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Tech Talk: Technology editor John Stokdyk takes a look at the £100 laptop


The longstanding quest for the $100 personal computer broke through a significant barrier in February when UK PC manufacturer Elonex introduced a £100 laptop. John Stokdyk reports.

The Elonex ONE comes with an open source word processor, instant messaging software, a photo editor and MP3 player and is one of several initiatives that are pushing the industry towards the magical $100 PC mark.

Other rivals include the Asus Eee, currently going for around £200 from online retailers and the $188 XO laptop that comes out of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative inspired by Massachusetts Institute of Technology guru Nicholas Negroponte.

While OLPC is an international project aimed at brining computer technology to the developing world, the UK is beginning to emerge as an important breeding ground for low cost hardware, thanks in part to government support for elearning technology.

Increasingly, however, the quest for value is bumping up against the harsh realities of PC industry economics. In January, Intel abandoned its support for the OLPC initiative - which is based on a design using a microprocessor from Intel's rival Advanced Micro Devices. Instead, Intel is backing the Classroom PC consortium, which is basing its designs on Intel chips.

Even with educational discounts, Microsoft's licence fees also stand in the way of truly mass use systems. All the lowest cost machines run instead on variants of the Linux operating system, which carries no upfront licence fee. The Elonex ONE's price was achieved with the help of corporate sponsorhip and agreement from the government to exempt the machine from VAT.

The $100 PC and the evolution of low-cost hybrid smartphones and handheld computers are vitally important for trainers. The tools that take root in schools and higher education will inevitably migrate to professional training, and not long after, those who have been schooled with such devices will enter the labour market expecting similar access to on-the-job learning materials.

As Elonex marketing manager Sam Goult explained last month: "The ONE has been designed to be an education based resource, but the variety of uses are almost limitless. We also expect the sub £100 laptop to be a huge success with adult learners, business users, people who are constantly mobile, elderly people and first time internet users."


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