Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why Microsoft and Intel tried to kill the XO $100 laptop

OLPC XO-2The twists and turns of the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) make for a compelling case study of technology and development.

From the start, OLPC has been criticised for some rather techno-utopian thinking, and the more common mistake of technology designed with little input from its potential users. Its development process has not run smooth. It has been fought at every step by Microsoft and Intel, who have the most to lose from an open source operating system running on a low-cost AMD processor:

Computers are like drugs, literally. If the drug companies wanted to do the most good in the world, they would divert all investment from the illnesses of the rich — cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes — to the much more catastrophic ailments of the poor, primarily malaria, but also Aids. But they don’t; they sit comfortably on their high-margin drugs. Equally, if the technocrats really believed in the human value of universal connectivity — and all of them say they do — they would find ways of wiring southeast Asia and Africa. But they don’t; they sit comfortably on their high-margin laptops.

Nonetheless, the economics are on OLPC's side. As chairman Nicholas Negroponte frequently observes, the relentless drop in computing prices year-on-year will dramatically lower the cost of the notional $100 unit. At the same time, we must hope that developing world primary education systems can move from per-child annual spends in the hundreds of dollars to the $10,000+ levels of the West.

As long as the project can hold together for another year or two, it could have an enormous impact. How the developed world's high-value-add information workers would be affected by tens of millions of new competitors in South America, Asia and Africa remains to be seen.


Christophe said...

Sure. Look, the largest wave of Linux adoption comes from Ubuntu: South Africa. The voices against OOXML come from India and Venezuela. Microsoft doesn't want any poor country to come in the game: they will go for open source.

Sam said...

Great info. Thanks for sharing!

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