Few people would argue that getting computers and communication technology into the hands of children in developing countries is a good idea: by enabling children to express themselves, connect to information in the wider world, and share their experiences and views with a global community not only benefits the individual children—many of whom receive little formal education—but ultimately helps their societies develop and thrive in a world economy.
The notion has nonetheless become a bit of a battleground in technology circles. The One Laptop Per Child project, spearheaded by MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, envisioned delivering millions of $100 laptop computers directly to governments, who would distribute them through their education systems. Soon, however, other company began looking at the market for inexpensive educational notebooks, including (most significantly) Intel with its Classmate PC, and Asustek’s Eee PC.
The OLPC XO Laptop has so far failed to meet its goal price o $100 per system; right now, systems are priced at about $175, and the only thing that’s going to bring the per-unit cost down is sheer volume: OLPC needs governments to place sizable orders for the machines so that its manufacturing costs come down and, in turn, the ultimate price declines. Competition in the educational notebook arena inevitably means fewer orders for XO notebooks, and the OLPC project could not have been particularly pleased when Intel inked a deal to sell 700,000 Classmate PCs to Pakistan and began saying it expected its per-unit costs to decline to about $200. Negroponte has even characterized Intel’s moves as “shameless,” and claimed Intel was selling Classmates at a loss simply to carve up the market. Intel, in turn, has pooh-poohed OLPC’s XO notebook as a mere “gadget.”
Now, however, Intel and OLPC appear to have reached an accord: the Associated Press and other sources are reporting that Intel will join OLPC’s board of directors and assist the nonprofit with technical developments and funding.
While some see the partnership as a move to marginalize the OLPC project in favor of Intel-engineered solutions, while others view the partnership as a way to provide more flexible educational computing solutions; after all, neither camp has made the claim that a single notebook design is suitable to every educational need, and a partnership could immediately double available options.
OLPC’s XO notebooks currently use processors from Intel rival AMD, and run custom software built on open source components; Intel’s Classmate PCs are built on selected proprietary technologies and can Windows XP or Linux-based educational solutions.