$100 Laptop Still $400, But Now With More Advertising

from the market?-bah dept

Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child initiative has received plenty of press over the years, though we’ve never quite fully understood it. While the idea of making cheap, durable laptops available to people worldwide has some value, the benefits haven’t been fully explained and Negroponte’s thoughts on how best to deliver them have been a bit perplexing. In particular, his apparent belief that competition in the space is a bad — when competition might actually help realize the goal of a $100 machine more quickly than if OLPC goes it alone. In an attempt to boost volume, OLPC is getting a bunch of media companies to donate airtime and and ad space for a marketing campaign for the machine, trying to drive donations or sales under its “Give One, Get One” program, where people can spend $400 for an XO of their own, while another one gets donated to the cause. The head of the agency which created the ads for the campaign says they’ll help build the economies of scale necessary to get the XO laptops down to the magical $100 price point.

Meanwhile, the prices of other netbooks, as these things do, continue to fall. While none are yet down to $100, it’s hard to imagine that it will be too much longer before somebody breaks the barrier. And it probably won’t be the OLPC group. With that in mind, Negroponte’s anti-competitive, go-it-alone stance continues to confuse. If the market and competition can drive prices down, that’s great for the OLPC mission, right? So why not abandon the single-product model (especially since hardware is basically a commodity, even with the XO’s features), and focus on getting as many devices as possible — even if they’re another brand — into schools worldwide? If the real OLPC innovation is the software, install it on the machines. It would certainly seem that the best course of action is to do whatever will drive the cost down the most quickly, and somehow using the growing consumer netbook market, rather than OLPC standing alone with its own machine, would do that. Negroponte seems hesitant to acknowledge that the bigger market can actually help OLPC’s mission, even when ignoring that fact hampers that mission.

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Comments on “$100 Laptop Still $400, But Now With More Advertising”

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Jon (profile) says:

Maybe I'm just being cynical...

But it seems to me that Negroponte’s main focus is to become famous for the OLPC concept and initiative and from this point of view it’s obvious that competition from commercial vendors annoys him. How can he become ‘the Great Tech. Saviour’ of the developing world when others – and FOR-PROFIT companies even – are delivering essentially the same product and at lower cost? This takes the spotlight away from him and his philanthropy, so naturally he’s peeved.

Crabby (profile) says:

Re: Maybe I'm just being cynical...

No, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Negroponte’s just another arrogant intelligentia who thinks the rest of the world is somehow impoverished just because it doesn’t have all the cool tools and electronic toys that he has.

In my opinion, most people in developing countries would be much better off with clean water and clean politics than with a cheap laptop. Students have been learning for THOUSANDS of years without a computer; yet we’re led to think that so many poor children will suffer if we don’t go out and spend some of our ill-gotten loot on Negroponte’s program. How supremely arrogant.

Michael Foord (profile) says:

Not commodity hardware

The OLPC hardware is very definitely not commodity hardware that can just be replaced with another brand designed for western consumers.

It is specifically designed for the target market:

* Ultra low-power and designed to be recharged from unstable power sources
* A screen that can be viewed in direct sunlight and can be used as an ‘e-book’ drawing virtually no power
* Mesh networking for sharing an internet connection
* Durable and easy to repair

These (which are only the ones I know about) are largely features that are uninteresting to manufacturers wanting to sell to western consumers.

Although I disagree with various aspects of how Negroponte has led the project (not allowing small trials and not properly managing the sugar project) it does *seem* that some of the competitors are more interested in killing the OLPC project by selling unsuitable hardware at a loss than genuinely serving the ‘market’ that the OLPC is targetting.

More competition won’t drive down the price of the OLPC, that isn’t how the market works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not commodity hardware

There is competition. Intel and Microsoft are offering low-cost laptops as well.

The OLPC is designed for use in less developed countries. You know, where people are starving, but their kid has a laptop.

The “competition” that delivers low cost PCs are really about maintaining their monopoly on hardware and software. What would those people do if these emerging markets grew up on open software and non-intel hardware. Microsoft might have to provide a better product to make money there.

And that’s the OLPC’s judgment call. At some point you have to decide between quality and price. I might disagree, but I have no idea what sort of cpu a kid in a developing economy needs.

KD says:

Re: Re: Not commodity hardware

You said: “You know, where people are starving, but their kid has a laptop.”

Can you provide evidence for that statement?

As far as I know, the OLPC project does not aim at communities where people are starving. The OLPC project aims at improving the education of children in poor countries, so they can improve their lot. The improved education might help the country avoid sliding into starvation in future bad times, but I can’t recall anyone connected with OLPC advocating bringing it in where people currently are starving. I don’t claim to know everything about OLPC, so I might have missed that, but it seems to contradict what I have learned about OLPC. If you can point to statements the OLPC project has made that indicate they think they the OLPC should be introduced where people are starving, I’d be very interested in seeing them.

TX CHL Instructor (profile) says:


For less than $400, I can get a fairly nice laptop at my local computer store, and the prices appear to be getting really competitive for this Christmas season.

And by “fairly nice”, I mean 10x as fast, nearly twice the screen resolution, more and faster I/O, 100x the disk, and 50x the memory that I got with my first laptop for $4000, about 10 years ago.

http://www.chl-tx.com Without the 2nd Amendment, the rest of the document is only wishful thinking. Which is why Obama wants to repeal it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: 2nd amendment

historically this has been proven false as there is a long history of people making changes and expressing freedom of speech without violence to back it up. I’m in support of the second amendment but anyone who thinks they need guns to back their first amendment rights clearly has an archaic belief set.

TX CHL Instructor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 2nd amendment

“there is a long history of people making changes and expressing freedom of speech without violence to back it up.”

Yeah, right. If Ghandi had been up against either the communist Chinese or Muslim Arabs, he wouldn’t have made it into the history books at all. There is an even longer history of tyrants disarming the population before subjugating them completely. As Mao observed, political power flows from the barrel of a gun.

http://www.chl-tx.com Without the 2nd Amendment, the rest of the document is only wishful thinking. Which is why Obama wants to repeal it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 2nd amendment

nice try pulling the racist hate-speech card, Ghandi and many other nonviolent protesters suffered seriously under the regime of those in power. have you not seen the old videos of cops (from various countries) breaking up peaceful protest with a massive amount of violence?

oh, and there is the whole issue that Obama isn’t trying to take away the second amendment or guns. if you were actually informed, instead of just listening to the (heavily biased) media then you’d know that.

AJ says:

Re: Re: 2nd amendment

Comrade Glorious Supreme Leader Obama will be collecting all weapons 1/21/2009 so other countries will ‘like’ us. It makes no difference that the crime rate in states with concealed weapon laws that are sensible have drastically lower crime. Comrade Leader Obama promises his TRUTH SQUADS will be there to protect those of us who agree with his policies. Europe will LOVE us for this. Nobody deserves to protect their property. Property rights are not in Comrade Glorious Supreme Leader Obamas view of the new world.

Remember, change is hard to come by. The ‘change’ Comrade SG Leader Obama has for us includes reverting back to the Clinton Administration, closing down that evil coal industry despite proof that coal burns clean and does not pollute when used correctly, redistribute wealth through the Supreme Court, increase the number of states to 58 and change Sioux City to Sioux Falls. The TRUTH SQUAD is taking names. Reeducation will begin 1/21/2009.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re:2 2nd amendment

GREAT IDEA! I’m sure they government is only interested in your calling the porn lines. Doesn’t matter we’ve not had another on-soil attack from the friendly crazies out to kill us. We’ll see how quickly that changes after we stop treating them like terrorists and are finally able to sit down and have a peaceful discussion with them. I’m SURE they’ve very willing to have Comrade Obama explain to them how we’re peaceful and just want to hold hands and sing kum-bay-ah. All together now… sing… Kum-bay-ya… I’m not HEARING you!! SING!! The TRUTH SQUADS are watching and taking names! You WILL be reducated after 1/21/09!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 2nd amendment

forgive me if I don’t fall for the bull that the current administration has been trying to shove down everyone’s throats. Other men said it better than me:

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”
–Benjamin Franklin

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy”
–James Madison

“Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation”
–James Madison

“The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.”
–James Madison

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”
-–Thomas Jefferson

Jaster says:

OLPC's and Americans

In 2008 we have seen more Email Scams, Worms, Trojans and mallware attacks that have been based from empoverished and third world countries. My point and case is this can be directly related to the OLPC scheme.

Then look at the fact that information is more of a weapon then a gun. In theory it could ammount to us providing quite alot of countries who harbour hate against the west, and some of them have damn good justification for it, a more powerful weapon and that is of information.

Anonymous Coward says:

100$ laptop

Wow with a free $100 laptop a kid in ethiopia could just sell it and eat for 100 days instead. Plus who pays for the electricity?

And a if we distribute enough of these to other poor countries we can just write it off as training to future call center workers.

Or we can give it to the countries which dislike us the most so that they can create new websites in which to bash america on.

I’m not so sure laptops are what these children need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 100$ laptop

Wow with a free $100 laptop a kid in ethiopia could just sell it and eat for 100 days instead. Plus who pays for the electricity?
the laptops are designed to run of off virtually any power source, including solar energy

And a if we distribute enough of these to other poor countries we can just write it off as training to future call center workers.

giving access to the internet to someone with a thirst for knowledge allows them to learn many more subjects than they would without. also, there are a lot of computer science related jobs besides working call center.

Or we can give it to the countries which dislike us the most so that they can create new websites in which to bash america on.

so you are all for supporting Free Speech as long as you agree with it, nice example of the spirit of america there, thankfully not everybody thinks like you. and perhaps helping out poor countries will actually create a little something called good will….

critic says:

Damned misleading headline ...

That’s a damned misleading headline you are using.

The XO laptop is NOT “still $400”. The $400 buys two of them. Of course you know that — you describe the actual situation in the body of the article. But that doesn’t make the headline any less misleading. You ought to be ashamed.

As for your question about why the OLPC project doesn’t abandon their custom-designed XO laptop and adopt netbooks, which you say will soon approach the $100 price: It is hard to believe you are serious about asking that.

You say that the software is the imporant component, so OLPC ought to be happy to run it on any hardware, but that is a very flawed view. The software is important, but without a device that is suitable for use in the environment in which you need to use the software, you are out of luck. Look at the list of critical characteristics listed by Michael Foord in comment #3. No netbook I know of approaches fulfilling all those critical characteristics very closely, especially not the ruggedness requirement, but many other unique aspects of the XO are very important. So it doesn’t really matter whether the netbooks will soon approach $100. The cost is only one of the critical characteristics. The netbooks might someday get to the point where they meet all the requirements. When that day comes is the time to ask the question. Not now.

The OLPC project is a charitable education project. It’s intent is to develop and deploy a new approach to educating children in poor regions that will give them a better education than they’ve ever received in the past. The project may be flawed, and Negroponte’s motivations may be questionable, in part, and he may not be a very good project manager, but the project seems to be an honest attempt at improving education. No doubt it isn’t perfect, and ways to improve the project for improving education should be encouraged. So far, I am unable to see any of the competition as being capable of improving education. All they offer is the typical U.S. give-them-computers-and-pray approach, which hasn’t worked in the U.S. and I’m sure won’t work elsewhere, either.

Some education authorities will fall prey to misinformation from the competition and choose other approaches. I hope that enough adopt the OLPC approach that the project survives, grows, and improves. If the OLPC education approach proves ineffective, it should be, and will be, abandoned. But it should be given the chance to be tried. Purely commercial interests should not be allowed to smother it in its crib.

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