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Gates looks to cell phones to help the poor

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates discussed at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this week his plan to bring computing to the world's masses. In his vision, television sets, keyboards and inexpensive adapters could turn cell phones into computers.


The proposal is a counter to another project, developed by Nicholas Negroponte of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to build a $100 laptop. That project got the backing of the United Nations last year.

In an article in The New York Times this week, Microsoft executives said they believe cell phones are a better route because handsets are already so widespread. But there is speculation that the Microsoft proposal may have also been prompted by Negroponte's decision to use open-source software, rather than Microsoft products, for the laptop.

There was some back and forth among bloggers over which solution makes the most sense technologically. But one theme that keeps cropping up is the concern that the discussion will get bogged down by a grudge match between the two sides and that nothing will actually end up getting done.

Blog community response:

"I think that for once, Microsoft has a good idea...Africa, for example, has one of the fastest mobile phone growth rates in world, in excess of 140% over the past 12 months. And for many on the continent, the mobile phone is becoming the only means of communication and possible information exchange."

"Frankly, both of these ideas seem like the hopeful belief of IT folks that a computer solves every problem and now I suspect we are in for a prolonged discussion."
--Microsoft News Tracker

"It's not really clear that one solution is better than the other: on the face of it, giving people a computer might appear more useful, but there are plenty of examples of people using mobile phones for economic empowerment. The danger, though, is that the benefits of both ideas take a back seat to some sort of ego-driven battle over whose approach is best."