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next for the XO Laptop

Updated on July 28, 2009

next XO-laptop

How things change in the space of six months.

The relationship has never been easy between US chip maker Intel and the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) organisation, a non-profit that hopes to sell an innovative cheap laptop called the XO to children in the developing world.

No harm in that you would have thought, except that the XO is powered by a chip made by Intel's arch-rival AMD. So, to get its own share of the market, Intel built its own cheap laptop called the Classmate PC powered by an Intel chip.

In May last year, relations reached a nadir when Nicolas Negroponte, the OLPC chairman and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, said Intel ought to be ashamed of itself for its efforts to undermine the XO, while hawking the Classmate PC around the developing world.

Then they kissed and made up. In July, Intel joined the OLPC board, with 11 other major companies including Google, News Corporation, and eBay. It then began work on an Intel powered version of the XO. However, Negroponte demanded that they scrap the Classmate PC.

Today, only six months later, Intel has quit the OLPC citing "philosophical differences" but meaning that it has refused Negroponte's request to kill the Classmate.

The OLPC has said that little will be lost by Intel's move, adding that the Intel-powered version of the XO had been more expensive and more power hungry than the AMD version.

The squabble is unlikely to help the OLPC get more laptops into the hands of children, but it isn't going to hurt too much either. Consumers usually benefit from healthy competition.

What the OLPC needs to concentrate on is distribution, one of its trickiest and most expensive challenges. It recently trialled a "give one, get one" programme in North America, in which people were encouraged to buy two XO machines, one for themselves and one for a child in the developing world. Expect to see more of these kinds of programmes.

The OLPC needs to look at other innovative ideas for distributing its computers. One option might be to tie up with companies such as Coca Cola, which already have sophisticated distribution networks in the developing world.

In 2001, Coca Cola partnered with the United Nations for tasks such as delivering AIDs awareness leaflets to African countries.

A similar idea might work wonders for the XO.


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