Laptops for Africa

Some months ago, I wrote of the One Laptop Per Child project which had developed cheap shiny green laptops intended for children in developing nations.

The XO laptops run on Linux and are amazingly capable, given their $200 price tag, and even have wireless networking built-in. The idea was that the units would not be available to the general public, but only to needy children.

Many, including myself, were disappointed at that but now the project organisers are doing a really clever thing. US consumers will pay $399 for two units and get one, while the other goes to a needy child.

The organisers seem to expect that the buyers will tamely hand over their XOs to their children but I suspect that a goodly number will be retained and make their appearance at business meetings and conferences, becoming really trendy.

More details are available from the organisers’ website at http://laptop.org/. In other news which broke recently, Apple has launched an update of its operating system, which is known as Leopard.

Preliminary reports say that it is pretty cool, with many new features and tweaks to what was already a pretty good system. One feature that caught my eye was the fact that it will allow you to install Windows on an Apple computer.

This could be very handy for people who want to switch to Apple but still have a couple of PC programs that they need to run. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple gains some ground in the market, especially in the light of the legions of us who have taken a look at Windows Vista, and don’t want anything to do with it.

And talk about having nothing to do with Windows, there is a very interesting product from Asus, which should arrive fairly shortly in South Africa. It’s called the Eee PC and it’s a little notebook which runs Linux, and is currently selling at around £220 in the UK.

The Eee PC weighs less than 1kg, is about 16x22x3.5cm in size, has a 17cm screen, 4Gb of flash memory in place of a hard drive, 512Mb of RAM, USB slots for connecting external hard drives, or whatever, and a VGA port for plugging in a big screen.

It has a conventional modem but can connect to a network via Ethernet cable or WiFi, it has built-in speakers, microphone and camera, and a claimed battery life of 3,5 hours. It comes preloaded with a wide variety of programs including the Firefox

Web browser, Open Office, Skype, and many other bits and pieces.

I managed to contact Asus at the time of writing and had it unofficially confirmed that stocks of Eee PCs would be here in November. I was unable to get an estimated street price but, assuming it’s reasonable, I think one could be just the ticket as my Christmas present.

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