Friday, January 11, 2008

One Profit Per Child

The technology media has been filled with the story of the partnership dispute between One Laptop Per Child and Intel. For those unfamiliar with the story, OLPC is a non-profit organisation which produces affordable laptops to be sold to developing countries so that they can be distributed to children. The laptops are known for being innovative, compact and sturdy, they feature AMD processors and also do not have hard drives (storage is provided in memory chips like those found in USB keys and iPods). Intel had partnered with OLPC to provide an Intel version of the laptop, but the partnership was broken when a sales representative in Peru was caught lobbying the Peruvian education minister to flog their own product, called Classmate.

As far as narratives go, this one seems to hit most buttons. The large evil multinational corporation attacks the small and idealist non-profit organisation in order to gain more profits, while at the same time flogging their own project. However, the OLPC has been seriously criticised by industry insiders as a project with no-viability. Although I completely applaud OLPC and I share its goals, I'm rather sceptical about its future as well. If you are an education minister in a developing nation, and you have a limited budget, who are you going to trust? A non-profit company, or one of the largest IT companies in the world? Although it pains me to say it, were I in the same position I would look at Intel's deal twice.

Intel, bridging the digital divide one dollar at a time (apologies in advance for the gratuitous use of the word 'bridging' in connection with digital divide).

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