Who will win open source professor cage match?

Both sides are now re-adjusting their priorities. Negroponte says his aim is a mass market for low-cost hardware. Bender says it's about creating a new paradigm for education.

Walter Bender, Sugar Labs
In this corner, the challenger, the former executive director of MIT's Media Lab, software guru, now with Sugar Labs, the champion of Linux, Walter Benderrrrr!

And in this corner, the champion, the co-founder of MIT's Media Lab, best-selling author, founder and chairman of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the hardware champion, Nickolas Negropont-eeee!

All right, let's get ready to stumbleeeeee!

Nicholas Negroponte of One Laptop Per Child
Snark aside, the break between former colleagues Nick Negroponte and Walter Bender over the future of OLPC is more than entertainment. It's an experiment on two levels:

  1. What has a better shot at success, an innovative hardware design or a pure open source software company?
  2. Can real college professors actually run successful companies in the real world?

There are, in truth, many examples of former college professors who have made it in the corporate world. Craig Barrett of Intel started as a Stanford professor. But most who succeeded, like Barrett, left academe early in their careers, before they were totally covered in ivy.

Bender and Negroponte have long, successful academic careers behind them. Negroponte, in fact, is still on leave from MIT. Bender, too, keeps loose ties with the old school.

What makes either think they're made of CEO stuff is beyond me, but you can't fault people for trying.

The split, as everyone knows, resulted from Negroponte's decision to ally with Microsoft at OLPC, and Bender's feeling this sort of defeats the whole purpose.

Both sides are now re-adjusting their priorities. Negroponte says his aim is a mass market for low-cost hardware. Bender says it's about creating a new paradigm for education.

The question is what chance either has of succeeding.

Negroponte has the bigger problem, which may be why he has a more practical outlook. Any hardware outfit has high ongoing costs for doing business. OLPC has deployments, but it must keep growing or those boxes become orphans, latter-day Osbornes.

An open source project can live on a relative shoestring, but already Sugar is bending to the need for a Windows interface.

My problem is it's teaching a host of new metaphors for things that already exist, like folders. And since it's based on Python, which has a rather small market share, its own chances of becoming orphaned in time are high.

But that's the way it is with dreams. Every dream is a risk, and everyone who joins in a computer dream takes part of that risk.

So whose dream comes true, Bender's or Negroponte's?[poll id=79]