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Gates mocks Negroponte's $100 laptop

Why pay less when you can pay more?

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Bill Gates has mocked the $100 Linux-based, wind-up powered PC which is being pitched by MIT media lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte at developing markets.

In a move unlikely to endear the world's richest man to PC users in either the developed or the developing nations. Gates advised them to "get a decent computer" that offered a decent screen, a broadband connection and isn't powered by a wind-up handle.

Shortly before his reported comments, Gates - speaking at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in Washington - had been extolling the latest Windows powered machines costing up to $1,000.

"Hardware is a small part of the cost" of providing a PC, he noted, adding that the biggest costs come from network connectivity, support, and, er, applications.

Bill should know. The planned Microsoft Office Professional 2007 will be priced at $499 while the "budget" Office Home and Student 2007 comes in at $149. Then there's the price of the operating system. Microsoft has not yet released pricing for its next Windows client, however Window XP retails for several hundred dollars.

Combined, Windows and Office kill the $100 PC's value proposition for OEMs and users. That said, Microsoft did tackle the "value" concept itself in recent years when it reluctantly introduced stripped down, Starter Editions of Windows XP in Brazil, Russia and South East Asia in response to certain government-sponsored "peoples' PCs" programs developed using Linux. It is also understood to take a more flexible approach to pricing on its full strength products in some developing countries.

Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, outlined his plans for the $100 PC last year. The wind-up devices, targeted at children in developing nations, feature a 500Mhz processor, 1Gb of memory and dual-mode color or black and white display that can be read in direct sunlight.

Negroponte expects to develop between 100m and 150m units by 2007 working with Google, AMD, Red Hat and Brightstar.

Gates is reported to have said of this collaborative effort: "If you are going to go have people share the computer, get a broadband connection and have somebody there who can help support the user, geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text and you're not sitting there cranking the thing while you're trying to type."

Otherwise, why bother? ®

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