Intel Feels Fury of OLPC Scorned

The strained relationship between the One Laptop Per Child organization and Intel has come to an inglorious end with Intel resigning and OLPC claiming the chipmaker “contributed nothing of value.”

Intel and OLPC announced in July they would work together “to bring the benefits of technology to the developing world through synergy of their respective programs.” It was an unusual pairing to begin with, since the OLPC’s cheap XO notebooks are based on AMD processors and because Intel has a product of its own — the Classmate — that competes with the XO.

OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte said at the time that Intel’s involvement “means that the maximum number of laptops will reach children” and Intel CEO Paul Otellini commented that his company’s goal was to bring technology to underprivileged kids.

Relationship Gone Sour

However, Intel “did not deliver on any of the promises they made” and instead tried to undermine OLPC sales by badmouthing the XO, OLPC said. Additionally, Intel showed no willingness to help advance XO development, OLPC charged.

Intel reportedly denies such nefarious behavior, with Otellini being quoted as calling OLPC’s accusations “hogwash.”

“Over the entire six months it was a member of the association, Intel contributed nothing of value to OLPC,” said OLPC. “Intel never contributed in any way to our engineering efforts and failed to provide even a single line of code to the XO software efforts even though Intel marketed its products as being able to run the XO software.”

In essence, it became clear that “Intel’s heart has never been in working collaboratively as part of OLPC,” said OLPC.

Butting Heads Over Market Share

Intel, it seems, was willing to work with OLPC as one of several ways to get its processors installed in low-cost, education-focused computers to be sold to developing nations. However, such competition undermines the OLPC plan for the XO, a plan that initially called for selling the revolutionary machines for US$100 apiece but has since seen that price double. The hundred-dollar price point remains an OLPC goal.

It’s ironic that Negroponte — despite his claims about being burned by one big, American IT vendor — apparently is willing to work with an even bigger one: Microsoft, said Wayan Vota, editor of OLPC News, an independent site focused on OLPC.

OLPC and Microsoft are developing a way to allow XO notebooks to run on either Linux or Windows.

“The best we can believe from Negroponte is he wants to sell the XO to any market that wants them,” Vota told LinuxInsider. Two years ago, Negroponte said he wouldn’t consider selling the devices to schools in the United States, but has changed his mind, Vota noted.

A Changing World

Much of the current OLPC-related confusion and controversy is due to the quickly changing conditions in developing countries, said Charles King, senior analyst at Pund-IT.

“When One Laptop Per Child’s efforts began several years ago, the sense at that time was they were aiming their efforts at the masses underserved by commercial IT solutions,” King told LinuxInsider. “But over the past couple of years, vendors like Intel looked at those markets and realized they have the financial wherewithal to create products that could potentially compete with OLPC and it was very important for them to be seen as competitive in those markets.”

In other words, “OLPC took a very non-commercial approach to what were once non-commercial markets that have since become increasingly commercial markets,” King added.

Open to Danger?

Bringing up yet another area for discussion and dispute, Vota wondered how advocates of Linux and open source technology in general will react to OLPC’s newfound willingness to create XO notebooks that run on Windows.

“The true sense of open is you can put any software on any hardware,” Vota said. “But is the concept of letting in Windows, and tying OLPC to Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation worth the danger of being sucked into that orbit? Are you going to take the open source manifesto at its word and take the risk that Windows will absorb it?”

Negroponte’s apparent willingness to do so shows that OLPC didn’t learn its lesson from its dealings with Intel. “I personally think it’s a fool’s gambit,” Vota said. “Once you get in bed with Microsoft, you will wake up with fleas.”

1 Comment

  • I am lucky enough to have one of the new XO laptops from olpc. this device is nothing short of revolutionary.
    more thoughtful design went into this object than the boeing 777.
    it is not just about the hardware. this software -with its many opportunities for kids to program and experiment – will lead to even further innovation.
    intel is acting like a lumbering elephant in its heavy-footed approach on this. sad but predictable.
    before you make any judgement on this venture get hold of an XO and give it a whirl.

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