"Inspiring in many ways" said Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, describing the 'US$100 laptop' which was officially unveiled at a press-conference held during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Wednesday evening.

The project is the brainchild of Professor Nicholas Negroponte, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Media Lab. His esteemed team of inventors includes Allan Kay who invented the first laptop in 1968.

"This is an educational project, not a laptop project," declared Negroponte who expressed delight at being part of improving access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in developing countries, especially for children. "We believe we can make hundreds of billions of these machines which will drive costs further down," he added.

The UN is supporting the initiative which Secretary General Kofi Annan believes is a step towards "protecting the greatest natural resource - our children." Funding for the project came from One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), an independent non-governmental organisation aimed at providing a portable internet-ready computer to every child in the developing world.

The cost of the laptop which will start at around US$100, is expected to be available in the fourth quarter of 2006. It will be distributed through local government ministries. Governments will however, not be allowed to sell them to end-users.

MIT is currently in talks with five computer companies to licence production of the laptop and make it commercially available to governments.

The first batch of machines will go to six larger countries from developing nations. Nigeria and Egypt are likely to be the first beneficiaries of the scheme in Africa, with smaller countries to follow within a year.

Dubbed the 'green machine' by the MIT team, the laptop has a 500 MHz chipset, 128MB Dram, 8" SVGA display, extended WiFi, manual crank powered battery and a 1Gig flash memory hard drive. It will run on an open-source operating system such as Linux.

Highway Africa News Agency