It’s not a product, but let’s attack it anyway

More news this week on the MIT Media Lab effort to build a $100 laptop. Nicholas Negroponte announced agreements with several governments and technology companies.

Mr. Negroponte said that he had a commitment from Quanta Computer of Taiwan to manufacture the portable computers, which would initially use a processing chip from AMD. He also said he had raised $20 million to pay for engineering and was close to a final commitment of $700 million from seven nations — Thailand, Egypt, Nigeria, India, China, Brazil and Argentina — to purchase seven million of the laptops.

Microsoft, apparently worried about the prospect of tens of millions of PCs around the world running Linux, is trying to derail the effort. They’re advocating smart cellphones, adding a keyboard for input and a TV as a display. It’s not clear whether this is a serious proposal, or just throwing sand in the gears.

“Everyone is going to have a cellphone,” Mr. Mundie said, noting that in places where TV’s are already common, turning a phone into a computer could simply require adding a cheap adaptor and keyboard. Microsoft has not said how much those products would cost.

The M.I.T. Media Lab had experimented with the idea of a cellphone that would project a computer display onto a wall and also project the image of a keyboard, sensing the motion of fingers over it. But the researchers decided the idea was less practical than a laptop.

[Some specialists] have raised questions about […] the price of Internet connectivity, which can cost $24 to $50 a month in developing nations. But Mr. Negroponte said networking costs would not be an obstacle because the laptops would be made to connect automatically in a so-called mesh network, making it possible for up to 1,000 computers to wirelessly share just one or two land-based Internet connections.

Putting down Aibo

It’s a sad day for Sony Aibo owners. Sony announced last week that it will stop making the plucky little robot dogs. The Aibo, which costs $2,000, is being eliminated along with several other unprofitable Sony products.

The announcement has elicited shock and consternation from the dozens of Aibo owners living in their parents’ basements around the country.

Bruce Binder, an electromechanical engineer from Rancho Cordoba, Calif., has spent about $90,000 to acquire 56 Aibos. “I’m disappointed, but it’s not a shock,” Mr. Binder said. “I think Sony’s making a mistake.”

“I love them, they’re great,” said Craig Lee, a technical support specialist at a Chicago insurance company, who owns 40 Aibos. “I think of them as dogs.”

I know it’s tough, boys, but I feel your pain. Several years ago, Silverlit stopped making the ICybie robotic dog. That mongrel was never even as popular as the Aibo.

And I own three ICybies.

Taking decisive action against spyware

Harvard Law School and Oxford University are announcing a new effort to eliminate spyware and adware.

A top priority will be the development of a database of testimony from consumers on their experiences with malicious software, which they will be able to submit at the project’s Web site, The site will also publicize the names of companies and the methods they use to get marketing and tracking software onto consumers’ machines.

Yeah, that will stop them. And I’m sure nobody will flood the website with bogus entries. What’s next, a letter writing campaign?

Oh, but we can always dream, can’t we?

Pity the folks at Alliance Française. These days more people are signing up for Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic language classes, while French slips in popularity. But the president of L’Alliance in New York is putting a brave face on the situation.

“French is here to stay,” [she says,] citing the city’s hard-core cadre of Francophiles and the usefulness of French for commerce, scholarship, the arts and, yes, cuisine.
“You cannot have a vision of the world without the story of French culture,” she said.