Slashdot posted yesterday a news item about some people which try to create a laptop that would sell for less than one hundred bucks. To me, an x86 such laptop this seems like a dream that can’t come true with today’s OEM prices. However, there might be a way to achieve this, if the “laptop” in question will not really be a laptop, but a handtop, a hybrid between a laptop and a PDA.The idea is of course to create a cheap machine, without creating something unusable like the Simputer. The machine in question would look a lot like the Zauruses, but it will have a plastic case, no swivel parts, no touchscreen and it would not be a PDA at heart. In fact, the case would be about 20% bigger than the Zaurus shown above, and with a bigger screen. It should be a mini-laptop rather than a PDA with a keyboard.
As for the software that would power it, it can be a highly modified Opie or GPE, modified in a way that they feel more like real DEs rather than single-fullescreen-window PDA interfaces. Below I am proposing some hardware specs that might be able to be put together for $99 and also a higher-end model with more features. In fact, I feel that getting the software right on this hypothetical handtop would be more difficult than putting the hardware together for $99. Software is as important as the hardware, and if we want people to use such a machine as their primary computer, these must include needed software by today’s standards, like a web browser, an email app, IM etc.
Surely, the machine described below is not a speed demon, it has no 3D, no CD-rom, no PCMCIA. But it is still a good basic solution and it can be extended via USB: users will be able to attach usb keys, CD-Roms, printers and other peripherals. As for games, well, 2D games will have to do for now (until the higher-end ARM CPUs and their integrated 2700G accelerators become cheaper).
This machine should do everything that a basic machine should do and that would make it a great “first” computer for students too as well as the developing world. Why kids at schools today must use expensive laptops? Such a mini machine can do everything kids need to do at school, and by being so small, they would be easy to carry around in their backpacks.
5.5″ color TFT 640×480 “real” VGA (not touchscreen)
208 Mhz ARM XScale (or Geode/Cyrix CPU)
32 MB RAM
256 MB internal storage (180-200 MB free)
CF Type II/Microdrive slot (empty)
two USB 1.1 ports
ethernet or 56k modem jack (BTO option)
integrated speaker, integrated microphone
touchpoint-mouse with 2 buttons (like in IBM laptops)
IrDA SIR (115 kbps)
1000 mAh battery, ~1.7 hours battery life
weight: about 420 grams
PRICE: 99 USD
More advanced model with additional features:
300 Mhz ARM XScale (or Geode/Cyrix CPU)
64 MB RAM
ethernet and 56k modem jack
1200 mAh battery, ~1.5 hours battery life
weight: about 500 grams
PRICE: 199 USD
Software included: highly modified Opie or GPE desktop environment (with AA fonts), Linux 2.6.x, enough drivers.
Applications pre-installed: Web browser with JS/CSS/SSL support (Konqi, or Minimo if made to work with 32 MBs of RAM), mini Kontact-like PIM app, stripped KOffice, 4-5 games, file manager/search, Todo, text editor with HTML syntax highlighting, PDF viewer, video player and equivelant browser plugins for popular formats, music player, Flash plugin, Java-lite, Calculator, enough Preferences/Settings, IM for 5 protocols, simple painting app, image viewer, un/zipping utility, RSS reader, Skype, SSH/Terminal services/S/FTP/WebDAV/SMB/VNC stuff, a terminal and maybe a Blog client & IRC client.
Third party software: Opera, Netfront, Quanta-mini, others…