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Negroponte: "We're the World Food Program and they're McDonald's"

The title quote is Nicholas Negroponte’s in a response to Intel quitting Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in an interview with David Kirkpatrick of Fortune.

Intel has quit its support of OLPC citing that “OLPC had asked Intel to end our support for non-OLPC platforms, including the Classmate PC, a developing world low-cost laptop running Windows.

Negroponte rebuts that Intel, who was a partner and board member, had not delivered on any of its promises and been perpetually disloyal by in sales meetings claiming that “The (OLPC) XO doesn’t work, and you have no idea the mistake you’ve made.” Intel were the ones that formally quit, but they were already on probation and notes Negroponte “If you’re in school and you are on probation for very serious misdemeanors you can say you quit, but…”.

While Intel’s actions as reported are calamitous, Negroponte’s comparison of OLPC to the United Nations World Food Program is unfortunate in it’s own way. The goals of OLPC are in every way as honorable as those of the World Food Program and it is amazing what Negroponte and his team have achieved, but it is difficult to understand why the OLPC should not operate more in line with the open market.

Last January I found myself in an elevator with Negroponte who was clutching one of the very first prototypes of the XO (“the engineers will kill me if I drop it on the floor”). I immediately asked him “why can’t I just buy one? Why a 100.000 unit order minimum?” The obvious answer was that he needed scale, but it was one that I still fundamentally have a hard time accepting.

Mind you OLPC and the low price tag it carries is an ambitious project which has been designed from scratch, but why is it that OLPC should be better at producing and distributing the XO than Michael Dell or Paul Otellini’s treacherous – but seemingly efficient – crew?

Back to the question of scale. Negroponte told an audience at Forrester that the OLPC-patented display technology would not be licensed freely in order to secure the display manufacturer amortization of a $2 billion display fab.

While Negroponte is probably right that this was the only way to kickstart things, his next big task is to step back and let the market forces accelerate the distribution to children of laptops built on an open GPL’ed OPLC reference design.

Commoditization has worked great for the PC. Why should the OLPC not make this work in its favor?

  • http://andrewbfife.blogspot.com Andrew Fife

    >Why should the OLPC not make this work in its >favor?

    Probably ego. Or then again maybe Negreponte is a PR genius and is making statements like this to keep the keep the issue of digital divide in developing nations on the front page. The best way for him to protect his market would be to have the publicity go away. Maybe he is stirring the pot to keep Dell+Wintell interested.

  • Srinagesh Eranki

    I agree. The best thing that could come out of this is if the “Classmate PC” & other such compete with the OLPC. The World’s needy need a laptop. Any laptop will do. Not just an OLPC.

  • Tomek

    The thing is OLPC was (is) more than just a cheap laptop – e.g. it runs on Linux-type OS – if the idea would worked out it would create a big chance for Linux to finally become a worthy competitor for Windows – now, with Classmate PC, we will have another gazillions of people who use Microsoft’s software. It’s not that I don’t like Windows and love Linux, it’s quite opposite to be honest, I just love competition :)

  • http://www.blahblahtech.com/2007/01/one-laptop-per-child-not-for-sale.html Wayne Smallman

    Thinking back to when Bill Gates was bad-mouthing OLPC, one reason Negroponte is reluctant to play with the bigger boys might be because he knows they want everyone to play with their bat (processors) and ball (operating system)…

  • Darren Chamberlain

    > “why can’t I just buy one?”

    This is the only part that bugs me aboutOLPC. I had 8 kids under the age of 10 to shop for this Christmas, and I would have bought 8 laptops had they been available (and deliverable by Christmas).

  • Mae

    Does the world food program make the recipients BUY the food? It’s a nonprofit but countries have to pay for the laptops, they are not distributed for free. From the point of view of the government writing the check what difference does it make who supplies the hardware and what the operating system is?

  • http://billy-girlardo.com BillyG

    Like all companies / org’s, not everything is apparent to outsiders about maneuvers / reasons for doing certain things.

    In the end, I really hope that the OLPC goes forward without hooks from M$, Intel, or any other gimme-a-piece-of-the-pie entity, and congratulate him for sticking to his guns on that.