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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Comments (5)
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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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