Things aren’t going terribly well for the “One Laptop Per Child” project, reports The Wall Street Journal. The project, which started as a noble effort to educate the children of poor nations via $100 laptops computers, has run into stiff competition from the likes of Intel […]

classmateolpc.gifThings aren’t going terribly well for the “One Laptop Per Child” project, reports The Wall Street Journal. The project, which started as a noble effort to educate the children of poor nations via $100 laptops computers, has run into stiff competition from the likes of Intel (INTC), which is using its overseas sales force to aggressively push its Classmate device, which sells for between $230 and $300 dollars.

What really caught my eye in the piece was the fact that during the first two days of the OLPC’s promotional effort — buy one and give one laptop — nearly 45,000 devices were ordered, mostly from the U.S. That clearly indicates that OLPC has elicited a lot of interest amongst the PC-toting masses. My anecdotal observation is backed by recent search trends.

And why not? Many of the laptops already on the market are now dubbed “notebooks” or “portable computers.” You can’t put them in your lap, because they give off more than enough heat to keep a New Yorker warm on a cold, brisk winter evening and are heavy enough to cause serious lumbar damage. And by golly, if you do decide to buy a lightweight machine, then your bank account is left feeling like an anorexic. A nation of laptop-totting workaholics needs something…better.This interest in OLPC can be loosely explained by buyers’ desire for a simpler, lighter, and less complicated, computing experience that offers connectivity and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. This is good news for device makers like Nokia (NOK) and Asus, both of whom recently started selling cheap Internet-connected devices.
Let’s call them, for lack of a better description, Cloud Client Computers (CCC). This trend for a simpler, connected computer can’t be good news for Intel (INTC), however, which makes a lot of money selling expensive chips for either desktop or laptop computers. If the cheap Classmate can run Windows XP (or Linux) and do most of the tasks we typically do on a laptop while on the go, why would anybody want to splurge on an expensive “portable computer?”Intel might have launched the Classmate to stunt the popularity of OLPC, but it may have also unintentionally showed us a better way of mobile computing. Creating market demand in more developed countries is not necessarily a bad thing – demand like that will result in the volume needed to lower prices – which will ultimately help OPLC’s original vision.

  1. Om, not to add more work to your overflowing plate, but I’d love to see search results for “Asus Eee PC” included. I grabbed the Intel-based, 4 GB SSD version that runs Linux on the first day of availability and it’s definitely in the same space as the OLPC and Classmate, although it tends to be more expensive at $399. From my daily usage of it, I suspect Asus will sell a ton of these; they’re own estimate is 3.8m devices in 2008.

  2. [...] Fake Steve Jobs and Real Om Malik are writing about Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child initiative in the wake of a Wall [...]

  3. I was torn between ordering an XO (OLPC) or one of those Eee PCs, until I browsed the OLPC site, which was an eye-opener. It wasn’t until that point that I fully realized what they were building.

    The media is completely misrepresenting the XO, although I’m not sure if the OLPC folks have been correcting them, which is too bad.

    Instead of claiming it to be a “$100 laptop”, it should be considered a “fully-functional learning PC”.

    It’s designed completely to be a learning device for children. And from that standpoint, it’s nearly perfect. It’s small, rugged, airtight, simple, and about the same price point as any of the video learning devices sold at Toys ‘r’ Us. I should know, I’ve got two kids and I was looking around in this area.

    Plus, it’s got specially designed software installed for kids as well. Frankly, from the standpoint of a geek, which I am, it’s a very interesting little device. I suspect I’ll be playing with it a lot as well.

    To compare this to the Eee PC or Classmate is apples-and-oranges. Those devices might be a little bit more powerful, and maybe a little more suitable for business travel, but they don’t score anywhere nearly as high if you project them for the target market of the XO… kids.

    So if you are looking for a cheap learning PC for kids, go for the XO. If it’s for yourself, you might be more interested in the more mainstream competition.

    This is similar to the difference between the Wii and the Xbox/PS3. Sure, the latter devices are a LOT more powerful. But which is more fun?

    If people are going to hold the XO upto the same standards as the competing devices for technical prowess, then they should hold the other devices up to the standard set by the XO in the area of ease and suitability for kids.

    My $0.02.

  4. Om, having purchased an OLPC via the give-one, get-one program, and having a 1 year-old myself, a few key things attracted me to the OLPC vs. another computer:

    1. I want to provide my son with a real computer that he can bang up and one that is not a video game or a dumbed down computer. I want him to begin learning and being creative on a computer that can grow with him for the next 3-4 years and then move him into the Apple world.

    2. I want to have an inexpensive computer that is durable…I don’t want to have to worry about water, milk, food getting dumped on my computers or a computer that will cost me…

    3. I want to potentially expand the OLPC usage her in my neighborhood for 1-5 year olds. With the features / functions built-in (mesh network showing other kids in the “neighborhood”, built-in camera, etc.) this can certainly help kids in our own country and is an easier goal to accomplish have integrated devices vs. battling the Mac / PC world, etc…

    4. I want my son to have the ability to create / be part of a global social network with kids around the world. Certainly you can argue there are social network sites out there and that is a valid point. That said, I believe, perhaps naively, that the device itself can have a more focused impact. Most importantly, I believe it can help broaden the view of the world for our kids instead of, like the majority of past generations in the US, having a very much US-centric view of the world. If kids can connect early on with other kids around the world in an easy fashion, the future stands a better chance…not too mention, with the global economy trending the way it is, our kids need to be exploring other areas and realize the US isn’t the only 800 lb gorilla in the room anymore…

  5. I think both OLPC and the Intel Classmate architecture are based on assumptions of a decade ago. I wish they had taken in to account the network aspect and leverage the thin-client aspect of compute/store/network evolution possible today. A one-mini-cloud-per-classroom (Omni-PC?) concept that could provide 10-30 thin-machines and a centralized big-brain (compute+store) per classroom? This architecture would work over the Internet and the central PC machines could be anywhere on the net if they cannot be in the classroom and could leverage Google, Yahoo, Amazon EC-n/Sn services as well.

  6. J McDonald – you’re right on the money – this is about a learning computer…

  7. Speaking of unintended consequences: What about the unintended consequences for the kids? While I wholeheartedly applaud the overall goals of OLPC, there is the potential of doing major damage to young kids around the globe since the default software doesn’t seem to include child-appropriate content filters.


    Millions of kids–without computer-savvy adult guidance–having unfettered access to everything the web has to offer is not something that should be glossed over.

  8. Perhaps this is trite but another aspect is simply the fear that comes with carrying around a two-thousand dollar laptop everyday. I’m a grad student and every time I take my Thinkpad X61 out of the house I can’t help but think that one little slip on a patch of ice and I’ll break a laptop I can’t afford to replace. A two- or three-hundred dollar device on the other hand – if something happens it’d still sting but it wouldn’t be as catastrophic as with a regular laptop.

  9. Love the new site look, Om. The $400 desktop PC in the mid-90’s killed the NetPC. You can get a pretty small Acer laptop for $400 today that can run JS and Flash in the browser without locking up. RIA’s are getting more resource intensive, not less (this is a problem for MID’s). It is beginning to look like the “low-cost VoIP” dilemma. The cost difference is too little to cover the inconvenience.

    Getting full-function MID’s much below $600 will be tough because of packaging and battery costs, but low-end laptop prices are in free-fall, and 45nm will keep them falling for at least a few years more.

  10. Wow, I went away for a day to do some research and I come back with such an amazing array of opinions. Man, I love this conversation and you all have given me some food for thought.

    @ Matt Abrams, what a great comment.

    @ rohit, I think your comments ties in with the earlier post about five cloud computers, that we published over the long holiday break.

    @ Kevin, you ask, and I deliver. Total CCC search interest in recent months.


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