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Negroponte: Intel Marketing Victim Or Sour Grapes?

So Nicholas Negroponte accuses Intel and others of pricing him out of some contracts that would have otherwise gone to his One Laptop Per Child plan? Shocked? You shouldn't be. This is a highly competitive market, after all.
So Nicholas Negroponte accuses Intel and others of pricing him out of some contracts that would have otherwise gone to his One Laptop Per Child plan? Shocked? You shouldn't be. This is a highly competitive market, after all.CBS's 60 Minutes program this past Sunday revealed little in the way of info that we don't already know except that Negroponte travels to more destinations in one year than Leslie Stahl does.

The disjointed -- yet heartwarming -- video segment is best when it shows how we as a connected culture are extending an open hand to developing areas in Cambodia, Brazil, Mexico, China, and elsewhere in order to get everyone up to speed. Had the tale stayed focused on just what kind of progress OLPC was making, I think there still would be great interest. I liked the touch screen technology and advanced Wi-Fi. Besides, who wouldn't like a hand crank to give you an extra 30 minutes, especially during a long staff meeting or a Steve Jobs keynote?

However, CBS drags out Negroponte's recent chiding of Intel and others who are spoiling his soup, especially when it comes to undercutting the price of the laptops. OLPC's original vision was $100 per unit. The current reality is $176.

Sure there is competition. OLPC uses AMD Geode chips and Red Hat's Fedora 6 Linux OS. Intel's Classmate uses Intel's Mobile Celeron chips (ah, so that's where those little devils are winding up these days) and Windows XP Pro or Linux OS. The differences are not as black and white as the Classmate's chassis, but one could get the inference that Intel is being a bully when Stahl's report revealed some classrooms in Sao Paulo, Brazil got their Intel-powered laptops for free.

Still, I had my biggest laugh when Stahl presented Intel chairman Craig Barrett with Intel marketing documents that point out the differences between Negroponte's machines and Intel's Classmates.

Anyone who has sat across the table from an Intel marketer has seen one of these sheets before. AMD sure has, which is why it's suing Intel for alleged strong-arm practices.

My associate Tom Claburn adds this: "Show me a company that gives something away against its own interest and I'll show you real charity. In the meantime, it's all just marketing with an exotic backdrop."

Still, I think Negroponte should realize that arming children in developing areas with laptops should not be a one man (or one company) job. Or at least he should acknowledge the seeds OLPC are planting are future U.S. consumers. That's how most tech companies are positioning themselves in underserved areas -- helping enterprise capture its next billion customers.

The most interesting item out of the 60 Minutes piece, I thought, was Negroponte's notion that OLPC was in talks with some states to provide these laptops with the expectation that two units are purchased: one for your kid and the other for a student overseas.

So which of these is the greatest tragedy? That Negroponte feels like his dream is being compromised, that North Americans who want $100 laptops with keen features are required to purchase two, or that it's taken us this long to realize that giving children a tool they can use to better themselves should be required in all schools?

Feel free to add your 2 cents below.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
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