Followup from Intel on the OLPC debacle

I had a chance to speak again briefly with Intel spokesperson, Agnes Kwan, Friday afternoon to follow up on the messy Intel-OLPC divorce. Although there was quite a bit that she couldn't say (Intel has been a bit more discreet in this than Nicholas Negroponte), there are a few bits worth mentioning.

I had a chance to speak again briefly with Intel spokesperson, Agnes Kwan, Friday afternoon to follow up on the messy Intel-OLPC divorce. Although there was quite a bit that she couldn't say (Intel has been a bit more discreet in this than Nicholas Negroponte), there are a few bits worth mentioning.

When I asked Ms. Kwan why Intel became involved with OLPC in the first place, given their sordid history and competing products, she responded that they shared a vision. The vision, of course, was training children in the use of technology such that they could compete in a tech-driven, global economy. Collaboration made sense, and Intel believed that there was room in the market for multiple competing solutions. Even I, a long-time supporter of the Classmate, had to take this apparent party line with a grain of salt.

However, her response to my next question helped the party line ring a bit more true. I asked for Intel's position on the philanthropic aspect of this market and, specifically, how important was profitability for the Classmate? As she pointed out, the Classmate was never intended to be an Intel-branded device. It is, instead a design specification for a laptop to be used in educational settings, particularly in developing countries. She also noted that, while the spec uses Intel processors, local OEMs would be free to use chipsets from other manufacturers and customize the design to suit the needs of a particular locale. Ms. Kwan further described Intel's focus as "doing the right thing" and described the Classmate as a large part of the $100 million that Intel spends each year on education initiatives (these initiatives also include teacher training, collaboration with schools, etc.). She emphasized that the Classmate and low-cost computing in developing countries would continue to be a significant focus for Intel's ongoing education-related efforts.

Intel's position on the split with OLPC has been basically one of irreconcilable differences. While Ms. Kwan did confirm that OLPC insisted that Intel drop its Classmate program and support only OLPC products, she felt that the fundamental difference between the two programs was one of approach. The Classmate is designed at all levels to be used in a classroom, supported by significant management software to facilitate teacher control and collaboration. Because the OLPC focuses more on student independence, she felt that the two products also served different audiences, again leaving room in the market for multiple solutions and designs.

Unfortunately, she was still unable to give any preview of the features to be included in the next-generation Classmate. However, with a release slated for the next few months, stay tuned for more reviews and information.

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