Linux and rely on open-source software, and it might even include the “Sugar” front-end, which is available under an open source license.

MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte has said the OLPC organization has no plans to offer the XO laptops to developed markets (and, in fact, only plans to sell them in bulk to governments for distribution through school systems).

The idea of low-cost Linux-based PCs has been extolled by many technology enthusiasts, many of whom have speculated openly about the viability of products like the XO in developed markets. Commercially-oriented systems based on OLPC designs and technology might also enable Quanta to ramp up production to a level where overall costs for the OLPC XO could fall to the project’s original $100-per-unit goal—so, ultimately, OLPC-based commercial products might make the education-focused units more viable and less expensive for governments in emerging markets. Some analysts estimate the availability of low-cost, Internet-capable machines might expand the worldwide computer market by as much as 5 to 15 percent: after all, there are plenty of people in the world who don’t need a gigabyte of RAM and an edition Windows Vista in order to send and receive basic email, check a calendar, or keep track of phone numbers.