AMD, Intel and MIT chastised for cheap PC fight

Send in the phones

The problem with all the cheap PCs is exacerbated by the notion that PCs aren't the right devices to hand out in the first place unless your main goal is to familiarize children with the AMD and Intel brand.

"I think we need to raise the first question which is should we have a PC-oriented view on communications," said C.K. Prahalad a business professor and author at the University of Michigan. "I believe there is a huge difference between understanding what is universal and what is contextual."

Prahalad backed the idea that there will be more growth and interest around cell phones in the coming years within developing nations. Companies should concentrate on creating affordable service plans and devices that provide the crucial PC-like tools with the phones.

"At the individual level, the people on the ground aren't clamoring for these kinds of devices," said Teresa Peters, a senior program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, referring to the cheap PCs. By contrast, they are hunting down cell phones, she said.

The panelists continue to have problems with the cost of the computers and the nature of the systems. Most people in poorer counties can't afford a $300 or $400 machine that has most of the cutting-edge features nor do they want a $100 machine that's hardly usable.

There are, however, instances where the cheap PCs – or in fact any PC – make sense.

"We do need to be careful when we pick on those organizations," Peters said, making Bill and Melinda proud. "I am skeptical that the woman in a village needs a $100 PC, but there are college students all throughout Africa that could benefit. They are doing what they can do, and we need to give them some kudos for that."

We continue to wonder how much sense it makes to have all these organizations putting time, money and energy into creating such specialized gear. PCs and laptops fall in price at a steady rate and get smaller and better all the time. How much can a company really improve on what's already available just to cater to emerging markets?

Developing nations could benefit by not making the mistakes that technology-rich countries have already committed to. It's not hard to imagine thin clients, open source software and widespread wireless networks being a better, cheaper long-term combination.

At present, however, the main goal seems to center around extending existing franchises and computing models to the third world. This is understandable from a business point of view but doesn't appear to be what the people really want. ®

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