Last week, I discussed the growing momentum Nicholas Negroponte and the One Laptop Per Child project have built lately, especially given the United Nations' .formal endorsement of the project in Davos last Thursday. This week, the other side of the story is emerging -- and it's possible that we may yet see a Certain Unnamed, Very Large Company try to undermine the project, even though OLPC is progressing to the point where such behavior looks increasingly malicious and petty.
According to John Markoff in today's New York Times, Microsoft came closer than I thought to cutting a deal with Negroponte -- a deal Bill Gates wanted badly enough to release its Windows CE source code under an Open Source license. (Previous link requires free registration or, if you prefer, stop off at BugMeNot to pick up a username and password.In the end, even the idea of Steve Ballmer standing before the world, pushing an Open Source Windows product as the cure for what ails most of the world's population, wasn't enough to confuse Negroponte's long-term priorities.
According to several people familiar with the discussions, Microsoft had encouraged Mr. Negroponte to consider using the Windows CE version of its software, and Microsoft had been prepared to make an open-source version of the program available.
Steven P. Jobs, Apple's chief executive, had also offered a free version of his company's OS X operating system, but Mr. Negroponte rejected that idea because the software was largely not open-source, meaning users could not get free access to software and its source code, which they could then modify. Mr. Negroponte said in an interview here that he had resolved to use Linux not because it was free but because of its quality and maintainability.
"I chose open-source because it's better," he said. "I have 100 million programmers I can rely on."
Gates, as Markoff reports, was predictably furious: Lately, he and Microsoft CTO Craig Mundie have practiced their backhands on Negroponte and OLPC (You know the drill: "Don't get me wrong, we just love , and we wish him the best. But frankly, we're just a bit concerned over our recent study linking his laptops to spontaneous human combustion..."). Gates has also demonstrated and talked about the "cellular PC" concept that he now pushes as the future of computing. (A future which Negroponte says he and his colleagues at the MIT Media Lab already studied and then set aside as less effective for their purposes.)
Gates may regret sharing his sour grapes with the world -- other media outlets have already picked up what CNN had labeled Gates' "hard cell" approach, and it's not nice to kick sand in Negroponte's face when he's within sight of his objective.
Gates should also ponder the example Intel CEO Craig Barrett set last December, when Barrett mocked Negroponte's prototype laptop. In that case, Barrett came off either as an idiot for failing to realize that labeling Negroponte's (AMD-powered) laptop a "gadget" would leave him reeking of sour grapes; or he looked like an arrogant ass for deciding he could get away wit the remark anyway. Is this really an act worthy of emulation?