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Kids, PCs and politics

Recent events underscore how many companies want to help bring computing to the world's children--so long as they can make money.

CORONADO, Calif.--Say what you want about all the projects to bring low-cost PCs to the world, but at least someone's thinking of the children.

The Future in Review version of PCs-for-schools, Project Inkwell, tries not to get sucked into the increasingly competitive world of low-cost PC projects. Nick Negroponte of the One Laptop Per Child project recently traded blows with Intel Chairman Craig Barrett over who's more concerned about helping the poor, and who is simply looking for a new market.

"We think it should be a good business, we don't think there's anything wrong with generating profits," said Bruce Wilcox, CEO of Project Inkwell. Wilcox wants to get all the PC industry companies working together on the project, and recently brought IBM into the fold. IBM doesn't sell PCs anymore, but it's increasingly interested in the services revenue that comes along with helping schools set up networks.

Much of the debate centers on the merits of the specific device, whether it's Negroponte's XO, Intel's Classmate PC, or something else. But making sure that the industry works both sides of the fence, the devices and the services, is vitally important, said C.J. Holthaus, technical director at chipmaker Via Technologies. "You can't do The Gods Must Be Crazy strategy, just dropping the laptops out of the plane," he said.