Intel Corp. didn't win itself any PR points when it pulled out of a deal to spread technology and education to some of the world's poorest children -- especially when news emerged last week that it had apparently stabbed its nonprofit partner in the back. Yet Intel's abrupt split with the One Laptop per Child venture may signal a surprisingly beneficial trend for the developing world.
The One Laptop per Child Foundation was started three years ago by former MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte, whose radical goal was to sell millions of child-friendly laptops to governments in poor countries for $100 apiece. That may never happen; it turned out to be impossible to build a decent machine for so little, and the organization's XO laptop sells for nearly twice Negroponte's ambitious price point. It's still a phenomenal bargain, prompting Peru to buy more than 270,000 XOs for distribution to public schools. Peruvian children who can't afford books are now surfing the Internet, reading digital texts and taking and sending digital photos.
Intel had agreed to contribute millions to One Laptop per Child as well as to create a microprocessor to use in future generations of the XO (currently they run on chips from competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc.). When it ended the relationship last week, a furious Negroponte went to the media with tales of double dealing. Intel had for months been urging potential XO customers not to buy the device, he said, because it's launching a competing low-price laptop for the developing world, called the Classmate PC.