Seeking to extend the use of personal computers in developing nations, chip maker Intel Corp. on May 3 unveiled its own design for a mobile PC that is intended to provide affordable collaborative learning environments for teachers and students around the world.

Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini said the $400 machines–code-named “Eduwise”–will feature built-in wireless capabilities and will be able to run Microsoft Corp.’s Windows or the Linux operating system.

“What we want to do is accelerate to uncompromised technology for everyone in the world,” Otellini said during a demonstration at the World Congress on Information Technology in Austin, Texas. “No one wants to cross the digital divide with yesterday’s technology.”

Though Intel says the device is aimed first at developing countries, it’s likely to have an effect on the U.S. market for computers in education, too. Intel spokesman Mike Green acknowledged that, while the company has no current plans to market the device in the U.S., “there is interest that we will explore over time.”

The flip-open Eduwise computer includes a handle, light blue accents, and snaps shut like a purse. Special software allows students in a classroom to view presentations, take tests, and interact individually with their teachers using a built-in wireless connection.

The cheaper PCs are part of a $1 billion investment by Intel over the next five years to promote the use of computers in schools, cafes, and other public spots in developing countries, Otellini said. These efforts also include training 10 million teachers worldwide in how to use technology to enhance instruction (see story: Intel to train 10 million more teachers in technology use).

The Eduwise machine was designed by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel but will be built by its computer-making customers. Otellini said the devices should be available next year.

Many high-tech companies, including Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Microsoft, have announced similar initiatives in an effort close the digital divide between developed and developing nations.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Nicholas Negroponte’s nonprofit One Laptop Per Child association hopes to begin providing $100 laptops to millions of children in China, India, Egypt, Brazil, Thailand, Nigeria, and Argentina by early 2007.

Tentative designs call for a machine that uses one-tenth of the power of conventional laptops, a 7-inch screen, and the Linux operating system. The project’s partners include Google Inc. and AMD.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Technology Officer Craig Mundie have suggested that cell phones, not laptops, hold the most promise for providing low-cost access to one-to-one computing in developing nations (see story: Gates: Cell phones, not laptops, will best answer poor students’ needs). Their decree came after Microsoft failed to reach an agreement with Negroponte’s association to use Microsoft’s Windows operating system on the $100 machines. Intel’s Otellini distinguished his company’s low-cost laptop from Negroponte’s device by noting that it has enough power and memory to run Windows applications.

Negroponte told the New York Times that the Intel program was a step forward, but that focusing efforts on teacher training had serious drawbacks.

“Anything is better than nothing,” he said, “but teacher training is the slowest way to improve global education and reaches very few rural, remote teachers in very poor places.”

Otellini also announced that Intel has reached a deal with the Mexican government to provide new, low-cost PCs to 300,000 teachers in that country by the end of this year.

“The federal government of Mexico has made great progress in bringing computing into the primary and secondary school classrooms of our country,” Mexican President Vicente Fox said in a prepared statement delivered via video.

Links:

World Congress on Information Technology
http://www.wcit2006.org

Intel Corp.
http://www.intel.com