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Summary:

Everyone from Nicholas Negroponte to Microsoft to Intel wants to help the poor kids in emerging economies by giving them a laptop, a phone or some frankendevice. No one seems to ask the question if the kids actually need it, especially when food and water should […]

Everyone from Nicholas Negroponte to Microsoft to Intel wants to help the poor kids in emerging economies by giving them a laptop, a phone or some frankendevice. No one seems to ask the question if the kids actually need it, especially when food and water should be higher on the priority list.

As we wrote earlier, “What is a kid who goes to a school with rampant teacher absenteeism, no infrastructure to speak of –like desks, fans or electricity to run those fans –going to do with a laptop?”

However noble these ambitions be, these are skewed elitist plans… but I don’t want to get political here. What is amusing is that how each one of the promoters is dissing each other – Negroponte recently complained about Intel being Intel on 60 Minutes, and accused Intel of undermining his one laptop per child plan with the $200-Classmate device. (Not that I think Intel is without blame .)

AMD, which is providing chips to the OLPC initiative, didn’t waste any time sending out a press alert pointing fingers at Intel.

We view Negroponte’s comments and observations as “Intel being Intel” and agree that they serve as another point supporting our claims of Intel’s abusive anti-trust practices for which they were found guilty of in Japan. As you know, AMD filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Intel in U.S. federal court. The European Union is also likely to share the conclusions of their exhaustive investigation of Intel’s business practices in the very near future as well.

Easy to over look his anger, but Intel’s device seems to cost more, so can’t be undermining OLPC. Secondly, since this seems to be a mission of charity (and not a play for Nobel Peace Prize), Negroponte should be happy that others are willing to follow his lead, and get more of these frankendevices into the hands of more and more kids.

Don’t blame me for thinking – what a bunch of crybabies!

  1. They’re awfully territorial for such nice, charitable guys, aren’t they?

    I never thought I would live to see the processor wars between Intel and AMD escalate to a dispute over whose super-low-end product for the emerging markets was the most heartfelt.

    You’re right on the money to say projects like these tend to overlook the bigger needs that people in Africa confront on a daily basis in favor of a technology-will-save-us-all world view. Why is it, do you think, that so many of us are so quick to latch onto the cool, high-tech answer to social problems and so freaked out by the idea of tackling issues of hunger, access to water or basic social stability? Is it about control? An acknowledgment of the limits of philanthropy?

    Either way, it’s always nice to see the saints of the tech world in a knock-down drag-out. Popcorn, anyone?

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  2. It is really funny to see a haughty MIT professor get all pouty about Intel treading on his charity territory.

    Elitist you say? Did you catch the line about how much Negroponte travels? He made sure to mention it a few times in the 60 Minutes interview. For us less fortunate and literally more grounded, we can feel smug thinking about all that wasted jet fuel.

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  3. It’s very easy to say that Africans need clean water and reliable electricity supplies more than they need cheap laptops but that’s to assume that all of Africa is exactly the same. Sure, some countries are still dealing with abject poverty but some areas are a bit better off and the best way for them to keep rising upwards is by educating their children.

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  4. 1 laptop per child = get ready for a heck of a lot more spam!

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  5. You totally miss the point Om Malik.

    Intel is dumping their price, they are selling the Classmate with a loss, targeting only the same governments that are in talks with OLPC. This is illegal, it’s Intel trying to build a monopoly, not Intel competing on technology, quality or price of the devices.

    If Intel wants to be charitable, they should invest heavilly in the OLPC research and development. Nothing prevents Intel from developping an Intel based OLPC laptop.

    The truth is Intel does not want anyone to succeed in making cheap laptops. Cause Intel and Microsoft earn much too much money selling expensive, slow, bloated laptops, they really wouldn’t like to see a cheap, Linux-running, AMD sponsored alternative become successfull.

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  6. You don’t need a desk, a fan, or even electricity to go to school. Maybe holding a laptop in their hand will inspire, give confidence, and enable them to better not only themselves but their community.

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  7. disappointed Monday, May 21, 2007

    I’m disappointed to see that you are that much of a fool, Om.

    Barret’s job is to maximise profit for Intel shareholders. This requires him to do everything in his power to maintain and extend the wintel monopoly.

    You know that.

    Don’t just take a contrary view for the sake of website traffic. You are a high profile writer and have a responsibility to think about what you post.

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  8. Sara,

    where did you go to school, and where did you grow up – because if you knew about rest of the world’s reality then you would know that those are important issues.

    i am sorry to break it to you and everyone else, rest of the world doesn’t think of “laptop” as a confidence booster.

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  9. disappointed,

    did you read the post: they are both delusional projects who don’t take into account the ground reality of the world.

    it is easy to talk about these things from air conditined offices in boston and san jose.

    my trying to keep it real is a page view play, while notable professor whining on national TV. excuse me.

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  10. I too saw the 60 Minutes piece. The fact is that Negraponte’s passion is technology not infrastrature in 2nd & 3rd world countries. While clearly there are many countries around the world that lack even running water, just because this is a huge basic need doesn’t mean that a hard and fast rule must be that infrastructure must be laid down first before others can dare to dream bigger. IF OLPC had from the onset struck a deal with both Intel and AMD to split this global chip opportunity, they wouldn’t have Intel doing dumping and chasing OLPC like a minnow waiting to pounce on food. Intel should follow Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra and should figure out a way that as a for-profit company, it can collaborate with the non-profit OLPC and not go for the jugular. Just my 2 cents. ;-)

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  11. A Jewish peace group my girlfriend is involved with is raising money to build a playground for a school in Palestine. The money they raise, plus money from the British consulate in Israel will pay for the materials required and the labor of local workers. Then the kids won’t have to play in the rocks anymore.

    This will cost about the same as two OLPC prototypes.

    I do however think the OLPC is a worthwhile effort. I’m concerned however that they’re mixing up two worthwhile efforts. One effort to build a user interface for education in the future and one effort to provide laptops for the world’s students. I don’t like that they’ve tied these two together.

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  12. Assuming that people are concerned about helping poor kids with cheap laptops, which may or may not be a good idea, is it not better that the governments who give the laptops to the kids pay the lowest price possible for them? Also, don’t the kids get the laptops regardless of who the supplier is?

    The only difference between what OLPC and Intel are their motives. If the outcome is the same (i.e., getting laptops to poor kids), who cares? This is assuming that people’s concerns are actually about getting laptops to poor kids as opposed to fighting tired binary battles (“Wintel” v. the world, etc.).

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  13. Daniel Hart Monday, May 21, 2007

    I think Nicholas Negroponte has a great idea. My first thought about handing a laptop to all the children of poor nations around the world was foolish at first too. Then I saw the benefits like getting the kids excited about learning and letting them explore all around the world without having to leave their homes. Maybe this will inspire the children to become educated and they can move to other parts of the world to make something of themselves or maybe they can help their own people in the future with a higher education thanks to the inspiration of a laptop.
    Look at the advanced piece of equipment they have created for a cost of 200 dollars. Doesn’t that say something about how the market is controlled by a couple of big companies? Look at what they created a laptop with a battery that will last for 12 hours of full use and a hand crank to recharge it. It has Wi-Fi that is better that of a 3,000 dollar laptop. It is water resistant….theft resistant and so on.
    If anything Nicholas Negroponte should be thanked for showing people how they are being raked over the coals with slow drawn out implementation of technology from the big manufacturers.
    I hope the fact that he was on 60 minutes this will help launch his mission even further and in my opinion Negroponte made Intel look like fools.
    I look forward to seeing all the people around the world getting the best education they can with the help of a 200 dollar state of the art laptop.

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  14. Om, Give the man his due. Negroponte did run a test in one school before starting his “mission”

    Sure it may seem a bit elitist, But surely you can see how spreading the internet and a computer to under developed parts has many uses. The power of information should not be underestimated … If you are talking about problems like water … Atleast with the internet you can get a HOWTO on well digging and rain water harvesting. Without the internet this information requires transmission by human which is difficult.

    India is a good model of the powers of disruptive technologies – A basic problem in India was telephone connectivity and penetration. Part of the problem was bureaucracy, part of the problem was the problems of building infrastructure. Getting private players into the Indian basic telephony market did not improve penetration. Introduction of cell phones solved that problem. Victory for a so called ‘elitist’ technology.

    The problem that a lot of these rural schools have is the availability of teachers. What negroponte is hoping is that these laptops will do is act as a substitute. Sure – a laptop cannot replace a teacher, but a laptop can do better than no teacher !

    Also these laptops reduce the marked advantages that the urban kids have. IT has caused a increase in the gap of the haves and havenots. Even if a poor rural child managed to get a half decent education, He has no skills to survive in this information age. This laptop will allow the creation of an army of computer literates and that also should be commended.

    Basic problems are basic – You can wait till they get fixed which is probably never ! Instead solve the problems you know how to solve well. Is OLPC the answer – maybe / maybe not. It definitely is a great effort to spread information technology.

    The problem with Intels policies are that it looks like they are bent on killing the OLPC project by confusion. That is what makes their whole approach so ‘evil’, OLPC may not be the only approach, in fact msfts approach of a computer usage by subscription to increase penetration is also interesting and more grounded in reality. Lets hope the classmate or the OLPC actually take off. If intel manages to kill the OLPC project without spreading the classmate.. Then it would be a sad day indeed.

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  15. OLPC fan,

    fine with all the arguments you offer. In case of India, i think while telephony has changed the country for the better, it doesn’t mask some of the basic challenges.

    my mother taught in a government funded school for all her life, so I have a little perspective on this issue. the teachers are there, except in many places government can’t afford to pay them.

    in the deep rural areas, using India as an example, the problems are more acute than most of us imagine. I have traveled, seen it first hand, and have a little sense of what its all about.

    I believe that laptops and all will come after some of the basic needs have been addresed.

    most of the countries where the laptop/classmate are being pushed need to think hard if they can really afford to redirect precious dollars in that direction.

    A $200-on-digging a well for clean water, perhaps would be my priority.

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  16. Om, you raise a very valid point on the precious government dollars being challenged elsewhere (pipes for drinking water or $200 for a laptop) when heat and water are so fundamental to health. This is clearly a big opportunity cost that really is mind-boggling for these 3rd world countries going down this path. However, many of these governments, rightly or wrongly, seem to have initiatives or pilot projects in place to purchase these low cost computers for children, regardless of their limited resources and lack of basic infrastructure. Nevertheless, while the objectives of OLPC and Intel are similiar, OLPC is a non-profit and its motives are to help children in extremely poor countries get some kind of educational boost — not to expand their market share. Intel is using the same issue (help deserving poor children with lost cost computers) but its motives are driven strictly by profit and competing with AMD. For a multi-billion dollar company, rather than using less than altrustic marketing strategies at taking out OLPC, I think Intel should take the high road and strike some kind of collaborative partnership with this charitable outfit. At a minimum their practice at shadowing OLPC’s efforts with governments and trying to undermine them leaves a very bad taste in one’s mouth about Intel.

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  17. The world is not a binary place with two types of kids, either rich and starving. On the scale there actually are those countries where the basic needs, like food, water and schools are in place, but where people still are quite poor. Rural India is definitely towards the starving part of the spectrum, but in countries like Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, etc, there are millions of kids that actually get food on their tables every day, who could benefit a lot from this kind of initiatives.

    This is like the old debate about why we should spend money on space travel when there are people starving in this world. Well, we should do that because if nobody looks and strives forward, the world will surely slip backwards.

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  18. I think the OLPC is going to be kicked out by the Classmate, as the later has two times more powerful processing power, with a 900 mhz processor. (http://www.intel.com/intel/worldahead/pdf/CMPCbrochure.pdf)

    The OLPC has a 433mhz AMD Geode processor, which has equal performance per mhz to the Intel Celeron Mobile.

    Also the Classmate can run Windows XP , which is considered a big plus as the Sugar OS doesn’t have support for as many applications that students might want to install.

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  19. Better to put teachers in class rooms and books in their hands than laptops in the dirt…

    Better to put vaccines in their little bodies than a computer screen in their faces (thank you Gates foundation)…

    Better to put food in their mouths than computers in their hands…

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  20. hi i’m frm that so called third world country.. INDIA..

    well u may c it as a nation stealing ur jobs.. those hi-tech professional.. those call center guys..

    but reality little harder here.. ppl are getting killed for the govt. acquire land to give to big companies to build their offices..

    There is one bright side IT .. there is also a dark side of it Farmers committing suicide .. becoz their crops failed …

    there are still part of country lyk north-east of India which don’t even have access to pure drinking water..

    they want food not laptop..

    this is the story of India which is shining .. think abut the other nations lyk those of Africa ..

    P.S. i’m very bad with writing English.. :D .. plz forgive me for that in my comment

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  21. Just because a certain section of the population lacks basic infrastructure, doesn’t mean that all efforts have to be directed at improving that and any other efforts are worthless. I believe that any idea that improves the lives of at least some segment of the population is worth pursuing. That is a first step and there is a trickle down effect which takes time, but eventually every one benefits.

    I remember that mobile phones were a luxury in early nineties, but now they are so ubiquitous that even a person earning ~$100/month in India can derive value from that. I believe that a ~$100 laptop would be easily affordable by a significant number of students in a country like India, especially in urban areas. If the government chips in, this would become even more affordable.

    I believe that if more students have access to knowledge and knowledge tools, it would allow them to move up the value chain and the benefits of the resulting improvements in the economy would reach all segments of the population. This will increase the resources available to the government to make improvements in the infrastructure. There are no easy solutions, but this sounds like a plausible outcome and a sustainable way of improving the lives of majority of the population in the third world countries.

    I used to be a cynic and believed that the only way to improve is bottom-up. But looking at the progress that India has made in last 5-6 years, I have started believing in the trickle down theory.

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  22. Granted that food and water are basic necessities that need to be in place before you can start giving kids laptops. However, if your school infrastructure has failed and you can’t afford to pay teachers and you can’t fix the entire system in one go, giving kids the opportunity for unhindered, limitless self-directed learning that an Internet connection provides is a pretty great step.

    They are, however, being crybabies :-)

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  23. The problem I see with the whole OLPC discussion is that all developing countries are being lumped into one group. The situation on the ground in India is guaranteed to be much different than the situation in Nigeria. These countries may share some of the same issues, but having experience with one does not give you the ability to say definitively what the other needs.

    I was in Jamaica, a relatively wealthy country in the developing world, teaching for two years. The vast majority of communities have access to food, clean drinking water, and health care. On the other hand, the education system is struggling, especially when it comes to educating young boys. I taught computer classes to children and community members throughout my time there. I can attest first hand to the impact that these machines can have on someone who is not interested in learning in a conventional manner. Jamaican children would greatly benefit from OLPC. Typically a school with 100 children has 3 or 4 old and decrepit machines that break down on a regular basis. Each country (and even regions within a country) needs to be seen as a separate entity when discussing the need for these machines.

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  24. Here’s my awesome thoughts on this subject.

    1) It’s sort of funny that Nick Neg is upset about Intel stepping on their toes. If he were really altruistic, he’d welcome Intel on board and the competition between AMD and Intel should drop his price for the CPU.

    2) What’s the implementation plan? Are they going to drop these off and say “have at it?” Is there educational software available for these things?

    3) What about connecting to the internet?

    4) Who’s going to support these things? Does Billy from Tanzania get shafted when his breaks and he can’t do his assignments?

    I can’t blame Intel. They’re looking at the OLPC countries and thinking, hell, we need to get them hooked on the Intel bandwagon.

    The OLPC project is ambitious, but seriously lacking in long term planning. In places where the education system is in shambles with unqualified teachers and lacking infrastructure (electronic AND city).

    The OLPC is pretty cool from a technological standpoint. But from an educational and implementation standpoint, this is going to go over like a and hurt the economies of a few countries.

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  25. Regarding microsoft, the story I heard about the beginnings of the Gates Foundation was that Bill initially was going to provide computers/software for 3rd world education, but started looking into it and realized that they needed medicine/food/water much more, so started the Foundation to focus on that….

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  26. You are missing the point OM

    Negroponte has to reach a certain number to start the production (Not reached yet).

    The manouvering of Intel and Microsoft is aiming at that. Then when the laptop project fails, the price will go up and the third world children will still using Windows.

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  27. Pablo Brenner Wednesday, May 23, 2007

    Om,

    I´m participating on the OLPC trials here in Uruguay, and at the begining had much of the same concerns you have, will this really make any difference for these kids?

    Now, a couple of weeks after the first notebooks were deployed in a semi-rural public school in Uruguay I can tell you:
    “It does make a difference!!”, a couple of examples:

    • No kids missed classes these two weeks

    • They even went to school during the weekend (because there was connectivity there)

    • They learn by themselves how to use the computer and internet, faster than their teachers. And surprisingly for me, even the teachers are happy with that.

    • They get interested in learning english (they realize that there is a lot more material in english than spanish)

    Looking to the future:

    • I guess you can not imagine this, but these kids will feel confortable in front of a computer when they get to work, today many kids of these cities get to working age without having touched a computer, and this is today a big handicap.

    Do you really believe that is not worth spending USD 130 per kid to give these kids an equal opportunity in the digital world?

    best regards

    – pablo

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  28. One thing that comes out of all this is that we are all overpaying for laptops. How about bringing the prices down for all of us eh? Why have they been gouging us this whole time?

    Second is why don’t they try this out in Mississippi or help poor kids right here in America first? (This of course gets rid of all the drinking water type of issues for starters)

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  29. what makes me wondering… we all have opinions here, mixed well with publicity efforts of Big Brothers (there, in media) pushing those ventures forward, yet… where are opinions of those who is “target of project”? I mean why not let END CONSUMER (ok, not kids but their parents) to decide what is better for them? this seems to be ol’good “we know better than you what you must do”.

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  30. I’ve just come across possibly the most well-reasoned reaction to the issues touched upon in the 60 Minutes piece. You can read it here: http://www.mobilised.com.au/content/view/996/1/1/0/

    Om, I’ve been reading your work for a long time and I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re a contrarian to a fault and don’t think deeply enough about the issues on occasion before reaching an opinion.

    In the 60 Minutes report, Barrett said, “It will take the whole industry to do this.” I don’t doubt that’s the case, and I presume OLPC agrees. But Intel’s well known and infamous business practices can only lead one to conclude that the rest of that sentence would read “…as long as they get in line behind Intel.”

    I suspect that Nicholas and OLPC welcome fair and open competition. But if Nicholas’ allegations of predatory practices like dumping are true, then that’s not what’s happening here at all. That amounts to making procurement officials in developing nations an offer they can’t refuse.

    What we have here is an infinitely powerful monopoly metaphorically threatening to break the kneecaps of a non-profit if it doesn’t “get in line.” And if it won’t get in line, they’ll simply overwhelm OLPC with resources, relationships and FUD (a la the Nigeria documents).

    It’s easy for the discussion to degenerate into AMD v Intel – but that’s frankly a cop-out.

    People need to understand that this is not about AMD v Intel. This is actually about Intel v everyone else. Time and again our industry has seen that Intel engages in business practices that enrich itself while virtually wiping out the profits of its customers – the OEMs. And the harm inflicted goes on from there.

    Without shame, Intel views poor children of the world as a market opportunity, and they seem to have no problem steamrolling a non-profit like OLPC through anti-competitive business practices set in motion with the single purpose of monopolizing another market.

    If this approach feels familiar, that’s because it is. It is exactly how Intel came to monopolize the mainstream PC industry worldwide.

    By the way, want to see how ruthless and shameless Intel is in their treatment of the non-profit OLPC? Google “one laptop per child” and/or “nicholas negroponte” and see whose sponsored link appears at the top of your search.

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  31. MPZ,

    If you are making the point that INtel is being ruthless and predatory and using their cash to slow down OLPC: shame on them.

    I think you are missing the point in my argument – which has been constant for the longest time – there is a lot more which needs to be taken care of before these devices make sense to the kids.

    You allege that I am contrarian for the sake of being one – good. Except that it has been my consistent view that OLPC (regardless of the flavor being promoted) doesn’t take into the ground realities of the countries these devices are supposed to go.

    Pablo earlier mentioned, that in Uruguay these laptops are having a positive impact. I have not been to Uruguay so can’t speak for that country. If it is working and increasing school attendance and other aspects of child development, that is fantastic news.

    In other parts of the world where I have gone (or am from) the schools (or lack there of) and other issues that come first.

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