Classmate or OLPC - Who cares?

A recent BBC report highlighted the growing rift between Intel and Nicholas Negroponte of One Laptop Per Child fame. Both Intel and OLPC expect to begin shipping competing products (the Classmate and the XO, respectively) relatively soon in emerging markets.

A recent BBC report highlighted the growing rift between Intel and Nicholas Negroponte of One Laptop Per Child fame. Both Intel and OLPC expect to begin shipping competing products (the Classmate and the XO, respectively) relatively soon in emerging markets. While the XO was originally dubbed the $100 laptop by the press, it will now sell for $176/laptop. The Classmate should sell for just over $200/laptop. The major source of controversy is pricing, with Negroponte accusing Intel of selling the Classmate below cost to drive him out of these emerging markets.

This may, in fact, be the case, although Intel denies the approach. However, Intel committed last year to spend $1 billion to bring technology to developing countries; it certainly seems plausible that some of that billion could be subsidizing the cost of the Classmate and helping ensure their continued dominance among the several billion future computer buyers that these markets represent.

Regardless of motivation, however, as fellow ZDNet blogger Larry Dignan points out,

"If Negroponte’s project never ships a laptop, it’ll be a success. Why? The OLPC is forcing the issue out in the open and making the behemoths rewrite the form factor playbook for emerging markets."

Whether or not you agree with the idea of one to one computing in markets where many children lack access to quality medical care or clean water, does it really matter who the vendor is? The so-called Digital Divide is being bridged any way you slice it. Even in developed countries, as we look at innovative ways to get more technology into the classroom and better prepare kids for a global, digital marketplace, initiatives such as those by OLPC and Intel have merit, the value of which can only be enhanced by competition.