The XO folks — officially the One Laptop per Child Foundation — are trying to overcome this new price obstacle by making it immaterial. This is being done two ways. One is to offer — in the U.S. and Canada — a 2-for-1, "Give one, get one" program: you buy two XOs for $400, and one gets donated to a worthy recipient in the developing world, and you get to keep the other and take a $200 donation credit on your taxes.
This is a clever idea, as it plays off Western guilt and sense of duty, and gets the computer to a needy child for nothing. However, other than to show off that we are noble people, I'm not sure why you and I, or any of our children would actually want an XO. Better to just pay the 400 bucks and donate both machines to help twice as many needy kids.
The other XO plan would require the countries where the laptops will be placed, to make a substantial financial commitment to the program: they have to buy a minimum of 250,000 units — $50 million worth. There is a good strategic reason for this, as it forces those governments to participate in the program and have a stake in its success — though, whether that will reduce any of the usual corruption is questionable. And it has already produced a backlash.
Some social activists question why that kind of money is spent on computers rather than more immediate concerns, like fresh water — $50 million would, for example, buy a lot of reverse osmosis pumps for villages, and could save thousands of lives.
Personally, I'm with the XO folks on this one. If places like Africa are ever going to escape the vicious cycle of poverty, it will be by joining the world economy, not — hard as it is to say — by giving complete priority to immediate health concerns. Prosperity improves the quality of life.
That said, my doubts about the XO laptop computer only grow by the day. I wish the project well.
Every computer in the hands of one more poor kid in the developing world is one more chance for those regions to escape their downward spiral and join the rest of the world. Nothing would make me happier than to see some future Nobel Prize winner in physics or chemistry credit his trusty old XO computer for changing his life.
Moreover, I know from experience that many of those people being targeted by this program are among the most talented businesspeople in the world. All they lack is capital, and if they happen to take their free XO laptop and quickly sell it on eBay to finance their own project, what's wrong with that? And, in the meantime, even as you write your check to the One Laptop per Child Foundation, pray for market capitalism to hurry up and render it obsolete.
TAD'S TAB: http://www.haltadefinizione.com/en/ is a specialized photography site with an interesting feature. It offers three spectacular, 8 gigapixel photographs, one of da Vinci's "Last Supper," that can be viewed with mind-boggling detail using a zoom tool. Now you can discover Leonardo's secrets on your home computer.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.