Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Controversy: One Laptop Per Child vs Intel

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative has been working for years to bring a $100 laptop to children in 3rd world countries. They have gotten all the way to the mass-prototype phase, meaning they’re getting a lot of these computers created and put into the hands of children. In order to get to a full-scale production operation, they need 3 million of them ordered by the governments of these countries.

Enter the bad guy: Intel

OLPC vs Intel

(Image via Wired)

Intel, suddenly seeing the importance of being relevant to this future massive consumer base, has designed their own version of the $100 laptop. Called the “Classmate”, Intel’s version will have it’s chip inside instead as opposed to the OLPC which will have their competitor, AMD’s, chip.

The hard part comes when you start thinking about OLPC’s goals. If they really do want every child to have their own laptop, doesn’t Intel’s Classmate boost the chances of that happening, even if it’s not the OLPC computer?

I’m all for competition and an open market. However, the problem I have in this instance is the proof that Intel is playing dirty. They are actually going to the same countries that OLPC is going to, trying to take the funding from the OLPC and get it invested in them instead. They’re trying to kill the OLPC. (Interestingly enough, the document proof is out of Nigeria)

Aren’t there enough poor countries in the world where the children could benefit from these computers? Surely there is enough that OLPC and Intel can both go out and sell their wares without fighting over the same turf. Intel loses this one on poor form and scores a bad karma point.

Make sure you watch the video of this, and read some more to get the whole story.


  1. As long as both computers are designed for reverse engineering, I don’t care about who makes the race.

  2. JKE, my problem with this is not in having more choices and more computers. It’s that Intel is trying to kill OLPC before it gets off the ground. This means that if OLPC doesn’t get going, then Intel will be the only game in town.

    As a qualifier, we know that there are others out there starting to move and develop in this space. However, there’s no reason for Intel to take this position, besides trying to kill off a competitor before the game has really started.

    I just can’t get over the fact that there are so many places to take these computers, why fight it out over the same ones right now? For god’s sake, is Nigeria the only African country worth taking these computers to?

  3. You know my feelings on this – I think the whole thing is absurd from the get-go. Perhaps Intel simply demonstrates how absurd it is.

    Donors decide where to spend their money. If Nigeria is popular, then Nigeria gets the notebooks.

    I find Negroponte’s whining particularly funny – his whole intention was that it be open-source and Intel is taking him at his word. He gave away the IP. He has given away everything but the brand.

    This is why there is IP protection. No-one – in any market – will invest in something that can’t be secured while they bring it to market. Intel is doing precisely what I hoped someone would do – take the technology, pocket the money they would have spent on development, and turn it into a commercial product.

    Dare we hope that this means that general-purpose notebooks and pcs can decline in price?

  4. Hi Gavin. I understand the reasoning behind IP protection, especially through the initial development phase. I also agree, and am for competition in any industry. From a competition perspective, Intel is doing their best to squash their main competitor (AMD) before they get a massive footprint in the developing world. I understand and fully appreciate that as well.

    As wide and starry-eyed as it sounds, what I don’t like about this is how dirty Intel is playing with a “noble” idea. Negroponte, regardless of how absurd the idea might be, has succeeded in creating a brand, a dream that people buy into – just because of its scope and mission.

    I know it’s not how the business world works. Hell, I live in that world every day…

  5. Sadly, then, I have to break another starry-eyed vision … that aid and development works. It doesn’t.
    Look at Nigeria. Billions in development aid. Something like $ 50 billion a year in oil comes out of the ground there. There is still no electricity or running water and 100 million people in Nigeria live on less than $1 a day.
    A notebook computer in every child’s hand isn’t going to change any of that.
    I have a post coming shortly taking this further … I promised a few people after my Nigeria election post unsettled and disturbed 😉

  6. Hah, there goes my bubble… 🙂

    You know, from past discussions, that we both agree that the idea of international aid and development are generally not the answer for Africa. I’m a capitalist, and believe that the free market and businesses can solve Africa’s problems better than handouts from the West.

    So, you see the OLPC project as a development project? I guess I didn’t recognize it as a pure development play, primarily because the government is buying those computers. So there is money changing hands, it’s not a donation of goods to the country.

    Having said that, I still believe that government running this type of thing is a mistake… I’d rather see it as a straight business-play. However, that’s not going to happen anytime soon, as few in these countries could afford even a $50 laptop for their children.

  7. Of course it’s a development play. I regularly declare that second hand computers are infinitely cheaper and already available.

    I spent my morning wondering around the Khayelitsha taxi rank at Site C. Plenty of computer centres offering services.

    The point is this: if the product offers a meaningful return then the poor will buy it themselves. Only when something has no value at all must it be given away. And, lest I be mistaken here, while governments must buy the OLPC, they are then expected to “give” it to their people for free.

    The weakest part of Negroponte’s vision has always been … and then what? How does having a notebook computer help a child? Especially since in both Europe and the US where notebook projects were tested over the past seven years substantial evidence has now mounted that it actually interferes with teaching.

    Learning requires what it has for thousands of years: well paid and motivated staff, a blackboard and chalk.

  8. The point is this: if the product offers a meaningful return then the poor will buy it themselves.

    Airplanes are meaningful products to me, however I can’t afford to buy my own… Of course, I’m being facetious. 🙂

    Okay, I get your point. I’d be interested to hear your view on what will happen once we have a couple million notebooks connected to the web throughout the third world. Care to take a guess?

  9. You said:

    I’d be interested to hear your view on what will happen once we have a couple million notebooks connected to the web throughout the third world. Care to take a guess?

    If the The Hole in the Wall Project is any indication (scroll down to “key observations”), kids will learn without supervision and teach other kids about what they find online. That is, if they don’t get scared off the web with “n00b!” insults 🙂 .

  10. I’ve lost the link but quite a few recent computer-based education programs have been abandoned. Under scrutiny students may use them for education. The rest of the time they surf for porn, play games and chat. No learning.

    People in the mass follow the opportunities, they don’t create them for themselves. First there have to be reasons to get an education (and very obvious ones) then people will study.

    But if their lives are still going to be dominated by corrupt politicians and zero opportunities (Nigeria has limited fuel supplies, virtually no power, and 50% unemployment) then I can’t see how studying is going to change that.

    Companies, and individuals, find it impossible to invest in Nigeria. It’s an awful place to start a business if you have no political connections.

  11. “But if their lives are still going to be dominated by corrupt politicians and zero opportunities (Nigeria has limited fuel supplies, virtually no power, and 50% unemployment) then I can’t see how studying is going to change that.”

    Education can change everything, education about where we’ve come from where we’re going to, what we can become, the web is a mighty source of education. Am not talking about computer based education programs. You can become a web designer if you know where to look, you can learn how to be a better fisherman if u search hard enough. You can invent the next great commodity if you try hard enough. There are endless opportunities.

    Nigeria is a sleeping giant, don’t underestimate the capabilities.

    As for Intel its all good as long as OLPC recoups its initial investment then its fair game after all its non profit.

    What does strike me is the possibility of creating a laptop with high wifi range, among its other features for only $1. The 2 companies should target africans abroad, hasn’t anyone ever had a nephew or niece who wanted a laptop for a birthday. Well now its very feasible the market is immense and 2 can definitely play

  12. I have read through a lot of the chatter and some still miss the point. Let me start by saying I am NOT for capitalism and the global conquest & domination by cooperate America.

    Intel dose not care about the youth as they claim if they did they would not start with the same governments that OLPC has approached.

    Don’t get me wrong I think competition only makes the parties involved better only if their hearts are in the right place however Intel is motivated by greed and power! and anything that resembles a treat to their power better be prepared for a full scale attack, via marketing propaganda, and by any and all means available to undermine there entire company/cooperation just ask AMD

    I now overstand that MS is involved with this and are offering a so called “$3.00 software package” They all by themselves have the revenues & resources to do what OLPC is dreaming of doing unlike Intel who is motivated by greed and power, MS is motivated by fear that Linux can become the OS of choice in developing countries (I would love to see) which would make them them the expensive rarely used alternative.

    So the question is do they really care HELL NO

    All that chat above about weather or not access to knowledge will really make a change in “Afreeka” is a bunch of BULL. Africa is the richest continent on the planet in terms of natural resources. She needs nothing from foreign powers who have continued to take and give back with insult. Her natural resources and people are directly responsible for the building up of Europe and America. Investigate her past to understand her present disaster, Knowledge is Power, the “know-ledge” gives the holder of it and edge weather its about the past present or the future !

    So the ignorant claims because of malnourished know-ledge about what the problem is not part of the solution its a big part of the problem.

  13. where ca i buy one of those one laptop per child for my self and one for the pour child?

  14. please i want you to send me a laptop computer.Thank

  15. please give me one of this computers

  16. Even Leslie (CBS) was stretching to promote the benefits of this program and product. Listen to her wordy sales presentation – which she delivered almost with a yawn: “geniuses MIT wonderfully exciting indestructible drop it in water wonderful inventions only computer screen bright sunlight broad wifi range long lasting battery most computer experts applaud creativity it looks like a toy hi tech companies…”
    This is a blatant business venture by Negroponte – using heart chord themes of poverty and children and third world. Every rich person wants to help the poor – as long as they profit in the process or at least have their wonderful name marketed as well. He might as well get these children addicted to candy and have the world spending money buying them more.
    Education has a greater track record of success before the computer arrived on the scene. Making it slick and sexy using western technology – promising education and a better life in places where billions upon billions have already been squandered by governments and organizations – methinks not.
    Technology and systems are a wonderful thing and we are in a new age of cyberinteraction. It is the work of humans that creates educated children, men and women. As someone mentioned – showing up to school and having a blackboard and tools for education is a great place to start. We might as well send over blackberries and ipods – then these folks can stand around twiddling their fingers while they gaze into the little screens, plug their heads into music and stop communicating with one another like the many zombies that walk the streets in the west.
    Just a few of my thoughts…

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