LAS VEGAS--Nicholas Negroponte declined to speak about the rift between his organization, One Laptop Per Child, and Intel during a speech at the Consumer Electronics Show taking place this week.
Two of the individuals with OLPC sat directly behind me, and they talked extensively about the disagreement and their interaction with Intel before the speech. (To recap, Intel joined OLPC after a long public argument, but then recently pulled out.) I checked their badges to make sure they were with OLPC. Here are some of the highlights.
"They are so arrogant."
"Did you meet Swope (Intel exec Will Swope)? He was unimpressive."
"Working with Microsoft is a joy by comparison."
To be fair, there's probably not a lot of love lost on Intel's side. Chairman Craig Barrett, before the brief alliance with OLPC, often criticized the device. A number of companies are also chilly toward Negroponte. One Taipei executive told me that people in the last year have started to blame declines in Quanta Computer's stock on its association with OLPC. Contract manufacturer Quanta makes the OLPC and even built an entire manufacturing line for it.
Another Taiwanese exec asserted that Negroponte doesn't understand how the hardware business works. I can't verify what the Taiwanese are saying (but I have met Swope and he's kind of amusing). The Taiwanese business community also thrives on rumor. If someone said that Bill Gates was building a fusion reactor, there's a good chance it would end up on paper. Still, it gives you an idea of the feelings.
As for the speech, it wasn't bad. Negroponte clearly cares about kids and education. Back in 1999, he and his son gave laptops to first graders in Cambodia. Next year, first-grade enrollment went up by 100 percent.
"The kids in the program told the other kids in the village how cool school was," he said.
However, he seems to take a dimmer view of adults and often speaks of them in a disappointed, schoolmarmish tone. The criticism about the small keyboard is misplaced, he claimed. "When they criticize it, they are criticizing it from the point of a fat-fingered adult," he said. Everyone advised him to do OLPC as a profit institution, a route many charities have taken. Remaining a nonprofit "was the single best decision OLPC ever made."
One of the best moments of the speech came at the beginning when Gary Shapiro, the official emcee of CES, introduced him. Shapiro touted his achievements.
"Thank you for the (slight pause) long introduction," Negroponte said.
And thank you too, Nick!