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Laptops in mud huts

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Never underestimate the power of a good idea to transform the world. The $100 laptop is just such an idea.

No, you can't buy one, at least not yet. It doesn't exist. The idea, though, holds hope for plugging the world's poor into 21st Century technology.

The $100 laptop is the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Negroponte, standing alongside United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, unveiled the first working prototype at a United Nations information society summit in Tunis last month.

As envisioned by Negroponte, the laptop would have wireless Internet capacity and run on some variation of open-source, Linux-based operating software. It would include word processing, a Web browser and e-mail. It would be plugged into an electrical source or powered by cranking its attached handle. It would be sturdy, durable, mobile and cheap.

Negroponte has established a non-profit association called One Laptop per Child, which has start-up funding from a handful of companies including Google, News Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices. The association plans to sell the laptops at cost to government education ministries that would distribute them to children.

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