MIT's Nicholas Negroponte's plans for a US$100 laptop for developing country students (see issue 275) received a heavy blow last week when one of the backers he had announced denied they were participating.South Africa's State Information Technology Agency (Sita) has denied reports circulating last week that SA had committed to buying vast numbers of computers being designed for a breakthrough price of under $100.

The BBC and The Economist named SA as one of five countries that had each agreed to buy 1-million of the computers being developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But Fantus Mobu, from Sita's procurement department, says it has not made any commitment. The development of a sub-$100 laptop is led by Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of MIT's Media Lab. He initially said children in SA, Brazil, China, Egypt and Thailand would be among the first to get the computers. MIT confirmed no formal commitment had been made, but said it would like to involve SA in a pilot roll-out. It is claimed that a prototype will be ready by November and that production will start late next year.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in SA last week: "If you can do a $100 Linux PC, we'll do a $100 Windows PC." However, "a device at $100 isn't a PC". It may be a good device, he said, but may not have enough features to satisfy users. "For people who will simply never afford a PC we need innovations that are not PCs but might serve that market well. We have researchers working in that area."

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