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March - 2009 - issue > Tech Tracker
$10-laptop---The-Indian-Catastrophe
Eureka Bharali
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Expectations exploded with the news of the $10 laptop of India buzzing around. The concept of a laptop for $10 would have faced various criticisms of being unrealistic, but the testimony of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) silenced all criticism and guesswork. The supposed technical knack of the project anchors comprising of students of VIT, scientists in Indian Institute of Science, and IIT-Madras made observers both in India and abroad keenly await the launch.

The $10 laptop project, a part of 'Sakshat', an education program by the Indian government, directly challenged the $100-200 laptop of MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project of 2006, questioning its technology and the hidden costs. The project aspired to empower the impoverished with technology, thus bridging the digital divide created by the economic conditions that deprive the poor easy access to it.

After three years' wait, the hopes of bridging the digital divide fell short of fulfillment and the entire buzz turned a damp squib with the launch of the prototype in February this year. The anticipated notebook equipped with Wi-Fi and 2GB RAM turned out to be little more than a computing machine. It is just a 10 x 5-inch wide slab that stores and apparently prints distributed learning materials that can later be retrieved using a laptop. To add more, the ministry has revoked the $10 price with a $30 tag, and without a keyboard and monitor the device stands far from competition to the OLPC laptop. But how will an impoverished child afford a laptop, without which the gadget remains unusable? The analysts' views reflect that the flawed usage of the term 'laptop' erased the noble thought behind the work, for which the MHRD had earmarked Rs.4,600 crore.

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