OLPC vs Intel vs Microsoft


Just got this dispatch from the India office:

Date: Dec 11, 2007 2:03 AM
From: Daniel Spitzberg
Subject: less sweet

this is less sweet, but, perhaps bittersweet? crisis = opportunity?

http://www.nextbillion.net/blogs/2007/11/28/a-lesson-for-bop-technologists-put-the-business-model-first

somehow, bill gates’ “computer in every household” technology-push lifted off the ground. i guess context is everything.. and the 100$laptop needed to define “household” first.

(you can post all about this, but careful, it’ll be hard to say somehing truly original… ah, but therein lies the challenge!)

Ok, Mr. Spitzberg, I’ll take up your challenge (but with the standard Ecclesiastes-style caveat: There is nothing new that hasn’t already been blogged about under the sun).  Here goes:

Al Hammond makes a number of good points in his blog post for the World Resources Institute (WRI),  though I don’t fully agree with his interpretation of last month’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article about the fierce competition that Nicolas Negoponte’s “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) project has generated from Intel, Microsoft and others, in terms of delivering inexpensive laptops to developing nations.  

One thing the WRI blog post did reaffirm for me, however, is the importance of defining your TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) in blog postings.  I didn’t know what a BoP was.  The blog post is, like, BOP BOP BOPPITY BOP… but it never once defines what “BOP” is (Spitzberg says: “Base of Pyramid” …if so, that’s a pretty obnoxious TLA).  The first time I read “DM Magazine” I had the same problem.  Cover to cover, the term DM is used but never explained. Dungeon Master?  Oh wait, Direct Marketing. But I digress…

So, is the WSJ article truly a documentation of the “demise” of the OLPC project, as Hammond asserts?  I don’t think so.

As the WSJ article notes, OLPC has a sizeable reserve of capital –about $8.7 million according to “internal documents” (ask me about my rant on the lack of transparency in non-profit accounting), which is about one year’s worth of their current operating budget.  What I think is more significant than its cash reserves, however, is Nicolas Negroponte’s relationship capital

Let’s face it.  This is not just about providing resources to children with limited opportunities. There is also an element here of the open source holy war. But Negroponte is a class act.  Watch as he adapts his strategy to the marketplace of <$300 laptops (which he has pretty much created), continues to generate buzz and manages the political relationships, which includes working with Intel (to make the XO Laptop run on their chip).  Will the Intel-XO Laptop be compatible with the $3 version of Windows? Who knows.  The market of this idea is open and in motion, and the XO Laptop, in one form or another (or even in its components) will continue to play a role as the “BoP” (read: third world) laptop. All that remains to be seen is whether it ends up being the iMac of third world laptops, or the iPod.  

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on December 11, 2007, in Green Style. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Well done, D-prime.

    I would like to add a comment by citing a comment from an un-named reporter who was here in India some time ago and regularly interacts with the MIT Media Lab, which corrobarates a tale I heard from an Media Lab alum.

    Together, they have convinced me that ‘class-act’ N.N. has fumbled the play before.

    Water is of paramount importance for folks at the BoP, and even electricity plays second fiddle to that need. All NGOs will tell you this, hesitatingly and begrudgingly if that is not their soup-de-jour, if they specialize in some other basic resource.

    Some, however, will argue and cite empirical studies that energy – not water – has the tightest correlation with human development (as measured by the UN’s Human Development Index). Let’s take computers instead and dream about what they could do for leapfrog development… yes, a lot. I agree. But if the phrase ‘give the people what they want’ holds any water, perhaps NN could roll out a $100 rainstick instead?

    The critics of the XO raise excellent points. I would tend to agree not so much with their assessment of the XO laptop itself, but the necessary-and-sufficient conditions they identify. Specifically,

    “real understanding of needs, the value proposition as perceived by local people, and evidence of willingness to pay.”

    If ‘poverty alleviation is good business’, as I’ve heard quoted recently, then business as usual still applies, and getting carried away with a $100-laptop might leapfrog crucial steps.

    QED (how’s that for a snappy TLA?)

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