OLPC was purported to have commitments from Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina, and Thailand to buy 1 million computers each. A published report says Libya was going to buy 1.2 million computers. The Taiwanese manufacturer was told to expect orders of 5 to 8 million. That’s all over now.
Now, there is competition in the marketplace. Now, Nigeria is in line to buy "Classmate" computers from Intel.
Now, there’s bad-mouthing from rival C-Suites. The Intel Chairman called the OLPC computer a "gadget." And Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, let fly with this:
Geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text and you are not sitting there cranking the thing while you’re trying to type.
This is brave talk for a guy who hasn’t had an idea since the 20th century. Microsoft is Japan circa 1950, an imitator incapable of innovation that matters. (And if you don’t believe me, I have a Zune I’d like to sell you.)
Here’s the thing in a nut shell: Negroponte’s One Computer Per Child project looked like a brilliant, necessary idea in 2005. Now it’s a project in shambles.
Right? Wrong. We could argue that Intel and Microsoft are rushing this market precisely because they were terrified that the first one in could own it. And this is a way of saying that Negroponte almost certainly moved up the Intel and Microsoft participation by, what?, a couple of years. Now we have a robust market, with real choices, competitors with deep pockets, momentum, urgency; not philanthropy, but that beast called capitalism.
And what’s that worth? To move everything up by a couple of years? Naturally, this is one of those calculations that don’t calculate very well. But at a minimum we would want to factor in
get on line
teach themselves to read
become more cosmopolitan
learn to think clearly
learn to solve problems
learn to teach
learn to lead
learn to enterprise
learn to spot zealotry and jingoism
learn to refuse prejudice and violence
create value for their families, communities, country, the human community
x some millions
x ~2 years
Damn. Who called the computer a difference engine? Negroponte has created a lot of difference.
Does he get thanked? No, he gets dissed and displaced. He pays yet another penalty of taking the lead. He is paying for making a market where once there was none. Someday we’ll come to our senses. Negroponte will get his Nobel Peace Prize. In the meantime, this must really suck.
Markoff, John. 2004. Silicon Valley Seeks Peace in War With Microsoft. New York Times. April 4, 2004. here.
Stecklow, Steve and James Bandler. 2007. A Little Laptop With Big Ambitions: How a Computer for the Poor Got Stomped by Tech Giants. Wall Street Journal. November 24-25, 2007. here.
For more details on the One Laptop Per Child "Give One, Get One" program, go here.