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The OLPC project and competition

I'd missed this post by George Ou where he claimed that Intel in combination with ASUS have slaughtered Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project with its Ultra-mobile "Eee PC." This reminded me of an article I read a few weeks back where Dr.

I'd missed this post by George Ou where he claimed that Intel in combination with ASUS have slaughtered Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project with its Ultra-mobile "Eee PC." This reminded me of an article I read a few weeks back where Dr. Negroponte said Intel "should be ashamed of itself" for trying to battle the OLPC product with its own offering - the Intel Classmate. Unlike the Eee PC, the Classmate appears to be expressly designed to target developing markets.

Professor Negroponte believes the reason Intel was working so hard to combat the OLPC project was because of its choice of an AMD processor (Intel probably doesn't care whether it uses Windows or Linux).

Brilliant observation, that.

I mean, come on...what does Dr. Negroponte expect? He talks about revolutionizing computing by shipping hundreds of millions - if not billions - of these low-cost devices, and those devices use a particular processor made by a single company. Why shouldn't he expect companies in processor market segments to try to respond with its own offering?

It's not like Intel has the power to force the Nigerian government to buy Classmate PCs. And, as noted in the BBC article, the Classmate will likely cost more than the OLPC product. Intel will certainly market its product aggressively, but marketing does not equal mind control.

In the end, competition can't be a bad thing for citizens of poorer nations. Professor Negroponte has managed to inspire a bunch of companies to take seriously the computing needs of the developing world, applying the forces of market competition to find solutions that fit those regions' unique reqiurements. That's a GOOD thing, IMO, and would be universally viewed as such if so many people weren't intellectually wedded to the success of one solution.

Negroponte's motivations are good. He considers what he is doing to be important, and when Intel works to prevent the success of his project, it likely feels like a big company trying to stamp out charity (though the OLPC is not charity, so much as a product made as robust as possible within tight cost constraints). In reality, though, the OLPC, if it ever came close to meeting its objectives, would have economic consequences, and companies have a right to respond to that...and offer equally beneficial alternatives.

In the end, all those machines aim to bring computing power to people who otherwise might not be able to afford it. Clearly, that's not the first order of business, but it's certainly not unimportant...witness the revolution wrought through the spread of mobile phone service in Africa.