TUNIS, Tunisia - A cheap laptop boasting wireless network access and a hand-crank to provide electricity is expected to start shipping in February or March to help extend technology to school-aged children worldwide.
The machines are to sell for $100, slightly less than its cost. The aim is to have governments or donors buy them and give full ownership to the children.
"These robust, versatile machines will enable children to become more active in their own learning," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters.
Annan and more than 23,000 people from 176 countries were attending the three-day U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, in its second day Thursday.
Although discussions about persisting U.S. control over the Internet's addressing system have consumed much of summit, its original aim was to find ways to extend communications technologies to the world's poorest - through projects like the $100 laptop.
MIT Media Lab chairman Nicholas Negroponte, who unveiled the textbook-sized laptop on Wednesday, said he expects to sell 1 million of them to Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria.
Negroponte did not say who would build the machine, which will cost $110 to make, but at least five companies are considering bids to do so. He said a commercial version may be available at a higher price to subsidize machines provided to children.
The laptop will run on an open-source operating system, such as Linux, which is generally cheaper than proprietary systems such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows, said Negroponte.
The devices will be lime green in color, with a yellow hand crank, to make them appealing to children and to fend off potential thieves - people would know by the color that the laptop is meant for a kid.
Also at the summit, Microsoft unveiled a new network of learning centers in Tunisia to train people to be teachers in technology. Jean-Phillippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, said the company would replicate the centers elsewhere as part of its outreach efforts.
Addressing delegates on Thursday, Pakistani diplomat Masood Khan said increasing access to communications can help improve relations between regions and religions.
"Information is not just an economic tool," Kahn told delegates in the main hall. "We need its infinite power to combat the rising tide of prejudice and hatred."
Senegal's president, Abdoulaye Wade, said more time and effort was needed to help address the digital divide, but stressed that Africa in particular should do more for itself by providing education and jobs.
"The computer specialists we train in Senegal, the English and the French come in and take them back to France and America," he told reporters. "We need to keep them with us."
The summit was engrossed in some controversy after Reporters Without Borders said its secretary-general, Robert Menard, was denied entry into the country after his flight landed at the airport in the capital.
The Paris-based group, among the chief critics of Tunisia's stance on speech and human rights, said Tunisian police officers and other officials boarded the Air France flight that Menard was on and said he could not enter the country to attend the summit.
Francine Lambert, a spokeswoman for the summit, said Menard was issued credentials but was held back because of outstanding criminal complaint against him by Tunisia.