Double-digit PCs may vanquish the digital divide

Much of the discussion in the last decade about the 'global digital divide' between the technology haves and have-nots has focused on ways to subsidize the cost of PCs for those in developing countries.

But as prices continue to drop, PCs are doing that on their own. Emerging countries now account for nearly 20 percent of global PC sales, compared to less than 6 percent in 1996.

Recent trends in hardware and software are sending prices even lower. In software, for example, open-source software has cut licensing costs to zero, and Microsoft Corp. recently released a reduced-price, reduced-function version of Windows XP.

On the hardware side, Novatium Solutions of Chennai, India, plans to sell a thin-client home computer later this year for around $75 without a monitor or $120 with a used monitor.

In addition, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte is leading a project to create hundreds of millions of notebook PCs at $100 each for distribution to students in developing countries. The $100 Laptop Project (www.laptop.media.mit.edu) expects to build its prototype and start an initial production run next year, and mass produce the notebooks the following year.

Negroponte is in discussions with the Brazilian and Chinese governments for distribution of the laptops when they become available.

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