One Laptop Per Child vs. Intel

The New York Times ran a fascinating article today about the feud between Intel and the One Latop Per Child program run by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte. If you haven't heard about it, the initiative is intended to develop a reasonably priced ($200) laptop for primary school children in the third world. The model they're selling now comes with a lot of cool features: mesh technology so a group of students can share one wifi connection; low power consumption and the ability to recharge batteries with solar cells or even a hand crank; a linux operating system and open source software.

I suspect that last feature is causing the biggest problem for Intel. According to the Times, company sales reps actually tried to persuade several countries to ditch the OLPC in favor of a more expensive machine running Microsoft Windows. I don't know about you but I have a hard time imagining disadvantaged Peruvian first-graders keeping up with their security updates, troubleshooting the less-than-stellar Windows wifi utility or shelling out for that upgrade to Vista.

Maybe those kids need other things more than they need laptops, but it can't hurt. In any case it's hard to believe how badly Intel managed this saga in terms of public relations. Think of the children, guys!


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  • Gus says:

    “Think of the children, guys!” What? When there are dollars to be made?! :-s

  • Anonymous says:

    It’s more likely that they don’t like the fact that it uses arch-rival AMD’s CPUs. Intel does quite a bit for open source and linux.

  • Hoagy says:

    I apologize that this comment is off topic… Nevertheless, I’ll take the plunge:

    “…primary school children in the third world.”

    It used to be that the “first world” was the Western, capitalist countries, the “second world” was the Communist, planned economy countries and the “third world” was the “developing” countries (everyone else). This was not a very useful concept fifty years ago but, now that there is no longer a “second world,” how can a “third world” continue to exist?

    Perhaps there is be a better, more up-to-date, way to refer to most of the world’s people as a group. Perhaps this new term could be based on something more germane to the 21st century than economics… say, for example, ecological issues. Suggestions?

  • Ed says:

    I would have thought the same thing–that Intel was annoyed about AMD processors in these OLPC laptops. But it transpires in the Times article that the group was working on a new prototype featuring Intel chips. So I may be wrong about the open source thing, but I don’t think the answer is as simple as AMD either.

    Also, Hoagy: you raise an excellent point. Whenever I use the term I find myself despairing, just a little. After all, so many people in the “third world” are just as badly off now as they were fifty years ago. I’d be curious to know what you think will be “more germane to the 21st century than economics,” however. Most of the substitutes I can think of (i.e. “developing world”) have something to do with economics, and the imbalance of wealth is still the prime distinguishing feature between the post-industrial nations and the rest.

  • ben j says:

    1. I’m kind of torn on the OLPC project myself. Its goals are absolutely important, but I’m not sure that the actual device is necessary. Sure, the other programs utilizing conventional laptops are more expensive, but if conventional is what it takes to get government buy-in, then that may be more important.

    On the other hand, I have the feeling that the OLPC has some limitations that will keep in the hands of children and out of the hands of corrupt officials, where a normal laptop would make an excellent gift to a supporter.

    2. Hoagy –

    Ok, I’ll bite. From now on, the ex-First World is the Pollution-Free World and the ex-Third World is the Smoggy world.

    Oh, that doesn’t work? The whole world is suffering fairly uniformly from the effects of pollution, including global climate? My mistake.

    Economics is still the best way to divide up the world. In this case, First and Third World are still meaningful (if not academically ideal), especially in the context of a newspaper article where scientifically precise terminology is less important than basic communication.

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