It sounds like a project that just about any technology-minded
executive could get behind: distributing durable, cheap laptop
computers in the developing world to help education.

But in the year
since Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology Media Laboratory, unveiled his prototype for a $100
laptop, he has found himself wrestling with Microsoft and the politics of software.

Negroponte has made significant progress, but he has also catalyzed the
debate over the role of computing in poor nations — and ruffled a few
feathers. He failed to reach an agreement with Microsoft on including
its Windows software in the laptop, leading Microsoft executives to
start discussing what they say is a less expensive alternative: turning
a specially configured cellular phone into a computer by connecting it
to a TV and a keyboard.

Bill Gates,
Microsoft’s co-founder and chairman, demonstrated a mockup of his
proposed cellular PC at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
earlier this month, and he mentioned it as a cheaper alternative to
traditional PC’s and laptops during a public discussion here at the
annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

By John Markoff

More here.