The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) organization, which hopes to bring a $100 laptop championed by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte, has selected Quanta to serve as its original design manufacturer, or ODM. ODMs typically manufacture products, but also participate substantially in the final design.
Although not many U.S. consumers know the name, many own Quanta's products. The company produces systems for Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others. It is engaged in a long-running rivalry with Compal, also based out of Taiwan.
The signing of Quanta isn't an entire surprise. Earlier this year, MIT and the company signed a five-year, $20 million research pact. Still, lining up one of the world's major contract manufacturers further demonstrates the feasibility of the project, according to backers.
"Any previous doubt that a very-low-cost laptop could be made for education in the developing world has just gone away," Negroponte said in a statement.
Quanta will try to bring out a product in the fourth quarter. The machines will run Linux and require little energy (turning a hand crank will be enough to power them). Connecting to the Internet will be possible through mesh networking.
The first 5 million to 15 million units will get shipped to China, Brazil, India, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria and Thailand.
Other participants in the project include Advanced Micro Devices, Brightstar, Google, News Corp., Nortel and Red Hat.
While many have saluted the goal, others have expressed skepticism. Intel Chairman Craig Barrett has said that the idea won't travel far. Consumers in emerging markets want full-fledged computers, he asserted.
History has also shown that bringing PCs to the poor is extremely difficult. Attempts to bring low-cost PCs to Brazil have failed several times. The Simputer, a cheap computer designed in India, fell flat, and AMD 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, and some of India's leading academics have decided to tackle the problem by deploying thin clients. Other companies are promoting full-fledged, full-price computers that can be shared by communities. To save energy, thin clients and PCs can run on car batteries or solar panels.