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March 20, 2006

Maybe Negroponte and Gates are both wrong

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:19 PM

Or at least only half right. A new voice weighing in to the debate over how to bring technology to the developing world says mobile phones are a better fit than computers.

Over the past decade, the digital divide has grown wider with computers, but narrowed when it comes to mobile phones, said Philip Howard, assistant professor of communications at the University of Washington. He directed a team of 30 students who crunched 10 years of World Bank data to understand how the developing world uses (or lacks) technology. Here's the whole study.

While the use of computers is concentrated in rich, developed countries, the infrastructure and policies of the developing world are better suited for mobile phones. And people from Lagos to Jakarta are embracing mobile technology.

That begs a question: should we build a computer that links people, as MIT is doing with Google's support, or a mobile phone that computes, as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has suggested?

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but think I come down on the Microsoft camp," Howard said.

That is, with one caveat: he thinks the mobile devices should be Linux based.

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