OLPC: One Laptop Per Child

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Image: OLPC

As a nonprofit organization One Laptop Per Child Association, Inc. (OLPC), has created a system to make available an affordable educational device for use in the developing world. However, in its inception and delivery OLPC has faced many difficulties in fulfilling its targeted goals and dealing with new unexpected competitors. Among these drawbacks, OLPC has also been struggling with the issue of supporting an idea-based initiative within a profit-based industry.

The idea for the device was first unveiled in January 2005 by founder Nicholas Negroponte at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The design advertised a $100 laptop that would sell 100 million to 150 million in quantity within a four-year span. Its purpose is to help transform education for the world’s disadvantaged schoolchildren and to help eliminate poverty. However, one of the first developmental problems the organization faced was the $100 price target that could only be lowered to $188 without shipping by 2007. In addition, OLPC News (a blog dedicated to highlight the projects strengths, weaknesses, and possible suggestions) calculated a total cost of $972 per laptop at the end of a five-year period for the devices’ required training, continued internet, and maintenance. As a result, The Wall Street Journal article “A Little Laptop With Big Ambitions: How a Computer for the Poor Got Stomped by Tech Giants,” found that most of its potential buyers have been having second thoughts because of their concern for the lack of Windows, and that service, teacher training and future upgrades might become a problem.

Although Negroponte claims that the goal of OLPC is not to sell laptops but to sell the idea of improving the education resources of the developing nations, well-known brands such as Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. continue to take part in a competitive behavior towards the OLPC system. Instead of using the popular Windows operating system, the XO model created by Negroponte’s team at MIT designed the machine to utilize Linux and other nonproprietary, open-source software. This has lead to an unexpected competition between the XO laptop with Intel’s Classmate and ASUS Eee PC – both based on the same concept of creating a small, inexpensive, easy-to-use device. However, while OLPC has geared its device towards children in need of higher quality education, Intel and ASUS have created alternatives for children and adults.

In response to the unexpected rivalry, Negroponte has accused the OLPC opponents of trying to undermine the nonprofit initiative and has requested that they discontinue their compact models. Despite his requests, the competitors continue to utilize their operating system advantage to draw in those developing nations who are in the midst of choosing a laptop solution. Suprisingly, Intel, the biggest competitive threat so far, made a large contribution to the OLPC project and joined its board in July 2007. Unfortunately, the effort to combine forces proved unsuccessful because of conflicting interests: Intel searched for an efficient way to get involved in the new international market while OLPC wanted to improve educational resources. With Intel clearly overpowering OLPC with heavy marketing and lack of cooperation with the nonprofit organization, the two separated in 2008.

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