A Little Laptop With Big Ambitions

The Wall Street Journal has a highly critical story on the One Laptop Per Child project entitled “A Little Laptop With Big Ambitions.” I’ll let you judge the story yourself, but here are a few reactions I have:

  • The story never even mentions the Eee PC 701 laptop, which is selling like hotcakes (more on that below). The article only mentions at one point “a low-cost laptop made by Asustek Computer” (who are the manufacturers of the Eee PC). Unlike the OLPC laptop (until this past week) or Classmate PC (another low cost laptop project from Intel), anyone can buy an Eee PC. It was the #1 selling computer on Amazon up until Amazon ran out of stock recently.
  • The story makes Nicholas Negroponte look really incompetent as head of the OLPC project. After his highly public complaints about Intel’s Classmate PC laptop in May on 60 minutes, Intel and OLPC seemingly made up and Intel is even on the OLPC board now. But as recently as this month, Negroponte “communicated this month with Intel…and demanded that Intel stop selling the Classmate.” That seems in conflict with Negroponte’s claim that “OLPC is not in the laptop business. It’s in the education business.” Negroponte apparently denies access to the OLPC laptop for testing if it is to be compared head to head with another laptop (like the Classmate). The Eee PC, for example, has around twice the specs as the OLPC laptop with regards to processing speed, flash drive space, and RAM. Negroponte also doesn’t seem to have a plan or response to those developing countries who want a laptop + some support for things like bugs fixes (OLPC has its own unique operating system) and laptop repair. The cost of the OLPC laptop keeps rising, from $100 to $188, and at the moment individuals have to pay $400 (‘give one get one’). Also the OLPC project has over $9 million cash on hand from donations, but it doesn’t appear they are using it to purchase and distribute thousands of laptops that amount of money could buy. Negroponte also seems to keep overstating the projected sales figures of the OLPC laptop. He claimed 6 months ago 3-5 million OLPC laptops would sell in 2007, and 150 million in 2008, and he even now is still predicting they will be making 1 million laptops a month next year. More on the actual sales numbers below. Right now, Quanta is producing a one time order of 300,000 OLPC laptops. And as I show below, that number seems to be the reason for OLPC’s recent extension of the 2 week ‘buy one give one’ program.
  • A month ago, an Eee PC 701 laptop was selling every 6 seconds. That’s over 14,000 laptops a day. The OLPC laptop sold 45,000 laptops in its first nine days, with nearly half being sold on the first day. That means it is selling less than 3000 a day. Since 300,000 laptops are already being manufactured, perhaps that is why the OLPC project extended the selling window to December 31st, which would get them over the 100,000 laptops sold mark at least. The nice thing is that means 100,000 laptops will be given away, as well. The first 20,000 are going to Rwanda, but they too questioned who would fix them if they break – a question Negroponte finds “frightening.”
Posted in children, technology
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