The OLPC (One Laptop per Child) initiative for the developing world, the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, is gaining ground in Africa, with Nigeria announcing the acquisition of one million laptops.
The OLPC, however, has a competitor: a consortium led by Microsoft and Intel.
The OLPC laptops were initially touted as being priced at $100 (about £54), though OLPC participants now say the price may fluctuate. In any case, they will be the cheapest ever sold in Africa, and several African countries are going for the idea.
Nigeria Communication Commission Executive Vice Chairman Ernest Ndukwe said Nigeria has already committed to ordering one million machines. Egypt has said it is almost ready to commit itself to buying the laptops but has not said how many it is prepared to order. Zambian officials say negotiations to buy the machines are progressing well and that the country may soon announce the number of machines it intends to order.
"This is the only opportunity for us in Zambia and all the African countries to equip schools with computers because the laptops are reasonably priced," said Zambia's communication and transport minister, Abel Chambeshi.
The laptops will have a 500MHz processor and 128MB of DRAM, with 500MB of flash memory. The laptops will also have wireless broadband that, among other things, allows them to work as a mesh network with each laptop being able to talk to its nearest neighbours, creating an ad hoc local area network.
The laptops will be sold only to governments and issued to schools, according to Negroponte. Because many schools in Africa don't have electricity, the laptops will use built-in hand cranks for energy.
The laptops are expected to be ready for shipment between the last quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year.
Chambeshi said he was not aware that recently OLPC participants have said that the machines may end up costing $135 (£73). But even at $135, he said, "the machines [are] still reasonably cheap, for any African government to buy."
The companies that are participating in the OLPC project include Google, Nortel, eBay, AMD and News Corporation with Quanta of Taiwan having been chosen as the original design manufacturer for the laptops.
However, there is a battle going on over the African market between the OLPC project and the consortium of Microsoft, Intel, HP, Oracle and Cisco The Microsoft/Intel group is also involved in an e-school project aimed at computerising African schools.