July 13, 2007 1:30 PM PDT

OLPC and Intel bury the hatchet--for the children

After years of squabbling, Intel and Nicholas Negroponte have agreed to put their differences behind them and join forces in bringing PCs to children around the world.

Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child project is bringing Intel on board as a partner and a possible future supplier, the two entities announced Friday morning. Intel will become the 11th member of the OLPC's board, joining other companies such as Google, eBay, Nortel and Intel's bitter rival Advanced Micro Devices.

The OLPC's mission is to put laptop computers in the hands of children around the world, in the hope that access to technology will help improve the education of millions growing up in nations concerned with weightier issues than Facebook versus MySpace. The XO laptop at the heart of the project costs about $175 to produce, but Negroponte, founder of the nonprofit OLPC, thinks they will sell for about $100 once production starts in earnest later this year.

Just a few weeks ago, the notion of Intel and Negroponte working together would have seemed absurd. Negroponte's almost evangelical approach to the OLPC project and Intel's determination to grab a piece of the emerging PC market has produced rancor on both sides over the past few years.

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett has been the public face of the company's work on its Classmate PCs for emerging nations, and he has been very dismissive of the OLPC project in the past, calling it "the $100 gadget." And in a May interview with 60 Minutes, Negroponte accused Intel of dumping Classmate PCs way below cost in order to win deals with local governments and sabotage Negroponte's dreams of bringing PCs to the world's poor children.

Intel and the OLPC are "trying to accomplish the same thing."
--Will Swope, Intel general manager of corporate affairs

The dispute appeared petty at times, beneath both the world's largest chipmaker and the co-founder of the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After all, there's unfortunately no shortage of poor children in the world who have yet to realize the power of the personal computer, and the developed world is big enough to support a huge PC industry with dozens of rich players.

After some discussion, the two groups realized they had more in common than they had in dispute, said Will Swope, a corporate vice president and general manager of corporate affairs at Intel. "We're trying to accomplish the same thing," he said.

Intel's immediate effect on the OLPC project will be to improve the open-source software that ships with the XO laptop, said Walter Bender, president of software and content for the OLPC. "Intel has got a very strong team in Linux and open source," he said.

Intel is currently wooing developing nations with Classmate PCs that are available with either Linux and Windows, part of the chipmaker's continual dance between Microsoft--its closest partner--and the desire of some customers for open-source software. But the OLPC is an avowed open-source supporter, giving Intel a broader outlet for the work produced by its collection of open-source software engineers.

At some point, Intel also wants its chips to be inside the XO laptop, Swope said. "We are going to try to win the XO business, but it's the OLPC's decision. We haven't won the business as a result of this agreement."

Teaming with a rival
At the moment, AMD is the silicon supplier for the XO laptop. This appeared to be at least part of the reason behind Intel's disdain for the OLPC project as well as Negroponte's suspicions that Intel wanted to lock him out of certain countries. In the developed world, the PC market is rapidly maturing; eroding the growth rates that Wall Street loves so much. As a result, both Intel and AMD see a huge source of future earnings in the millions of people who have yet to buy a PC. The companies would rather attribute their efforts to a humanitarian desire to help the world, but shareholders like profits, too.

AMD said it was undeterred by the news that its rival was joining forces with the OLPC, despite the prospect of a few awkward board meetings at some point in the future. "Right now, we see no change in the way AMD will participate with OLPC," said Rebecca Gonzales, AMD's senior manager of business development for high-growth markets. "We welcome (Intel) to the table."

AMD and Intel do work together on several projects, participating on standards boards such as PCI-SIG and The Green Grid. But when Negroponte's comments aired in May, AMD quickly seized upon his statements as evidence that Intel was using its market heft to try and keep AMD out of the developing world--allegations similar to those made by its antitrust suit filed against Intel in 2005.

On Friday, there was only talk of collaboration. "We obviously haven't worked out all the details this is going to mean when we sit down at the table together in the board meeting," Gonzales said. "But we are going to work together to continue best practices."

Intel will continue to sell its Classmate PC--the object of Negroponte's previous ire--as a low-cost PC alternative, Swope said. "Three years from now, there's going to be any number of companies that have products that solve opportunities in the education environment," he said.

Bender agreed, noting that the OLPC hasn't locked itself into any one partner's technology. "We're looking as broadly as possible, these solutions don't exist just within one company or one architecture," he said.

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9 comments

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OLPC should run OS/2 not Linux
OS/2 is more secure and less prone to hackers than Linux will ever be. Plus OS/2 consumes less power and has more applications available for it than Linux does.

OS/2 can run all of the older MS-DOS, and Windows 3.X software, plus with ODIN run some of the 32 bit Windows software. Plus the large library of OS/2 applications that Linux and Windows will never be able to run.

OS/2 would also bring down the cost of the OLPC because it wouldn't need high end hardware to make it run, because it has a lower footprint for memory and CPU consumption.
Posted by Thought Police OMalley (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What are you thinking?
First, OS/2 is from a previous era. Second, it's a dead platform, for all purposes. Third, Linux is as modular as you need it to be. Fourth, you can run a modern Linux distribution on almost any platform. Also, with the various services out there, you can run Windows and DOS apps, if you would want to. We are talking about developing countries here. Also, OS/2 apps probably have a Linux equivalent.
Posted by ben::zen (127 comments )
Link Flag
This is idiocy
If you sell something below the market rate, it's going to get turned right back around and sold at the market rate. There's going to be a huge black market for these OLPC machines. Assume these machines can fetch $200 in the market. Corrupt third world officials will be happy to pocket that $100 spread all day long. Expect lots of reorders due to machines being mysteriosuly "lost".
Posted by solrosenberg (124 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The children would be better off with shoes, school supplies, books, etc.
The children don't need a stripped-down laptop. They need food, clothing, medical care, housing, and clean drinking water. The parents need to live where there is economic opportunity, an honest court system, and police that don't extort money from citizens. None of this is accomplished by producing laptops at a subsidized price that the children will never see.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So IOW, keep 'em fed but stupid?
Much of what you demand requires an intelligent population... schooling is a HUGE part of providing that.

These laptops are intended for use as direct replacements for "school supplies." Incidentally, you can also use them to carry guides and knowledge of local conditions, HOWTOs on doing things such as sustainable farming, basic medical care, construction techniques, etc.

You say the kids will never see it - okay, so what're the gov'ts going to do... eBay the things? They have no other real use. They're too weak to perform any computing that any government might need done (even if you cluster them into some half-arsed grid). They're too low-end to be attractive to the audience most likely to have the disposable income and desire to purchase one.

They do have some advantages that work towards every goal you stated up there. They also go a very long way to fulfill the old adage ab't giving a man a fish v. teaching him how to fish.

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Poor assumption
Many third world countries are not lacking in the basics.

what they are lacking is in is education. This is an attempt to raise education, which must happen before real reforms are able to be carried out.

It is not like these are going to be passed out in areas where people eat once every three days or so. But in more developed areas.
Posted by MSSlayer (1074 comments )
Link Flag
Good move
This goes well beyond some shallow greed motive. Giving underdeveloped nations an educational boost will pay off down the road. Not only for the countries in question, but humanity at large.

How people can fight against this is beyond me.
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
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Start at home first
There are Indian reservation in the US with homes tht have no water, no electricity, no phones, and conditions that make having the internet, much less computers, impossible. Years ago, then President, Clinton promised the Pine Ridge Rez a computer for every child. Of course, they never heard from him again. Charity begins at home, if Americans are going to buy computers for children make this company add reservations like Pine Ridge and Rosebud to their third world concerns.
Posted by Tabitha Darling (1 comment )
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