G1G1 Backstory: Negroponte Admits Sales Defeat & Rebounds

olpc negroponte
Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC

Today Nicholas Negroponte took a big bite of humble pie. He finally admitted that his grand plan to sell One Laptop Per Child to developing world governments through orders of at least one million XO laptops is a failure, that President's loving laptops doesn’t equal Ministers buying XO's:

"I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a check written," said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the nonprofit project. "And, yes, it has been a disappointment."
But rather than kick a man when he's down, I'd like to say "Thank you" to Dr. Negroponte. He's surprised me by actually admitting his mistake; I didn't think his expansive ego would've permitted it. In addition, he is trying to correct his mistake and save OLPC production.

See, the OLPC USA sales plan shows failure in Negroponte led sales plan, not the overall idea. The developing world still wants XO laptops, and wants to buy "$100 laptops", just not in million-unit blocks with no maintenance plan.

For proof, look at the OLPC Uruguay bid. Ceibal wants one-to-one computing, but in small lots of a few thousand computers each so they can implement XO laptops at a measured pace. They also want warranties and localized repair, not Humpty Dumpty on a million unit scale. Wouldn't you if you were buying computers for a whole nation's school system?

Nicholas Negroponte deserves credit for recognizing that developing world governments were not going to commit on his time or orders scale and changing his distribution method. He needs to get a critical mass of users and programmers to show that One Laptop Per Child is a credible agent for educational change. Or as Walter Bender says:

olpc icon
OLPC user community in action
"Part of what we're doing here is broadening the community of users, broadening the base of ideas and contributions, and that will be tremendously valuable."
The Buy 2 Get 1 sales plan is Professor Negroponte's way to stimulate orders for his computers while simultaneously building up a war chest to self-finance his own "implementation miracle":
Negroponte explained that if donations reached, say, $40 million, that would mean 100,000 laptops could be distributed free in the developing world. The idea, he said, would be to give perhaps 5,000 machines to 20 countries to try out and get started. "It could trigger a lot of things," he said.
I know that XO Christmas sales will trigger at least one thing: Quanta's production line to sell out the 120,000 laptops it plans to manufacture in 2007. Yes, American geek tech-lust and greed will usurp developing world children at first, and that will probably be the best thing that happens for One Laptop Per Child.

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From the iht article,

"The idea, he said, would be to give perhaps 5,000 machines to 20 countries to try out and get started. "It could trigger a lot of things," he said."

My guess is that once the machines are out there and being used, they will get a great deal of positive publicity, and in addition education ministries will discover how much they benefit education, and the result will be a boom in governmental orders in 2008. Anyway, that is the hope.

Congrats for Negroponte admitting his mistakes. 5000 machines still doesn't seems a lot for the effort, but let's hope private funders can help in bulks..

I don't see this working. The BBC says

"The organisation behind the project has launched the "give one, get one" scheme that will allow US residents to purchase two laptops for $399 (£198)."

Now by doubling the price, OLPC has made their machine far less competitive. Quote.

"At the Intel Developer Forum 2007, Intel demonstrated it's Classmate PC and the Eee PC, and also had specifications listing four models of the Eee PC. The models may start at the promised US$199 price point and transition up in price and feature to US$399."

Banging a 100% surcharge weights the OLPC machine down in the market. It simply cannot compete with this handicap.

Its a mess, I think the OLPC project has failed and the smart move is to release it as a regular laptop before events overtake it.


"Now by doubling the price, OLPC has made their machine far less competitive. Quote."

Did you never wonder why Apple earns billions for their iPod? You can get the same functionallity from a <$50 player.

Now why do I use such an overprized iPod, just as all the high-school kids overhere? High school kids have a name for these less expensive players: WiPods (wannabe iPods).

The answer, obviously, are the design and quality. The re are nice parodies on how other companies would design it. I give you one:

In the end, the XO gives you something you can't get elsewhere. So I think the first batch will fly out of the stores. But I agree this will not be enough for the long haul. Then competitiveness does count.


I am glad this has happened.
There was potential for this to seriously harm many developing countries. Just see the problems that the pilot project in Peru has had for instance.

Now that the OLPC has failed, perhaps Negroponte can move onto something less self aggrandising.

I'll definitely be getting one of these. I hope they publish stats on how well this works. I'm very curious to see how this works in general.

Stop your whining! Let’s give the man some credit. How many “High-tech Bizillionaires” are putting their egos, fortunes or products on the line? Dr. Negroponte’s concept is world class, but nothing of this scale is going to happen without glitches. It takes vision to work through the issues.

The Third World suffers from the worst of the mankind’s maladies – AIDS – Drugs – Genocide -- Human Trafficking – Child Labor – You name it. There is only one common answer to turning the world around – EDUCATION. Dr. Negroponte obviously sees this vision and is doing something about it with the OLPC concept.

Like I said, let’s give the man some credit and a little room to work out his solution. And while we are at it, how about our High Tech Nobility getting behind the idea. A small percentage of their profits would fund this startup without a second thought and their existing production, logistics and maintenance organizations could solve many of OLPC’s problems.

I think Negroponte is cool and a visionary. See above comment: I agree! And then go to the OLPC wiki and see how many people are donating their time and minds to make this thing fly. I'm getting my MFA, but if I had some extra $$ I'd buy – and donate! – as many as I could. I love the thought of some poor kid being crazy-happy about their first lil' laptop and then going on to make their contribution to the world!