Is "Only Government Buyers" Plan Inhibiting XO Sales?

Back when Nicholas Negroponte first introduced the idea of a hand-cranked "$100 laptop", the One Laptop Per Child organization was formed to develop and promote the idea of one-to-one computing for children using low-cost, rugged laptops sold only to governments for distribution through school systems.

At the time, the idea was visionary, the price point was revolutionary, and for the first time, big technology companies felt secondary. Now fast-forward to fall 2008, and the whole global mind-think around technology has changed.

No longer is low cost computing in education a fantasy, no longer are big technology companies secondary, and everyone wants to sell technology into classrooms. Intel introduced Classmate PC to Brazil, Asustek is selling Eee PC's in the USA, and even thin-client manufactures compare themselves to OLPC.

But where are the One Laptop Per Child-arranged governmental orders? Where did Ministers buy XO-1's so that whole cohorts of children are "learning learning" on clock-stopping hot technology? Not just pretty photo ops.

If we look at Nicholas Negroponte's order commitments, there is a suggestion that his "only governments will buy laptops" purchase plan is a failure, for the only two commitments he has so far aren't even governments:

President Lula hasn't bought
  • Gaddafi Foundation has committed to 250,000 or 500,000 units, or maybe none at all. Who really knows since we only have Negroponte's word on the matter.
  • Carlos Slim has committed to buying 250,000 laptops, but he's not giving them to governments or putting them in schools. His plan is to have them in libraries and loaned out like ebooks.
Because of the lack of OLPC-generated national buyers, Quanta has not only lowered its production targets, its also now considering selling XO laptops outside of the OLPC organization.

And so maybe its time that Nicholas Negroponte modify his original governmental sales channel and augment it with private purchases, if only to get his 10 3 1 million minimum order amount.

Or as Fernan Castillo says so eloquently in a OLPC News comment:

It's insane to see how this laptops generate so much interest, and they are still not in the market... Hey Nik: PUT THEM IN THE MARKET!

Put them in the global market and you will have a minimum of 1 million pre-orders, I'd make 2 of them right now if their price would be the $200 USD you say... one for me, one for the third world, so 2 orders.. 2 for me, 2 for the third world... and I have to say this, I'm in Colombia, not exactly the third world as many may think, but I'd be glad to help some of my childs also..

I know I'd love to buy a OLPC laptop for every kid on my block, even if I have to fight a Black Friday mob during XO Christmas sales to do it. Wouldn't you?

And in doing so, wouldn't we all be helping One Laptop Per Child achieve its mission to have children across the globe tap into their own potential through the power of technology?

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Good article! Do you know if there has ever been a rationale put behind the "no commercial sales" approach?

OLPC leadership has been adamant and consistent in saying that it doesn't have the bandwidth to manage retail XO sales and that only government purchases would achieve the laptop saturation they desire.

While I agree that OLPC should focus on design and technology, not sales, there is no reason why they couldn't have USA laptop sales through a retailer, like Dell or Office Depot, and just collect a $1 royalty per sale for operations and $100-200 donation per sale to finance their saturation model in other countries.

Many American NGo's do that - sell products that have a royalty & donation component - to fund their operations. Just look at Negroponte's favorite, the Red Cross. They have a store: and are getting royalty payments:,1077,0_314_5421,00.html

Now there is a risk that a few thousand or million XO's in the USA might not show the gains that OLPC believes will happen if -every- child in a school had a laptop, but I think the massive initial positive press would help Negroponte sell overseas. A case of the "I wanna's" instead of the current "Well maybe's" in developing world governments.

The abundance of apparent options at the XO-1 price point may be one of the reasons many are sitting on the fence, but I also feel that after first impressions fade, it's difficult to find an urgent reason for the computers to be chosen before other educational needs, as well as general needs, in developing nations. Peru, for instance, has an education ministry committed to the idea of individual computing power, but no announcement yet, since those at the ministry are aware that the minute they actually quote a figure a lot of questions will be asked and many will openly argue about the pertinence of this investment, and about being first into the unknown (and Peru's government has been through some serious problems with acquisitions recently). It would be easier for our government to have an example to offer.

It's not that they don't have a potential for transforming education, but exactly how and when are questions that many ask. How long the commitment, how complicated the management.

I would go on a limb and say that nobody dares to jump first. Too many uncertainties for such an amount, so they're expecting someone to be first.

Please, I'm trying to describe a feeling, not endorsing it. I'm opposed to the acquisition for many different reasons but right now I just trying to understand what's going on, especially in my country.

While it might be 'nice' to have an XO laptop (from a curiosity POV) I must admit I prefer something more useful than the XO. Running Ubuntu on my little Dell C400 is really the pinnacle for me as far as usage goes (although an extra USB port would be nice).

The technology developed as a result of the XO should be appearing in new laptop designs, allowing everyone to have a sunlight viewable screen, 20 hour battery life and water resistant keyboards.

The XO is more likely to be a 'fad' machine since its purpose is as an educational machine for children. I have no problem with Governments or even Entrepreneurs buying up a batch of laptops and getting their ankle biters educated but I really cant see them providing the same usability as adult laptops currently hovering around the $500-$600 area.

I do see however that the advent of 'low cost laptops' for consumers will really harm an already unstable laptop manufacturer economy. Better to keep them as an educational machine in the Third World.

You can be quite sure there will be a full-use Linux distro for the XO once public sales fire up.
Possibly even based on Xubuntu since it is a low-power distro with Gnumeric and Abiword (which are also in the Sugar-based original package).

From the adult usability POV, rather the small display size is the limiting factor. If it was 10", it would be a rather usable ebook-reader in itself. With the current 7" screen it will be a "somewhat usable" ebook reader since the ebook-mode of the XO display is not in the same category as the e-Ink based modern reader devices and the screen size is nothing outstanding. A 12hr ebook-mode battery life is also only average if you compare it to eInk devices. As a travelling laptop, the 7" screen is also too small. 10" would be fine for that purpose.

That said, I would buy even the XO-1 if it wasn't artificially made very expensive. $200 would be a fair price for it.

I am very sceptical about OLPC doing public sales. Their "buy one and send one to the developing world" concept will seriously limit sales and that way they won't be able to increase the production volume to make the laptop cheap enough for their original goals. They should understand that first you need to arm up (with sales in the developed world) before you can go to battle (sell it for a very low price in low-income, developing countries).

I hope Quanta will be able to create a more capable public version of the XO and sell it without making it too expensive due to OLPC royalties and other 1-for-2 "deals".