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Laptop project experiences rate increase

The "$100 laptop" for international schoolchildren is becoming a slightly more distant concept.

Leaders of the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child that was spun out of MIT acknowledged Friday that the devices are now slated to cost $188 (135 EUR) when mass production begins this fall. The last price the nonprofit announced was $176 (127 EUR); it described $100 (72 EUR) as a long-term goal.

Spokesman George Snell blamed the increase on a variety of factors, including currency fluctuations and rising costs of such components as nickel and silicon. He said the project was committed to keeping the price from rising above $190 (136.7 EUR).

While less than $200 (143 EUR) for an innovative, wireless-enabled, hand-powered laptop is a relative bargain, a price nearly twice what the project's memorable nickname promised could make it harder for One Laptop Per Child to sign up international governments as customers. Those governments are expected to give the computers to children for them to keep and tinker with, which the project's founders believe will cause critical thinking and creativity to blossom.

"Where does it end? It started out at $130, then it was $148, then it was $176, now it's $188 - what's next? $200?" said Wayan Vota, the former director of the Geekcorps international tech-development organization and current editor of the OLPCNews blog. "You have these governments who were looking at this original, fanciful $100-per-child figure, now we're going up towards or maybe past $200."

One Laptop Per Child says it has commitments for at least 3 million of its rugged "XO" computers, though it won't disclose which countries are first in line. Among the nations that have shown interest are Brazil, Libya, Thailand and Uruguay.

The "XO" machines feature an open-source interface designed to be intuitive for children; a sunlight-readable display; very low power consumption; built-in wireless networking; and a pull cord for recharging by hand. The laptops are being made by Taiwan's Quanta Computer Inc., the world's leading manufacturer of portable computers.

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