Breaking News: OLPC Just Got Gutted, 50% Staff Gone!


The official OLPC blog so innocently says that One Laptop Per Child is "Refocusing our mission" with an email from Nicholas Negroponte that clearly shows that the OLPC organization is really being gutted.

Oh My God! OLPC is Gutted!

Here's the email highlights and my translations:

  1. 50% cut in staff & pay cuts for the remaining staff (Ouch! Who's left then? And can they turn off the lights.)
  2. A shift to Middle East, Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan (Hello donor funding paid to OLPC, not Quanta!)
  3. Sugar to be spun off (Walter, you want it, take it. We've got Microsoft now.)
  4. Latin America & Africa to be spun off (You're not buying more laptops, so goodbye.)
  5. $0 Laptop for LDC's (we'll give stuff away if you donate it to us first!)

Negroponte tried to offer up good news, but I call it a brave face by the captain of a sinking ship. The goal of developing an XO-2? Never going to happen as the XO-1 took two years and Mary Lou Jepsen, who left the building last year. No-cost connectivity? Hahahaha! Now Negroponte's goal of a million digital books could happen - mainly because others like the Gutenberg Project and Google are close to that goal already.

But there is a goal that is glaring in its omission. As ChristophD points out, the word "education" isn't used by Negroponte in the announcement, not even when it comes to describing OLPC's mission:

"...we remain firmly committed to our mission of getting laptops to children in developing countries"

For those intersested, here's Negroponte's full email. Read and weep the end of OLPC as we know it.

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hit the nail on the head

"The goal of developing an XO-2? Never going to happen as the XO-1 took two years and Mary Lou Jepsen, who left the building last year."

Actually, Pixelqi is developing the XO-2, or at least a large part of the technology.

It's sad olpc is laying off so much staff, but I don't think it is at all dead. Projects often have ups and downs, you know.

I read this as the laptops and market exist, so the OLPC is not needed anymore.

The OLPC failed to sell the laptops to the governments. There are many reasons for that (not least solid opposition and monetary incentives from wealthy "competitors").

Although the OLPC could probably sell every XO Quanta could make, that is not the point of the OLPC. And Quanta does not need the OLPC for that.

I think the sponsers (AMD, Quanta, etc) have decided that they do not need the OLPC anymore and can get more money elsewhere. They can sell as many netbooks as they can produce anyway.

And seriously, if the OLPC's aim would become just to drain money from foreign schools to sell MS Office packages, I think it should stop. That is not the work of a non-profit.


Are you sure the word education is not in the NN text ?

What about the sentence "...OLPC and its mission of opening up a universe of knowledge to the world's poorest children living in the most remote parts of the Earth. " ?

Gutted, eh? I remember when I first got involved as a volunteer, and OLPC had six or eight full-time people, and twelve seemed like an ENORMOUS number for the project.

At some point this became many dozens, and we were tackling 5 or 6 problems that were not on the original agenda. Unwinding some of that is not in itself bad.

The goal has never been to create a steadily-growing bureaucracy that happens to carry out an educational mission. We need to make our systems and networks sustained from within. And that "we" applies to everyone working on these sorts of educational programs.

Warmly, SJ.


Please do not put lipstick on a pig. No organization cuts 1/2 its staff, sheds whole continents of influence, not to mention one of its core differentiators from its competitors, and comes out better for it.

And how did Latin America, Sub-Sahara Africa and Sugar become systems and networks outside OLPC's original agenda?

How many people work for OLPC anyway (before layoffs)? 10? 100? 1000?

Something like 25 people worked for OLPC and still work for OLPC, the rest that is being cut are mostly contract-workers. Simply put their contracts are not renewed.

This is the same thing happening at Google for example. Google's Eric Schmidt just worded it more nicely then Nicholas Negroponte did. At least that is my understanding of the thing looking at the official blog post and comments.

Google says they are not laying people off, but in fact, Google is not renewing a whole bunch of contract workers. Google is even massively slowing down on investments in 20% projects.

C'mon, guys! Give Negroponte his due credit for being extremly creative and hardworking.

He couldn't produce them for $100. He couldn't sell them for $200. He is now, quite naturally, trying to suply them for $0.

Don't let your own lack of faith affect the project. Those people laid off probably didn't have children's best interests in mind, anyway - or even worse: I'm sure some of them were planted there by Intel and Microsoft.

Now, the project can re-gain its lost focus, free of evil influences. A new dawn is fast approaching. We need your help more than ever. Let's just concentrate on making this project work. The Open Source community needs it. Children need it. The world is a better place because of it.

Long live the naked Emperor!

From The Register:

"The restructure leaves OLPC with 32 staff. It will focus on the development of its next machine XO-2 and on shipping a million XO laptops - the group has so far distributed 500,000 machines. Latin America will be spun off into a separate division while the Middle East, Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan "will become a major focus"."

Given that this is The Register, I am not very confident that they would know better than Wayan. But hope flies eternal.



The Register is simply re-phrasing Negroponte's email. No new information or analysis there.

Seems the deepest cuts were in software

post: January 08, 2009 04:42 PM @

I am beginning to be reminded of the DeLorean for some reason. ;-)

Sugar has been spun off of the main OLPC branch anyways starting months ago. So I guess it should be kind of natural, especially during this financial and lending crisis, that the main OLPC branch shouldn't be the one carrying all the software load in terms of paying for further Sugar development. With the latest Sugar release for the OLPC version 8.2.0, Sugar for OLPC is now stable.

Sugar Labs as I understand it is now tied closer with Red Hat's Fedora project, and it's being made for more platforms such as to run on those netbooks and other devices.

OLPC needs to focus on content, on educational strategies, to develop pedagogical guidelines to present to teachers as recommendations for how to successfully implement OLPC, how to use computers and the Internet in education. Taking into account all the different environments, some places that don't have a lot of Internet, some places that don't have good electricity, some places where kids have more or less troubles to educate themselves.

OLPC needs to continue revolutionizing the computer industry. That is why XO-2 is very important. Lowering the amount of components in the laptop should be a priority. Focus should be put on engineering and firmware programming, making of drivers for the next hardware.

You can't just sit back and wait for Intel to make the $100 laptop. Intel's current stragtegy is only to pull up the pricing of the average netbook with all kinds of whistles that they are introducing with the approval of the new Atom Z processor. Such features as the Intel Classmate tablet, Sony Vaio P, MSI hybrid netbook, Vista.. all those things are very carefully designed by Intel to inflate the price of the average netbook sold. Intel and the rest of the established computer industry are loosing huge profit margins on having to provide netbooks instead of the previous years mid-range laptops that had dual-core, high power consumption graphics and all kinds of gimmicks that could push up pricing. Thanks to OLPC, the laptop industry's profit margins are quickly going away.

OLPC needs to pull the pricing further down and as quickly as possible. I believe that AMD has pretty much conceded that they are not very much interested in lower laptop prices. AMD netbooks are higher priced. AMD doesn't seem to come with the next more optimized lower cost and lower power successor to the AMD Geode LX900.

OLPC needs to look for a cheaper, simpler and lower power architechture. I believe that one can only be ARM Cortex A8 or A9 depending on the planned timing of initial large scale hardware deployments of XO-2 model. There are a whole range of companies now making those ARM Cortex A8 processors. Marvell for one has probably already proposed such solutions to OLPC, Texas Instruments has a good one, Qualcomm and Freescale are demonstrating such prototypes at CES right now. Laptops to be sold commercially with profit at $199, thus could probably be built by a non-profit at half that price when all components are optimized, when the screen is the latest Pixel Qi, when a deal for mass production is signed.

Software for XO-2 could be optimized and tweaked best by Google, IBM or some other companies like that who contribute to embedded Linux projects. Using Google Android I think would be the perfect solution. Google wants more Internet access to more people in developing countries. If Google themselves don't soon release the reference design for the $100 XO-2 Google Android laptop, then OLPC should do it as a priority. Using Android as the platform for XO-2, this way you know you get the best possible software optimizations by the worlds definite best software company.

Killing Intel and Microsoft off in the process would just be a very welcomed bonus.

Where is the money coming for XO-2, Charbax?

XO-1 cost several million. Now, it so happens the one reason Negroponte gives for the firings, quote, "must downsize" is lack of money, and we know already that G1G1-2 was a disaster.

Notice that no new partnerships are around, if they were they would be announced, don't you think, or at least hinted out. Nope, bro, it's over the way it was, but it can still be turned around

Its also a re-focus of the mission. Should car companies produce petrol? No.

Get off your horse man! Let the experts do their job.

Anonymous, which "experts" are you refering to?

$5 million budget per year will do just fine creating the XO-2 that will kill off Intel and Microsoft.

Also, Obama is to invest huge sums of money in science and engineering, reasearch and development. There is no better place to invest than in a scheme that will quickly kill off PC and Laptop industry monopolies. Kill them off or force them to do good instead of bad.

Doing good is simple. Just cut the cost of Laptops by half every 18 months.

Sorry to disagree with you, Charbax.

No one will kill off Intel and Microsoft. Just like no one will ever kill of gambling and prostitution operations.

And we can be pretty sure no president will fight to destroy the global monopolies of Intel and Microsoft.


Cutting the cost of laptops by half every 18 months WILL kill off Intel and Microsoft. That's basically a given. There won't be any more profits for the old Silicon Valley, but it will benefit the world society immensely.

You cannot bridge the digital divide the way things are going under the dictatorship of Intel and Microsoft.

Bridging the digital divide is the ONLY way to fix all the worlds problems.

The youngsters who want to kill off Intel and Microsoft are the barbarians who want to destroy civilization. They should study the history of the computer industry. Standardization is what has allowed an evolution from technological anarchy to world-changing tools. Volunteers working for peanuts or less, may feed their own egos briefly, but can't feed their families - so abandon the effort after their 15 minutes of fame. Commercial companies have staying power.
The best projects are those that survive as a business model. Intel and Microsoft know how.

"Standardization is what has allowed an evolution from technological anarchy to world-changing tools."

You mean like Unix? (Posix) But Linux is build to Unix standards.

"Commercial companies have staying power."

Osborne, Atari, MSX, Apollo, Data General, Dec, Ingres. And Intel and Microsoft continuously in anti-trust courts for completely illegal behavior.

Against those easily bored volunteers from GNU, Linux, Apache, Mozilla, PostgreSQL, ....


Is OLPC dead yet? Computer projects either grow or die. This one is just about dead.

I want to be as charitable as I can, but Negroponte is an idiot. I doubt he has written a line of code. Anytime someone decides they need a new operating system and applications software -- they are crazy. Not just a little crazy, or pleasantly eccentric, but flat-out stark-raving frothing at the mouth this guy doesn't have a clue about anything crazy.

Thank God for third world countries where folks like Negroponte can do their "good works" and not screw things up at home.

Hardware has always been easy compared to software -- for at least the last 60 years. Maybe if Negroponte had read "Soul of a New Machine", he might have gotten a feel for exactly how much developers love compatibility.

That saying in real estate? Location, location, location. In computerland it is compatibility, compatibility, compatibility.

Please tell me there was NO ONE whatsoever anywhere that could not have foreseen this debacle? Hell, it has only been documented about a zillion times each time some wunderkind hardware engineer has a brain fart and takes another company under. Intel has blown it twice, with the iax432 and the more recent Itanium. DEC Alpha chip anyone?

Actually I am a little curious. Is there no one at this site that has ever written code for hire?