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A marriage of convenience broken: OLPC and Intel


Can I be honest? Intel was never really interested in partnering with the One Laptop Per Child project. The marriage of Intel and OLPC was destined for divorce before the two ever walked down the aisle.

As so often is the case in a divorce, the partners have very different explanations for the split-up. In a press statement, Intel spokesperson Chuck Mulloy said the OLPC board “had asked Intel to end its support for non-OLPC platforms, including the Classmate PC and other systems.” Further, “they wanted us to focus our support exclusively on the OLPC system.”

The OLPC organization fired back the next day in its own press statement, saying, “since joining the OLPC Board of Directors in July, Intel has violated its written agreement with OLPC on numerous occasions. Intel continued to disparage the XO laptop in developing nations that had already decided to partner with OLPC–Uruguay and Peru, with countries that were in the midst of choosing a laptop solution [such as] Brazil and Nigeria, and even small and remote places [like] Mongolia.”

The New York Times dug up more dirt on the split over the weekend. According to writer John Markoff, an Intel salesperson tried to talk the Peruvian government into dropping the OLPC’s XO computer for Intel’s Classmate PCs. When OLPC leader Nicholas Negroponte found out, that was the last straw, and OLPC and Intel were on their way to splitting.

Not that they were ever really together anyway. Intel joined OLPC for one reason: After Negroponte lambasted Intel for its lack of support for the child-friendly OLPC on 60 Minutes in May 2007, Intel felt it had to do something to make it look better, even if it meant allying itself with the Advance Micro Devices-powered OLPC.

To Negroponte, the OLPC is all about getting computers into the hands of the poorest of the poor. To Intel, it was about improving its public image. In short, it was idealism vs. pragmatism. This is one of the oldest of conflicts and one that seldom ends well for the leaders of either side.

For most people, however, I believe that the conflict will end well. As a result of the OLPC XO and Intel Classmate, we have the first generation of truly powerful–but low-priced–computers. This can only benefit desktop Linux.

It also can only benefit the children of this divorce. No matter whether the computers they use are OLPC XOs, Intel Classmates or some other design, ultra-cheap PCs mean more computing power in the hands of children. And that can only be a good thing for all of us in the long run.

A version of this story was first published in DesktopLinux.

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