Many projects have tried to develop and provide inexpensive computers using advances in display and storage technologies (e.g., flash memories) . These computers are also designed to have low power consumption and thereby reduce the cost of power generation.
One of the more prominent initiatives to provide low-cost computers is the One Lap-Top per Child (OLPC) initiative. Started in 2005 by faculty and researchers of the MIT’s Media Lab, this initiative aims to provide children worldwide with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves. The XO was designed to be flexible, low-cost, power-efficient and durable. It uses free and open-source software. The XO, originally intended to cost 100 USD, ended up costing 188 USD, mainly because little or no large quality purchases were forthcoming from governments as expected. The first production units were delivered in December 2007. Other small, inexpensive computers such as Intel’s Classmate PC and the Asus Eee PC were also released in 2007 to address the demand for low-cost computers.
Though computers can cost less than 200 USD, this is still too high for many educational institutions. Because of high costs for individual computers, there are projects for sharing computers just as there are projects for sharing phones.
In these projects a single server computer, with a 2G or 3G modem, runs open source programs and stores data for multiple client computers connected over a LAN. This form of shared access should save costs by sharing the use of 2G or 3G links, open source programs and storage. Eventually, these savings (except those due to shared 2G or 3G links) might shrink as computer costs continue to fall. An example is the Jhai PC/ Jhai Network, which is currently field-tested. It is a thin client/ server technology based on the netPC system, providing a simplified desk-top for the end-user, while the operating system and applications are stored and accessed through the server. Advantages are that end-user terminals are cheap and consume little power, and that they are easy to manage and upgrade (as it can be controlled centrally by skilled staff). The disadvantage is that it requires a constant and fast connection to the server and that might not be available in some rural areas. It also requires a sufficiently sized server for the number of end-users.
An alternative to the use of new computers is the reuse of used computers from other countries. However, these sometimes consume too much power (perhaps 120 W for a desktop computer and 80 W for an old display, or 40 W for a laptop computer), or are too fragile especially for rural and remote areas.
Another consideration is that the cost of applications can exceed the cost of computers. Having said this, many applications and other programmes are available as open source software or even free software. Open source software is free for alteration, in that users can tailor it for their own purposes and is often also free of charge, though there may be (generally modest) charges for maintained and documented versions. Free software is not necessarily open source software; for instance, several web browsers, document readers, VoIP phones and other programs for client computers are free but not open source software.
Open Source Software Perspectives for Development and Free/open source software (FOSS) policy in Africa: A toolkit for policy-makers and practitioners set the context for the use of open source software in developing countries. The Practice Note Examples of open source software lists some open source (and free) programs. These are only examples: they are not necessarily endorsed in this toolkit, and there are many other options.
The cost of computers is not the only obstacle to their effective use. Often most of the equipment cost is due to the power generators, not the computers. The total cost of ownership must factor in not just equipment cost but also operating costs. Other considerations besides cost, are that there must be suitable applications, trained supervisors and motivated users . An introduction to some of these issues is provided by Making the Connection: Scaling Telecentres for Development.
-  For a list of such projects (some of which have now ended) see www.infodev.org/en/Publication.107.html.
-  For a list of documents about telecentre development see www.infodev.org/en/Publication.190.html.