Intel Corp. said on Friday it will support a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher's project to put computers in the hands of poor children around the world, reversing its long-standing opposition to the proposal.
The world's biggest chipmaker will join the board of the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, which developed the XO laptop -- a personal computer that it plans to put into production in September at a cost of $176.
Intel and the foundation said in a statement that they will explore collaborations involving technology and educational content.
Current backers include Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which makes a microprocessor that runs the XO laptop, along with Web search engine Google Inc., which is providing users e-mail accounts and free back-up services.
Software maker Red Hat Inc., which developed computer programs for the device and media giant News Corp. also have board seats.
The foundation plans to sell the multimedia laptops to government agencies around the world, requiring each country to purchase hundreds of thousands of the devices, then give them to impoverished elementary school children at no cost.
Until now, Intel has criticized the approach, promoting its own Classmate PC, which it distributes in smaller numbers to poor children in developing countries, giving educators instruction in how to use the devices in their classroom.
The One Laptop Per Child project is the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, the former chief of the MIT Media Lab.
Negroponte had accused Intel of trying to undermine the project in a string of recent media interviews, including a recent appearance on the CBS news magazine Sixty Minutes.
Analysts who have seen early versions of the XO laptop say the group has made breakthroughs in developing a low-cost, high-resolution color screen that can switch into a black-and-white so that it can be viewed in the sunlight.
They have also praised its low-energy consumption technology, which allows it to be run on hand-crank-generated power, and durable construction.