One Laptop Executive Per Month

That's roughly the attrition rate at OLPC HQ, where former President of Software and Content Walter Bender has now joined ex-CTO Mary Lou Jepsen (departed January) and ex-Director of Security Ivan Krstić (February) in picking up his laptop and walking. Before he left, Bender had been moved to be Director of Deployment, a move widely considered as a demotion and one of the things that Krstić quoted as a reason for going.

That's roughly the attrition rate at OLPC HQ, where former President of Software and Content Walter Bender has now joined ex-CTO Mary Lou Jepsen (departed January) and ex-Director of Security Ivan Krstić (February) in picking up his laptop and walking. Before he left, Bender had been moved to be Director of Deployment, a move widely considered as a demotion and one of the things that Krstić quoted as a reason for going.

We've spoken to Bender in happier times, when we first got some OLPCs to look at, and in our experience he was just about the best person you could hope to find on the end of the phone. Others agree: you'll see him described around the web as the heart and soul of the OLPC project, with no dissenting voices.

So what is going on at OLPC? There are rumours that Microsoft is going to get strongly involved – not denied by Bender, who says just that he 'doesn't know' about such plans – while Nicholas Negroponte has said that OLPC should become a lot more like the Redmond giant. One can see that people who had been vigorously committed to open source would feel unable to carry on working in such a situation, while quite understanding that they wouldn't wish to be seen in any way wishing for or contributing to any future problems for the project. So expect general statements of good will and silence on the specifics: nonetheless, they've gone and NickNeg is still there.

What happens next? Nobody knows. But without a strong statement on the future direction of the project, backed up with some plausible roadmaps and resourcing, the OLPC is going to be impossible to sell again. Even now, if I was left holding a large consignment of the things, I'd be worried about development and support.

I don't want the worst outcome I feared way back when – that the OLPC would fail, and in so doing poison future technology in the developing world -- but I think it's even more likely now that the team's fallen apart.

Let's hear why not.