On the XO Laptop

Intel Quits

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I’ve been going to a gym regularly for some years now and have thus learned that January is a month for quitters. Each year I see many new faces in early January, fresh evidence that some people really do make New Years resolutions. However, most of those new faces are gone within a few weeks, and I expect some I don’t even see because they last only a few days.

A recent article in the New York Times brought the news — as unsurprising as it was disappointing — that there are quitters outside the gym, as noted in a report by John Markoff, Intel Quits Effort to Get Computers to Children.

The article begins as follows:

A frail partnership between Intel and the One Laptop Per Child educational computing group was undone last month in part by an Intel saleswoman: She tried to persuade a Peruvian official to drop the country’s commitment to buy a quarter-million of the organization’s laptops in favor of Intel PCs.

Intel and the group had a rocky relationship from the start in their short-lived effort to get inexpensive laptops into the hands of the world’s poorest children.

But the saleswoman’s tactic was the final straw for Nicholas Negroponte, the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer researcher and founder of the nonprofit effort.

He demanded that Intel stop what he saw as efforts to undermine the group’s sales, which meant ceasing to sell the rival computer. Intel chose instead to withdraw its support from One Laptop this week.

The project has been a lightning rod for controversy largely because the world’s most powerful software and chip making companies — Microsoft and Intel — had long resisted the project, for fear, according to many industry executives, that it would compete in markets they hoped to develop.

As a result, One Laptop’s XO computer comes with a processor built by Intel’s rival Advanced Micro Devices and open-source software, rather than Microsoft’s Windows and Office software.

After several years of publicly attacking the XO, Intel reversed itself over the summer and joined the organization’s board, agreeing to make an $18 million contribution and begin developing an Intel-based version of the computer.

Although Intel made an initial $6 million payment to One Laptop, the partnership was troubled from the outset as Intel sales representatives in the field competed actively against the $200 One Laptop machine by trying to sell a rival computer, a more costly Classmate PC.

The Classmate sells for about $350 with an installed version of Microsoft Office, and Intel is selling the machine through an array of sales organizations outside the United States.

I’ve written an earlier post giving a brief comparsion of the features of the XO and the Classmate, Comparing the OLPC XO Laptop and Intel’s Classmate PC.

The article does have some news about the recent Get 1 Give 1 program:

The group, based in Cambridge, Mass., announced Friday that its two-month “Give One, Get One” charitable promotion had generated $35 million and sold a total of 167,000 computers, half of them to be distributed in the developing world.

I found the news unsurprising in that Intel appears to see the OLPC XO Laptop as a competitive threat.

I found it disappointing in that Intel decided not to be part of an effort to demonstrate U.S. leadership in helping to improve the global delivery of education. But this is unsurprising in that it demonstrates yet again the abject failure of the established companies in the computing industry to attempt a serious effort to provide meaningful innovation for education in the poorer parts of the planet. By serious effort I don’t just mean within the last year or so, but within the last quarter-century.

In any event, it is sad to learn that Intel will no longer be part of this effort, and thus that their expertise and experience will not be available to help advance it. Their action turned what could have been an important collaboration into a competitive effort. It doesn’t really matter who was at fault here, other to say that all of us are the losers, and I suspect that it will be hard for our nation to maintain a leadership position in this area. If our government and the key industry players haven’t been able to organize themselves, leaving the field open to a small group of volunteers, then why should any other country look to us for leadership going forward?

The genie is out of the bottle. The OLPC project has already proven that a useful global educational platform can be built for under $200. If we don’t provide the needed leadership then others will step forward to do it in our place. My own guess is that it will be China that builds its own variant of the XO if the OLPC project falters. China has an urgent need for such a device, especially due to its low power consumption. China also has a centrally-managed education system.


Written by daveshields

January 7, 2008 at 5:18 am

Posted in xo-laptop

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