Trying to Beat Giants at Their Own Game

   
   
   
   
   

L. Aaron Kaplan is the founder and an active member of OLPC Austria, where he has, among other projects, ported Sugar to both the original Classmate PC and, as he discussed yesterday, also the Classmate 2 (Atom based).

olpc classmate
4PC Deathmatch: XO vs. Classmate

Thanks to a "we don't sell small quantities" approach at OLPC , the government of Chile was rejected when they wanted to buy 900 test XOs. Bad mistake, OLPC! You don't reject customers like that. It is a psychological mistake.

Meanwhile this happened which Wayan also discussed here:

On the 31st of July 2008, Intel and the Portuguese Government announced the production of the "Magalhães" (a tribute to Portuguese navigator Maggellan), a Classmate-based computer that will be produced in Portugal and distributed to Portuguese children on primary education for 50€ (free or at 20€ for students on social aid), as well as exported to other countries.

Conclusion

Nicholas: in case you read this. Intel won. Big time. It will be hard to compete against the Dells and Intels of this world. We all knew that and you did not accept the fact. However where you could have been unique, outstanding and special was - guess what - with education software out of the labs of MIT and surrounding institutions and projects such as sugarlabs.org, eToys, Squeak, alice.org, mindstorm etc.

Nicholas - you are a visionary, yes! You captured the imagination of many. But Intel actually carried the vision further and created a real product. Creating a real product is so much harder than prototyping. OLPC is still a prototype compared to the Classmate 2. A great prototype, a well designed one, a lovable prototype, a visionary masterpiece of the smartest brains in Cambridge but - a prototype. OLPC went almost to the product level. But universities and small dedicated teams can only go so far. They can't compete against the corporate giants of this world. And a real product also needs a support team, a repair team, a logistics team, a marketing team and a complete sales team. Not just you and you alone doing the marketing and sales. Only all of this together makes a real product. Face the facts. You can't compete. Especially not when you disappoint one developer after the other other.

And no, it does not help to to whine that Intel and the big giants are against you. You tried to beat the giants at their own game. But when you try to do that, then you actually have to be better than the big boys. Your sales department was not. It was too small. It was only you for a long time. Just the other day somebody from Holland called me and asked how he could contact Walter de Brouwer (the supposedly OLPC Europe manager, almost none of us in Europe ever saw him). Seems like wdb is not answering emails anymore for potential customers. Face the facts. In case OLPC fails then it is your own fault. Maybe you can still make customers happy with another G1G1. But, you know... the hardware industry is moving so immensely fast. Who will still want an XO-1 apart from the design value and the geek factor?


Not enough to make Aaron smile...

Sure, the Classmate does not make me smile when I see it but - neither does a plain tool like a screwdriver. Even though I am a super geek, I do not have emotional relationships with hammers, screwdrivers or - tools. Tools are not sexy. I just use them. And that is what counts.

After all - it is a tool for education, right? And as tool, it does get the job done pretty well . No design prize, but it gets the job done.

As a long term OLPC supporter and fierce fighter for "Open Sourcing" education I must come to the conclusion that Walter Bender took the right path and Nicholas Negroponte was fighting the wrong war against the big boys. I do hope that Ministries of Education see the long term educational benefit of open source - no matter which hardware they choose to buy - the kids using open source today will have a thorough understanding of IT when they grown ups. They will have learned to teach themselves. Brazil already understood this.

Let's applaud to OLPC for being the first visionary step in the right direction, but let's keep our eyes open for other good tools. Thanks to open source, the ideas of OLPC can in fact be transferred to the Classmate or the Eee PC or maybe even cheap PDAs in India!

So, and now I am off to work on some cool mesh projects. :)

Kudos to the wonderful folks at OLPC (Austria) for being who they are and for being so enthusiastic about education and learning which I still consider to be the real mission.

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27 Comments

Great (tho slightly rant) summary of the marketing fubars of OLPC. Hopefully people over at 1CC are listening?

Aaron,

At least you had a European sales manager who responded at one time. I'm still wondering who Mike Ford was and what ever became of the OLPC America idea: http://www.olpcnews.com/people/leadership/who_is_mike_ford_olpc_america.html

Man, this blog is full of such anti-OLPC bias and misinformation it makes me embarassed to visit. Does nobody subscribe to OLPC/sugar mailing lists?

>>>>It was a proud moment for OLPC as tiny Uruguay rolled out its 100,000th
computer - almost all of which are Internet enabled.

>>>>Rwanda: The team is refining their strategic plan, looking past the
initial rollout of 5000 laptops to create both a vision and a plan for a
national laptops project.

>>>>Birmingham: This week the team worked with the instructional technology
staff member who will be in charge of this project everyday to try to
prepare documents requested by the executive director of IT.

..to name a few select bits from just the most recent weekly digest.

dax, you do realize that the author of the article above is the founder of OLPC Austria and has spent hundreds of hours working on OLPC related matters in his spare time? Tell me, how does that make sense when he's supposedly so "anti-OLPC biased"?

Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily always agree with all the criticism of OLPC that we publish here. But to turn a blind eye on the many mistakes that OLPC has made in the past and pretend like it's all joyful joy isn't quite the most productive thing to do. Instead we shall all analyze what went wrong, especially in 2007, and learn so we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

All in my humble opinion of course.

Aaron, you make a lot of good points in the post. But let me say again what I said to the previous post. Intel is in business to make money selling high-end cpu's, and so it is going to keep the price of the ClassMate high. Olpc is in the business of improving education in the developing world by getting students there laptops. So it is going to keep the hardware specs constant and keep lowering the price, eventually down to something like $50.

That means that perhaps a billion students who would never be able to afford a Classmate will be able to buy an XO, even doing it on their own for the many places in the world where there are few if any schools. So OLPC is going to wind up having a far more positive impact on the world than Intel will.

Something else, Aaron. You write as it it were all over for OLPC. But OLPC is a going conern. Almost a million laptops have been sold in the first year, an exceptionally good total for a startup. And it has lots of financial support from companies like Google and Red Hat. And don't forget it is being produced by the world's largest manufacturer of laptops.

OLPC is not about to go out of business. It is going to sell computers next year, and that means it has time to correct many of the mistakes that you point out. These mistakes happened because OLPC was in such a rush, and because Negroponte, as he himself admits, has little experience as a business executive. More time addresses the first problem, and Negroponte has dealt with the second by hiring a CEO and some experienced staff.

So don't give up on the OLPC. I think we are still rather early in the game.

And finally one more point. Remember, OLPC was not founded to start a laptop business. If it closes down at some point, but commercial firms are supplying the laptops that students need, then the project will still have been a remarkable success.

Aaron,

"Thanks to a "we don't sell small quantities" approach at OLPC , the government of Chile was rejected when they wanted to buy 900 test XOs. Bad mistake, OLPC!"

I'm sure you're aware of GiveMany program [1] and there are people who took opportunity to take part [2] in it. Unless someone could show me when Chilean Gov. tried to purchase the XOs using the program and was "rejected", I'd say the above is more than misleading


"But Intel actually carried the vision further and created a real product."

If your definition of a "real product" is something you can watch YouTube on why not purchase EeePC, Acer's One, MSI Wind (and soon dozens of others) for, more or less, the same price (and twice that of XO) - after all they are available here and now.

I thought "the vision" was to create a laptop as described by Alan Kay's Dynabook idea (low price,book-like screen,rugged and highly portable) not a 'shrunk' version of a conventional laptop. The new version of Classmate seems to be much better than its first incarnation but it not only serves a different, due its price and specs, market than XOs but also just caught up with what others are already selling...

There are good reasons why there are already many times more, regardless of Intel's underhanded marketing and all it's financial might, XOs than Classmate PCs in the target market and its not what western geeks seem concerned about...

[1]( http://laptopfoundation.org/en/participate/givemany.shtml )
[2]( http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/olpc-ch/2008-May/000074.html )

delphi,
of *course* I know the GiveMany Program. But... have you tried ordering thru it ? ;-))

Does not work unless you order "millions at once" or sort of make OLPC believe you would. That is *exactly* what I was trying to say - the government of Chile was not able to "givemany" order 900 pieces.
Bummer.
Sales simply don't work like that . OLPC announces it "will sell millions" but has no procedure in place to make the first step in "selling millions" (namely to sell 900 test machines for a pilot to Chile).
I would like to quote Walter Bender . He wanted to have lots of small OLPC "fires" out there. Instead of only one big 100.000 unit south america deployment. That would be the way to go IMHO.

Together with Chris from our OLPC.at group I created the http://projectdb.olpc.at .
This is at least *one*step* to get XOs into the hands of developers at least. So... nobody can say that I just complain and did not try to change the disastrous availability situation.

Seriously, I believe OLPC made some *very bad* mistakes. And it is truely time to openly and honestly speak about that.

It is no wonder Intel has it so damn easy to "steal sales" from OLPC when there has been only one official sales person for a long time (NN himself). It is a question of manpower.

Anyway...

So, Intels Classmate is $400 instead of OLPC's $188; CM2 doesn't support 802.11s in a right manner I understand (you wrote about it yesterday), and I seriously wonder what happens if it falls on the ground while the screen is in the orientation as pictured at the photo's yesterday. I wonder if the Classmate 2 is water resistant or reparable without tools, like the OLPC was designed. As I understand, a CM2 lasts only 3-4 hours on a full battery load. I wonder how that compares to the OLPC. The Classmate 2 doesn't boast the most energy efficient CPU, since these ones are all VIA Nano or ARM architecture, at leats I suppose. I think these points clearly illustrates that the Classmate 2 is not meant for poor developing countries, but to maximize profit for Intel and provide competition for the Asus Eee PC and MSI Wind, and guess what, it runs the SugarGUI quite well and almost matches OLPC's features. Good for them, but how about the children in Chile? Do you think the Chilean government will buy $400 Classmates instead of the $188 OLPC's for all their children? I seriously doubt it.

Therefore, neither poor developing countries nor Intel have won I'd say. Yes, when it comes to lobbying and marketing Intel has won. What else would you have expected? However, when it comes to making the cheapest and best tools for children in poor developing countries, I think Intel has lost. Not only to OLPC, but also to several other local initiatives to produce cheap laptops. I don't see countries like Niger buy these Classmate 2's; which means the competition for 'poor countries' is not won by anyone as of yet. Therefore I don't agree with your statement that Intel has won.

Aaron,

"of *course* I know the GiveMany Program. But... have you tried ordering thru it ? ;-))"

No, I haven't. But others, as per previous post, have:
( http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/olpc-ch/2008-May/000074.html )

"Does not work unless you order "millions at once" or sort of make OLPC believe you would. That is *exactly* what I was trying to say - the government of Chile was not able to "givemany" order 900 pieces."

Not true - see the reference above. Quite frankly I don't believe Chile's attempt at "givemany" was "rejected" - we had a poster here claiming (repeatedly) that his organization's attempts at "givemany" was rejected but if you looked at the actual details it was clear that he had no intention in GM deal at all but 'demanding' the base price instead...


"Seriously, I believe OLPC made some *very bad* mistakes. And it is truely time to openly and honestly speak about that. "

I completely agree - but there's just too much misleading info around. And since there has never been before anything like OLPC, mistakes were and are bound to happen. It's just sad to see people who previously saw NN as some sort of guru, blindly believing in whatever he said (and I strongly believe his hype was intentional and targeted at the other 'players' - potential manufactures and gov. politicians in particular) now, and with the same 'fever', 'blaming' him for not meeting all their expectations. IMHO, NN has done a remarkable job in getting OLPC up and running and having XOs not just out there being used by kids but having others, like Intel, forced into catch-up mode and changing completely their business model (so as you see it's actually OLPC "game" Intel and others are playing :) , with flood of inexpensive (at least as far as developed countries are concerned) laptops as the result...


"It is no wonder Intel has it so damn easy to "steal sales" from OLPC when there has been only one official sales person for a long time (NN himself). It is a question of manpower."

Well, despite Intel's "manpower" (or just plainly speaking $$$) it wasn't that "easy" for Intel. In fact, its actually quite embarrassing. If the reports I've seen around are to be believed OLPC managed to deploy 10X as many XOs as Intel ClassmatePCs - to paraphrase Wayan's comment from quite a while ago:

"Intel's World Behind is just that - a world behind of the One Laptop Per Child's plan" ;)

Aaron,
I'm also - like many here - surprised by your discourse, since you are/were supposed to be committed and convinced by the goals of the OLPC, which are both highly philanthopic and non profit-driven.
As such, it is obviously different from a company's goal, which is basically to make money by any legal means.
Can we then compare between both models (and worse, criticize the OLPC)? I'm not sure.
I would have instead expected from someone working for the OLPC to criticize the fact that some companies (like Intel, Asus) decided to "compete" with the OLPC on (in my opinion) a market that they didn't need to be in either to survive or to develop.
I'm not sure Intel or Asus are making a lot of money with their XO-clones, no matter how low they can bring the production cost and how big and efficient their sales and marketing departments are.
This was my first point.
My second point is that the OLPC is not "just" a bunch of Cambridge big-brains as you say, but is also as you already know it closely associated with Quanta who's one of the biggest (if not the biggest) laptop maker in the world, and who actually produces the OLPC laptops.
So there must have been some strategy to bring the product a little bit further than a "simple" prototype stage... and as far as I know more than 600,000 of them have been sold and delivered: are they all prototypes???
My third and last point is that such philanthropic non-profits attract some brilliant people who want to make not just money from their job but also more sense to their lives...
I will not insist on the 900 laptop orders by Chile (which sounds really like a joke) since hundreds of thousands of them are perfectly running, or on the fact that probably Nicholas Negroponte rejected Intel from the association BECAUSE he didn't want to enter their business hypocrite game, since they were developing their own clone in the same time...
I remain a big supporter of the OLPC, and I'm going to take part to the Give One Get One program as soon as this one reaches Europe!
And as long as the OLPC delivers hundreds of thousands of laptops a year I consider it to be very successful.

"It's an education project, not a laptop project."
Nicholas Negroponte.

This is a sweeping, yet very true, observation about this entire exercise. This is a feel-good exercise.

Go to the Wikipedia on the OLPC. Read the blogs here and elsewhere. It's all about the kids. Empowerment, cretivity, blah, blah, blah.

Look closer.

Notice that even Wikipedia does not have ANYTHING about RESULTS.

The entire thing is about the exercise of developing a pc, the battle for the next generation hardware and software, the competition between developers, etc, etc, etc.

The entire focus is the multigenerational development... and NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY is interested in the results.

Design/participate/develop cool toys... sell them to 2nd or 3rd rate countries, then turn away. You happen to see a picture of a smiling kid holding an OLPC and you figgure "mission accoplished" and never, ever, actually look at the result.

"It's so cool, it HAS to work, so there is no need to even check!"

This is the Achilles heel of progressive politics as well. Welfare programs are so cool, that they simply HAVE to work, no question. After all, you are doing something FOR someone, right? Trillions of dollars later, the welfare state has accomplished nothing, and if anything, made things worse by creating an entirely new class of people with a multi-generational dependancy on welfare, becoming deactualized as human beings.

And the progressives, so lost in creating their welfare toys, didn't notice the harm they did.

OLPC advocates should not make the same mistake.

If you don't have RESULTS at the very very very top of your list of metrics for this activity, then you are a fake.

Real results. Not "number of olpc's deployed", but a very very close look, carefully measured, of the actual results with respect to children.

Who? Yes, children... you remember, they are the ones this whole runaway train is all about.

Demand data. Raw, hard, verifiable data. Do you KNOW you are getting the results you wanted? Or are you just in this for your own brand of fun?

Well said, Mike!

@Mehdi Taileb:
Quote: 'The entire focus is the multigenerational development... and NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY is interested in the results.'

I admit there's not much to be found about the results; but it's absolutely not true nobody looks at the results.

Results are described both here:
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Peru/Arahuay#Teachers_.26_their_classes
and here:
http://radian.org/notebook/astounded-in-arahuay

Actually, if you read those stories you see a lot of the wanted results have been reached.

Aaron Kaplan is a nobody. Being the first to make a page on the OLPC Wiki named OLPC_Austria does not make him any official part of the OLPC crew in any way.

In fact he most probably is working for Intel, since the only contribution I could find from him was that has been working on porting the open Sugar Linux OS to Intel's laptop.

Intel won? Won what? That they successfully delayed the One Laptop Per Child program? It's not like Intel is delivering more laptops, if any at all other then pilot projects and announcements by governments that obviously are in the pocket of Intel executives.

Portuguese tax payers are paying double the price for a worse laptop. And then they try to make it look like citizen are paying only 50€ per laptop, when in fact it's a scheme to funnel spectrum licence money into Intel's bank accounts. The Spectrum is the people's propriety, which is sold off like that to pay Intel for smaller versions of totally conventional laptops, basically redesigned netbooks. Portugal would be better off ordering Asus Aspire Ones if they really want Intel based netbooks. Leave it be, that netbooks can't be used as ebook readers, have low battery life, don't do Mesh, aren't kid friendly, don't do collaboration, can be stolen from children by any mafia and sold unlocked as any other commercial laptop, aren't sunlight readable and so many other problems.

Anyways, sorry to be blunt, but Aaron Kaplan started it trying to make some kind of a point for the pro-Intel ITwire websites as if he was somebody important within the OLPC organization quitting the project.

Just stating this as crappy anti-OLPC website http://www.itwire.com/content/view/20208/1090/ thinks Aaron Kaplan is a "stalwart of the One Laptop per Child Project".

Which is obviously pretty funny given how anti-OLPC ITwire consistently are, nearly as much pro-Intel as olpcnews.com
If this website was fair and balanced, you'd report on the Teachers and students of Birmingham that say XO laptops is a success: http://www.al.com/news/birminghamnews/index.ssf?/base/news/1219565748206780.xml&coll=2

What pilot projects using Intel laptops is anything else then the experience of the use of miniature conventional Intel laptops.

But as Brightsar CEO says: "Once you give them a computer with Internet access," Claure said, "nothing can fail." http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/sfl-flzbrightstar0822sbaug23,0,1646779.story

Problem is, Intel is not giving any children any laptop. All they are doing is to try and stop laptops from becoming too cheap (loosing worldwide control) and making Intel and their friends loose all of their precious profit margins not only on laptops sold to children, not only on laptops sold to the developing world, Intel is afraid of the whole worlds Laptop and PC industry loosing all of its profit margins if $100 laptops become common.

Charbax, you're too funny! :)

I would have said 'Charbax, you're an idiot'.

I've always expected that Negroponte had problems with Quanta and manufacturing small quantities of laptops.
They were always geared to manufacture in the millions, not in lots of 900.

People seem to think Negroponte had a warehouse somewhere stacked to the roof with XOs just waiting for someone to order 900. It does not work that way. Never did.
The original scheme was for Governments to order through OLPC and buy/pay Quanta. They didnt want to have stock of XOs either. They certainly didnt want to be stuck making small runs of prototypes.

When million unit purchases didnt eventuate I suspected the system might fall apart. Perhaps Negropontes mistake was concentrating on the hardware and expecting diplomats and Presidents to honor agreements. Perhaps OLPC would have been better making a generic hardware version of Sugar and making that their contribution to third world education.

Lets hope Mary Lou Jepsen and Walter Bender (two of the best things to come out of the OLPC fiasco) have some luck with their respective ventures.

I will say it: Charbax, I love you, but you're a fool on this one.

Aaron has done more to promote FOSS and OLPC than you and I put together. To minimize his efforts or call him a nobody only shows how little you know of the inner workings of OLPC or its contributors.

Ditto Wayan.

Charbax you are an idiot. Been telling you for 2 yrs to grow up!
One reads nothing but anti-intel propaganda from you all over the web, which just kind of gets boring after a while... and makes you look like more of an idiot than you already are!

Rather than bitching all over the web, go do something constructive!
And for Gods sake, stop bullsh*ting all the time!

@Blah!:
"Ditto Wayan."

Hello Irvin.

Pouring your wisdom over us all again?

Winter

As Negroponte himself would say, "Charbax is not the brightest light in the house"...

:-)

Actually, Hans,

instead of finding the clear evidence that OLPC is having the results that OLPC is supposed to deliver, I found exactly the opposite:

"The teachers realized that children really enjoy working on their laptops a lot and want to do all the class work on them. To the point where, sometimes, teachers tell them conditions, such as: "If you don't work, you won't be able to use your laptops." Or, "You won't take your laptops home today because yesterday, instead of doing your homework, you were playing with your laptops."

Here you have a clear discovery that teachers, real teachers, are describing a problem wherein the OLPC is distracting from work, and is now in the role of "reward" for doing work... and clearly, that the OLPC is preventing children from doing schoolwork.

In the second website, there were three changes, the first two were that kids were texting each other outside of class, and texting inside the class. The third change is that they showed their fathers how to surf the internet, causing these poor uneducated men to believe that something important was happening in the school.

Our experience in the US, where texting has been a very very common experience, has NOT proven to be an educational experience. Properly written emails have likely done something with respect to getting kids to write in a world previously domniated by the telephone... But all in all, I don't think that anyone has pointed to texting as an important achievement for western society in an educational sense.

Kids teaching dads to surf the web in poor countries does not impress me much, but if the OLPC's web surfing capacity is fooling parents into thinking that education is more viable than it previously was, and that kids are allowed to stay in school longer, this is almost certainly a good thing... but it would have to be said that the OLPC was not improving the child's education directly, but was used as a negotiating tool that allowd kids to stay in classes longer, thereby getting more education.

I am not aware that this would not have been an OLPC goal (convincing parents to allow their kids to be in school longer hours).

Though I make room for unintended/positive consequences.

The desire to learn english (probably as the web is mostly english content) is probably a good thing.

But clearly, the OLPC has also been a distraction in school, and is now being used as a reward for actual schoolwork. This is certainly NOT an empowerment device in that context.

Test scores, anyone?

Mike

About the Birmingham deployment (which claims that teachers/students call OLPC a success):

"One of the biggest challenges Michael Wilson faces as a principal is finding something for his students to do from the time their parents drop them off at 7:15 a.m. until the bell rings 45 minutes later.

That problem has been solved.

"They fill the hallways with their laptops. They fill the classrooms with their laptops. They fill the cafeteria with their laptops,"

In the entire article, that is the ONLY metric identified for success. 4 BILLION dollars was spent on OLPC, and they are apparently using them to "fill time" before class.

Again, does anyone *know* what these kids are doing with the OLPC before class? Test scores, anyone? The article was upbeat, but any notion of actually discovering meaured benefit was simply missing from the piece (as I have predicted).

I am pretty sure that 4+ Billion dollars could have been spent on an impoverished school district on far more important things than computer addiction/web surfing/texting time fillers.

There has never been any doubt that the things would be used. But again, another article where nobody is asking "Is it helping the kids get a good education?".

The only comment from a teacher was that it changed how he taught class. Great, the OLPC is changing things for teachers.

Mike

Sorry, "million" not "billion". :)

@Mike:

"4 BILLION dollars was spent on OLPC, and they are apparently using them to "fill time" before class."

Where were these $4,000,000,000 spent?

Winter

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