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Intel calls MIT's $100 laptop a 'gadget'

The chipmaker says developing countries want fully functional computers, not hand-cranked gadgets.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka--Potential computer users in the developing world will not want a basic $100 hand-cranked laptop that's due to be rolled out in 2006, Intel's Craig Barrett said Friday.

Schoolchildren in Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria will begin receiving the first few million textbook-style computers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab run by Nicholas Negroponte.

"Mr. Negroponte has called it a $100 laptop--I think a more realistic title should be 'the $100 gadget'," Barrett, chairman of the world's largest chipmaker, told a press conference in Sri Lanka. "The problem is that gadgets have not been successful."

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has welcomed the development of the small, lime-green devices, which can set up their own wireless networks and are intended to bring computer access to areas that lack reliable electricity.

Negroponte said at the laptop's November launch that the new machines would be sold for $100 to governments for schoolchildren, but the general public would have to pay around $200--still much cheaper than machines that use Intel's chips.

But Barrett said similar schemes in the past that were tried elsewhere in the world had failed and users would not be satisfied with the new machine's limited range of programs.

"It turns out what people are looking for is something that has the full functionality of a PC," he said. "Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown-up PC...not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them, not dependent for hand cranks for power."

No Intel 'Gadgets'

Barrett said Intel was committed to delivering IT access to the developing world--and is helping Sri Lanka Telecom set up south Asia's first long-range WiMax wireless network--but would not produce a cut-price product like MIT's computer.

"We work in the area of low-cost, affordable PCs, but full-function PCs," he said. "Not handheld devices and not gadgets."

Barrett said Intel's IT teacher training scheme has reached three million schoolteachers worldwide and will be expanded to Sri Lanka. He also praised local projects aimed at producing computer literacy. Some 90 percent of Sri Lankans were literate but only 10 percent were computer literate, he said.

History in some ways is on Barrett's side. Attempts to bring low-cost PCs to Brazil have failed several times. The Simputer, a cheap computer designed in India, fell flat and Advanced Micro Devices has not sold many of its cheap Internet devices for the emerging world, according to sources.

Partly because of this, some entrepreneurs, such as India's Rajesh Jain, have decided to tackle the problem by deploying thin clients. Others are promoting full-fledged, full-price computers that can be shared by communities and that run on car batteries.

Shares in Intel, which makes the microchips found in nearly 90 percent of the world's PCs, fell 1.7 percent on Thursday after it set a sales target slightly lower than the $10.6 billion that analysts were expecting.

The firm said it now expects quarterly revenue of between $10.4 and $10.6 billion from its previous range of $10.2 to $10.8 billion. Barrett said this was in no way a reduction.

"It ended up with the same mid-point targets as the original that we gave at the start of the quarter," he said. "I think all we did was reaffirm the targets we had given earlier."

CNET's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.