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WCIT The weird battle to provide PCs to the underprivileged continues to hot up with Intel today announcing a new type of kiddie laptop due out in 2007.

The Eduwise notebook made its grand entrance here at the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) with Intel CEO Paul Otellini unveiling the product. The laptop has a Trapper Keeper-like look to its outside with faux leather wrapping around a cute handle and around the body of the machine. All told, the laptop is about the size of most of today's smaller notebooks. It boasts a playful silver and pastel color scheme as well.

Otellini took indirect shots at devices such as MIT's $100 laptop and AMD's PIC (Personal Internet Communicator) by saying that Intel would not make some of the sacrifices seen in these other devices. Eduwise, for example, has a full version of Windows XP and is Wi-Fi ready.

"Nobody wants to cross the digital divide using yesterday's technology," Otellini said.

AMD this week has been handing out the limited use PIC systems that have no Ethernet ports or wireless support.

Along with the new device, which is due to ship from Intel partners in the first quarter of next year, Otellini pledged to put $1bn of Intel's money behind bridging the digital divide in the next five years. He also revealed a deal in which Intel shipped 300,000 PCs to teachers in Mexico.

We ran into Otellini following his speech, but he sped right by us despite a plea for a chat. "I like some of what you write," he said.

Besides appreciating our good work, Otellini deserves praise for actually laying out some significant announcements. Microsoft Chief Steve Ballmer preceded Otellini and didn't announce a single thing.

Before Ballmer appeared on the WCIT stage, the announcer declared that we'd receive a Microsoft video. The fingers crossed, and we held our breath with anticipation. Would we get the whole show? Would the monkey dance?

No such luck.

Instead, Microsoft rolled out the standard "we're helping people" video where Microsoft Word or a Dell gaming PC somehow manages to cure a one-legged teenager of cancer.

Microsoft is damn serious about helping the poor and software challenged people. Everyday, the company is reminded of "how many people in the world need to be touched in important ways," Ballmer said.

But, Steve, isn't that why god gave us Thailand?

Beyond all that, Ballmer dished out a very lackluster speech about the invention of the PC making our lives so much better.

"People come to Microsoft because they think they can do technology that will change the world in important ways," he said.

Ballmer then started listing his vision of the future.

"Computers will see, computers will listen, computers will understand . . . computers will help the world grow smaller."

You get the idea.

Without anything in particular to announce, Ballmer pointed to the good work Intel has been doing and celebrated Microsoft's close partner.

It's always impressive to hear multi-billion dollar giants duke it out for mindshare among the disenfranchised. Ah, the lessons we can teach about monopolies and savvy marketing campaigns. We're glad solving the digital divide has more to do with goodwill than creating lifelong product ties. ®

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