Nicholas Negroponte's '$100 laptop computer' will cost about $135 (about £70) when available to children in developing countries by the middle of next year, the head of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child Project) said on Friday.
But the MIT professor and Media Lab founder said in a speech at the Red Hat Summit that he expects economies of scale to help bring the cost of the ruggedised 1.5kg Linux laptops to $100 (£55) by 2008, when the OLPC hopes to ship 100 million of the computers.
Negroponte predicts that the price will drop to $50 per computer by 2010.
"The World Bank asks us, 'Have you done studies?' Well, we haven't. But there is no time for pilots. Those days are over. This is a slam-dunk, as long as we execute, execute, execute," he said.
Companies participating in the OLPC include Red Hat, Google, AMD, News Corporation, BrightStar, Marvell, Nortel, eBay, 3M and Quanta, a large Taiwanese notebook manufacturer that is expected to build the computers.
Those companies' efforts, along with the elimination of a sales and marketing team, which Negroponte estimates makes up half of the cost of a typical laptop computer, are helping to cut costs.
Four countries – Brazil, Thailand, Argentina and Nigeria – have already committed to buying and distributing one million of the PCs next year, and three others – China, India and Egypt – are close, Negroponte said.
Negroponte hopes to get final commitments by September, delivering prototypes to developers in the third quarter and to educators in Q4. The target shipment date is sometime in Q2 next year.
Red Hat, which joined the OLPC in January, is leading an effort to shrink its Fedora Core version of Linux to run on the laptops.
Red Hat has been able to cut down Fedora, which normally requires 1.3GB to install, to about 250MB, engineering manager Chris Blizzard said earlier this week.
It is aiming to deliver an even skinnier version of Fedora, bundled with essential applications such as email, the Gecko web browser, document-creation software and a VoIP (voice over IP) application, that requires just 130MB of flash memory storage, leaving more than 350MB available for children to store documents, photos and more.
To prevent damage from dust or water, the laptop, keyboard and expected three USB ports will be sealed. The computer will be designed to require just 2W of power.
The laptop will sport a 500MHz AMD x86 chip, which Negroponte called "a damn good processor".
Negroponte admitted to being wedded to a design where a crank is attached to the laptop itself, but he said more recent designs attach the handle to the AC adapter, which puts less physical stress on the computer. The OLPC is also considering designs where children can power up their computers using either a cord similar to one used to start a lawnmower, or pedals.
The low-power 7x4in LCD screens will be the most innovative part of the notebook. In black-and-white mode, the 1,110x830 backlit screen will be readable under direct sunlight. In colour mode, the screen will revert to 640x480 pixels.
The latest designs, viewable at www.laptop.org, also sport fold-out antennae that double as rabbit ears that "make everyone smile", Negroponte said.