When the One Laptop Per Child project announced its "Give One Get One" program in September, I praised
it as an opportunity to get some laptops in the hands of real users. And apparently the program has proven a big hit, raking in as much as $2 million a day in revenues.
With numbers like that a normal firm would be looking for ways to expand the program. But not OLPC. While they have extended the program through the end of the year, Nicholas Negroponte is apparently anxious to phase it out after New Years, so that they can focus on a "give only" strategy. It almost seems like Negroponte believes there's something dirty about having people actually pay for his product. That doesn't make any sense. There's nothing wrong with making a profit, especially
when those profits would presumably be plowed into giving away more free laptops to poor kids. Somebody has started a website devoted to talking some sense into Negroponte
and the rest of the OLPC project. They advocate not only continuing to sell laptops to interested parties in the developed world, but also
making the laptops available for purchase, possibly at a discount, in poor countries. This makes a lot of sense. It will allow the OLPC program to gain a foothold in countries whose governments aren't necessarily interested in buying the laptops in batches of 100,000. And it will ensure that the first laptops go to places where they'll actually be used. It's hard to see what the downside is. Negroponte will still be free to solicit government contracts, or to approach Western donors to finance larger gifts. A tech startup would be crazy to turn down an opportunity like this, and doing so doesn't make any more sense for OLPC.
It also appears that Negroponte is still bitter at Intel for introducing a competing low-price laptop. His angst seems rather misplaced. The goal is to get laptops into the hands of poor kids. If that goal is being accomplished, it doesn' really matter whose laptop ends up being the most popular. Poor countries have as much right to seek the best products they can get as anyone else. Intel has apparently used its considerable engineering resources to produce an attractive alternative to the XO. If third-world governments choose Intel's laptop over his own, Negroponte should be congratulating them for helping achieve the goal of universal laptop ownership, not griping about the fact that his product didn't make the cut. Besides, it's a big world. There are thousands of different computer models being sold in the developed world. Why would anyone think that a single laptop could possibly meet the needs of hundreds of millions of poor kids?