One Laptop Per Child will succeed even if it "fails"

The way people are dismissing the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project this week reminds me of how people were treating Hillary Clinton during the five days between her Iowa defeat and her New Hampshire comeback. To many observers, the inevitable has become the disaster in record time.

Some of the anti-OLPC notes that have appeared since Intel was kicked out of the project have been well-reasoned (read the Economist‘s near-obituary and Nikolaj Nyholm on Radar) — but much of the anti-OLPC opining has deteriorated to personal attack on OLPC head Nicholas Negroponte. There are plenty of forces that want OLPC to fail commercially. And, for a variety of reasons, it might.

But what does “fail” mean in the market OLPC is trying to serve? Regardless of whether it’s the XO laptop, Intel’s Classmate, Pixel Qi, or some other endeavor, it’s now far more likely that ultra-low-cost PCs are going to be made available in quantity for a developing world that needs them. (It needs clean water and vaccines more, of course, but it needs inexpensive and efficient IT as well.) And, most important, even if the XO laptop fails in the marketplace, none of this activity — commercial and otherwise — would have happened without the breakthrough OLPC project to start it.

P.S. To learn more about the XO laptop’s technology, I recommend this post from “Bunnie” Huang. To understand an unexpected example of its utility, see Mike Hendrickson, here on Radar.

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