July 24, 2007

Intel PR honcho puts spin on OLPC relationship

Author: Joe Barr

Earlier this month, Intel and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project announced that Intel has joined the OLPC board -- a surprise given the previously reported acrimonious relationship between the two organizations. We spoke with Will Swope, Intel's vice president of corporate affairs, about the reconciliation and what it means.

Before speaking with Swope, we asked OLPC President Walter Bender how the reconciliation came to pass. He said, "Nothing deep; we decided that working together was the best way forward for the OLPC mission."

Swope began our conversation by saying, "I think what Nick [Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC's founder] has been able to do, to get the world focused on a use of computers to help kids, is nothing short of fantastic, and whatever happened in the past, we are glad to be part of it."

Linux.com: How did the reconciliation came about?

Swope: Paul [Intel President and CEO Paul S. Otellini] and Nick had a meeting. They have a mutual friend in John Thornton; John is on the board of directors for Intel, and he is a friend of Nick's. I don't know whether John suggested it, I don't know if Paul suggested it, I don't know if Nick suggested it. [But] Paul and Nick got together, and they had a conversation, and said, "Hey, if we can get our staffs to come up with something that would make sense and be reasonable for all sides, let's do it."

LC: How will Intel participate in OLPC?

Swope: We are a board member, we will help them. We will be one of N voices that will help them figure out the very best way they can continue their work of getting technology into the hands of kids. That's one way. Intel as a silicon supplier, we will provide them an alternative at least as an option and they can decide if they like our option more or less than their current option with the XO. We will provide our server technology, and OLPC will be "quoting" Intel servers going forward.

LC: OLPC has been great at getting into the press, getting attention for the project. But I haven't seen any countries step up yet and order the first million laptops. How can Intel help make that happen?

Swope: I think you are going to find four or five different strong entrants with different sets of features and different sets of capabilities, all targeted to help kids learn in the next three or four years. If you take a look at the Asus product, as an example, that's already there. There's the XO, there is [Intel's] Classmate, there is Asus, and there is at least one more that we know is already under design.

I think the OLPC organization is going to try and figure out the very best way to get technology into the hands of kids. They have committed to the XO design, they have done innovative work on the XO design, and organizations are going to determine whether they want to invest in that or not.

Future versions of the Classmate PC and future versions of the XO are going to become more complementary, meaning they are going to be solving educational issues, educational opportunities. But we are going to be try to figure out what is the ideal set of characteristics that will best meet the needs of this kind of kid, in this environment, or this teacher, in this environment, or this classroom, or this non-classroom, or whatever. This is not going to be a one size fits all.

I think what you are seeing here is, both sides took a breath, and said, "Hey, what are we trying to get done here? And can we do it better together?" The answer is we can.

LC: Can you make money with Classmate and contribute positively to OLPC, or are those mutually exclusive?

Swope: They are absolutely not mutually exclusive. Let me give you an example. OLPC could decide that they want to stay on their current silicon vendors, but that they are going to use our WiMAX engine.

Let me give you another. Walter and I are very aligned on trying to make sure we can get a development kit for developers, so anyone can build an application going forward ... that can run on the XO, run on Classmate, run on the Asus machine, or run on the next machine.

There may well be technologies that neither one of us are really happy with that we want to include. Let me give you one of those. However you look at Internet security right now, do you think it is sufficient? We are not going to compete on trying to keep kids safe. We are going to figure out how to get them as safe as we can, and we are going to continue to make it better.

LC: So the whole "Classmate vs. XO battle derailing the entire effort" is really just a bogeyman?

Swope: Those would be your words, not mine. I believe if you think about what the effort is, to get technology into the hands of 1.2 billion kids over the next 10 years, the goal is to figure out how to do that. The idea right now is to see if we can move industry to go solve this problem. And we can get hundreds of philanthropists around the world to be putting their money in here.

LC: Can Intel help get a couple of the governments that are thinking about it to step forward?

Swope: I am not trying to be magnanimous in this. There is no question of the fact that Intel would rather have Intel silicon sold than AMD silicon. I think in all fairness, AMD might say the same thing.

There are two very strong products right now, each of which is tailored toward slightly different feature sets and slightly different applications. What we are saying right now to the governments of the world is, "You understand both products. Both products are going to get better over time. Both products have to advance. What we want you to do is just decide. Let's just get this going." We are going to find out an awful lot more after we have 20 million computers deployed, and we'll know how to make the next 100 million computers a lot better.

I can get you inside every nuance on this agreement that's tough, how is this really going to work. Any of these kinds of agreements have that. But when you step back and say, "Are more kids going to benefit with Intel a member of OLPC or are more kids going to benefit to have them separate," we've said more kids are going to benefit if we were a member.

We paid our money, we are on the board. We understand there is a hardware tension here that may remain for a long, long time, because OLPC can absolutely, positively say, "AMD is a board member in good stead, we like AMD silicon better." They would not be the first customer who chooses AMD for a product line.

If we don't participate in hardware, if we just work in software, and we gave them a very generous amount of money to join, and so we have probably funded their cash flow for awhile. And again, what Nick has done to get the whole world thinking about computers and kids, it's good for the world.

I think what he has instigated here, to get more and more of the world thinking this way, I mean, Intel has been on this path for a long time. We've put over a billion dollars into education. Nick has added a level of emotional excitement to that which the industry had not done, and Nick did it. Good for him.

LC: Are Intel engineers able to work directly with Red Hat on OLPC?

Swope: We have worked with Red Hat for years and years and years. On this project, we have been working with Red Hat such that the same port that they have done for XO will be on Classmate. Here's the deal. We are a strong Windows believer. You can say what you want, but we're not moving. If you take a look at our Linux work, on client and on servers, with Red Flag, with Red Hat, with others, we have done work here across the world, long before this discussion. We will work with Red Hat on this application as well.

Walter and I will figure out a development environment that will allow a developer to make sure that their application works on Windows or on Linux. Not just on the Red Hat implementation.

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