Bringing computing to schools, educators, and students in developing nations has been a bit of a cause célèbre in technology circles the last few years, with much of the attention being focused on Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child effort and comments by some industry leader poo-pooing the idea. Major players like Intel and AMD have announced plans to get into the game; in the meantime, the OLPC project has manufactured and deployed test units and manufacturer Quanta has confirmed one million orders for the systems. Now, Intel as re-asserted itself, surprising many industry watchers by announcing it is shipping its Classmate PC in volume to Mexico and Brazil, apparently beating the celebrated OLPC out the door.
The Classmate PC is a low-budget laptop computer which supports either Windows or Linux operating systems, built around a 900 MHz Celeron processor, 256 MB of RAm, 1 GB of flash-based storage, 100Base-T Ethernet, and a Trusted Platform module. The Classmate lacks Wi-Fi networking, but does offer an optional customized note-taker with wireless pen. At an estimated cost of anywhere from $250 to $400 per unit, the Classmate PC is more expensive than the OLPC systems and also packs more processing power…however, the OLPC systems include Wi-Fi networking and are in part focused on collaborative and ad-hoc networking capabilities. The OLPC systems will likely carry a per-unit cost of $130 to $140—significantly higher than the project’s initial goal of $100 per system, although costs for both systems may come down as manufacturing processes are refined.
As part of its World Ahead program, Intel has been planning to run test programs with the Classmate PC in more than two dozen countries (including China, India, Chile, Pakistan) combined with other initiatives to bring technology education and global communications technology to emerging markets, including training teachers in ways to integrate the Classmate PC and associated technologies into their programs.
There is some debate whether Intel’s announcement actually indicated it is shipping Classmate systems “in volume” as the technology industry would normally define the term. Intel has not indicated how many Classmate units it has shipped; the company was expected to deliver 800 units for use in a pilot program in South America next month, and delivered 30 prototypes to Brazil’s Ministry of Education in February. In the meantime, the OLPC project has reportedly shipped more than 2,500 systems to various markets for texting and evaluation.