May 21, 2007

OLPC featured on "60 Minutes"

Author: Joe Barr

Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project was featured last night on the popular CBS news program "60 Minutes." Prototypes of the AMD-powered OLPC laptops running Linux are now being tested by schoolchildren in Brazil and elsewhere.

"60 Minutes" also reported on the problems caused the humanitarian project from what Negroponte described as "predatory" efforts by Intel to compete with OLPC with its own low-cost laptop, the Classmate PC.

CBS showed footage from Reaksmy, the Cambodian village where the dream was born, to the first use of prototype OLPC machines by school children near Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the government is watching closely to help it decide if and how many of the machines it should purchase.

When "60 Minutes" reporter Lesley Stahl asked if Intel's efforts had harmed OLPC, Negroponte said yes, and claimed that OLPC is caught in a war between Intel and AMD. Craig Barrett, the chairman of Intel's board of directors, denied that the company was trying to drive OLPC out of business; instead, he said, "We're trying to bring capability to young people."

But Negroponte provided Stahl with evidence of his claim in the form of Intel documents which had been mailed to the government of Nigeria. The documents criticized the OLPC project while hyping the Classmate PC. When Stahl showed those documents to Barrett, he admitted that the letter came from Intel. Stahl pressed on, saying "somebody at Intel sees this as competition."

Barrett then changed his tune, saying, "Well, someone at Intel was comparing the Classmate PC with another device being offered in the marketplace. That's the way our business works."

That sounds right to me, but coming as it did on the heels of his earlier remarks about the Classmate PC being motivated by a desire to help children rather than as competition for OLPC, Barrett's remarks cost Intel tremendous credibility as to its true motivation.

Stahl asked Negroponte why, if his effort were truly humanitarian rather than commercial, were Intel and others fighting against it so hard. Negroponte explained, "Because the numbers are so large. They look at those numbers and they say, 'If we're not in those, we're toast.'" Negroponte believes that the OLPC project has the potential to reach more than a billion children.

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