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Intel Joins One Laptop Per Child

When I reviewed Intel's Classmate PC last week, I felt obliged to give the One Laptop Per Child initiative a prominent mention in the piece. Even though "OLPC" hasn't shipped its XO laptop yet, it's drawn too much attention to ignore.

What I didn't know at the time was that Intel, too, was interested in OLPC. On Thursday, it agreed to join that project, a decision announced Friday in an Intel press release and a note on the OLPC site.

The two organizations had never mentioned this possibility in public before; they'd even engaged in a little trash-talking about their respective efforts. So this was a major surprise. After taking a moment to whine about the rotten timing of the news--if only they'd closed the deal on Wednesday, I could have had this in my column!--I called Intel for more details.

Will Swope, a vice president for corporate affairs, said Intel chief executive Paul Ottelini and OLPC head Nicholas Negroponte began talking about a month ago, but up until late Thursday afternoon they still weren't sure that a combined effort would work.

Swope described Intel's contribution in general terms--"There will be money, there will be personnel, there will be engineering"--but didn't offer specific numbers. Swope also said that while Intel would contribute servers to the OLPC effort, there was no promise of the project's XO laptop using an Intel processor instead of the AMD chip it runs on now.

Swope also said that the Classmate would not be shelved or merged with the XO: "We already have about a three-year road map for Classmate." Intel's laptop could, however, incorporate some of the technology used in the XO. Over time, the two machines could become more alike--or they could become different options in a broader product line.

Having the Classmate and the XO on the same team, so to speak, will remove some competition from the market. But almost-as-cheap ultralight laptops are in the works from such companies as Asus and Palm.

Speaking of the XO, since Thursday's column ran I've heard from quite a few people involved in the OLPC project, and it looks like I'll have to chance to inspect a test unit up close in the near future. If you have questions about how the XO works or the OLPC project in general, leave them in the comments and I'll try to get them answered.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 16, 2007; 7:04 AM ET
Categories:  Computers  
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Comments

I hope you do get a chance to check out one of the OLPC machines. I'll be most interested to see what you think. My impression is that the OLPC incorporates more "outside the box" design than the Intel machine; for example, it can be powered by a hand-cranked generator, while I think the Intel Classmate requires AC power.

The OLPC project has also done some interesting work on Human Interface Guidelines, available at:

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Human_Interface_Guidelines

Their security approach is also a bit different; there's a (mainly) non-technical summary at:

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Bitfrost

and a more technical spec at:

http://dev.laptop.org/git.do?p=security;a=blob;hb=HEAD;f=bitfrost.txt

Posted by: Rich Gibbs | July 16, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

The hand crank feature was an idea that was dropped a while back. The OLPC can be charged with a device that has been compared to a salad spinner or a lawn mower starter.

As for "outside the box," if the goal is to help children of developing countries have a future in the global economy/market wouldn't it make sense for them to use the same, or at least similar, technology?

Posted by: B Unzer | July 16, 2007 10:23 PM | Report abuse

> "OLPC" hasn't shipped its XO laptop yet

You haven't seen the thousands of XO laptops that are today in the hands of children in OLPC test schools in Brazil, Nigeria, Uruguay, Thailand?

I suggest you check out some of the videos in the http://olpc.tv video-blog under the Childrens category. Unlike Classmate, the XO-1 has been tested in schools for months.

Posted by: Charbax | July 17, 2007 12:16 AM | Report abuse

@B Unzer:
I didn't mean to imply that the crank was still on the machine itself -- they decided for "ergonomic reasons" that the generator should be a separate device.

"... if the goal is to help children of developing countries have a future in the global economy/market wouldn't it make sense for them to use the same, or at least similar, technology?"

Not necessarily, at least in the first instance. At least some of the target kids are in countries where average incomes are $1 per day or less. Their school may meet under a tree because they can't afford a building; often they have very few, if any, books. The first objective is to help them achieve literacy, numeracy, and some knowledge of the world at large, not to teach them how to set up Excel spreadsheets.

I suggest again that anyone who's interested read some of the project documents; the main page is here:

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Main_Page

To me, it seems there is a place for both the Intel Classmate and the OLPC XO, and I hope that having the two projects work together furthers that.

Posted by: Rich Gibbs | July 17, 2007 4:22 PM | Report abuse

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