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$10 laptop February 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Navaneethan @ 10:49 pm

I heard of this remarkable invention last week, and was amazed that it had escaped my notice. Today, in Tirupati, the Ministry of Human Resources Development unveiled a project that was a joint collaboration between the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and IIT-Madras to develop an inexpensive laptop to be used in schools and colleges across India. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, it is to cost $10.

I’m completely and utterly confused by what’s going on, though. People knew that the announcement was going to happen today (3rd Feb). A quick search of Google News assured me of this. What is less clear is what exactly happened. The reason for my confusion is that last week I knew what, broadly, what the laptop would be like – 10″ by 5″ screen, 2 GB drive, ethernet, wireless, and, AMAZINGLY, 2 Watts of power consumption.

What’s confusing to me is, if we already know what we do know, what was the purpose of today’s grand proclamation? Today, according to what I can comprehend from various conflicting and possibly contradictory sources, the laptop prototype (not displayed, not shown, not seen) will have “a 10″ x 5″ screen, 2 GB hard drive, ethernet, wireless, and will operate on 2 Watts of power.”

Thanks for last week’s news. What will the laptop look like? What are the technical specifications? All this and more hidden behind a veil of mystery.

However, the reason that said event even merits a post on this blog (which seeks to only cover the important stuff, of course) is this corker from the Times of India titled “$10-laptop proves to be a damp squib“.

Let’s see the rest of this article, shall we?

First para:

The much-touted laptop for the masses said to have been built by students of Vellore Institute of Technology that would cost a mere Rs 500 actually turned out to be only a computing device.

Only a computing device, you say? Only a computing device. It’s true that I’m not the smartest chap, but the last time I checked, a laptop was a computing device. And now they go and change the definition on me. Unfair!

Second para:

… joint secretary N K Sinha said the computing device is 10 inches long and 5 inches wide and has been priced at around $30 at the event. However, he refused to comment as to why was it being projected as a laptop when it was not.

One website says $20, another $10 and this one says $30. Despite the vast disparity in prices, I won’t say anything, because there are as many contradictions among reports as there are reports themselves. However, if the “computing device” is not a laptop, then what exactly is it?

The third paragraph takes the trouble to clear my doubts (emphasis mine):

The so-called laptop actually turned out to be a storage device containing megabytes of data info which can be accessed by a user by connecting this device to a laptop. It meant that unlike the internet, this device can display that information that has already been stored.

So, this device contains several megabytes of this mysterious “data info” that can be accessed upon connecting the “so-called laptop” to an actual laptop. The author sees something that I don’t because there is a comparison between a standalone device and a network consisting of billions of devices (i.e., the Internet). The “device” can display information that it has stored in it, but the Internet can’t, it appears.

Earlier, I said that the 3rd paragraph cleared my doubts as to the nature of the “computing device”, right? I was wrong – my doubts are now magnified, amplified, exponentiated – whatever you want to call it.

How on earth did Times of India publish this writing?

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