4P Computing - Negroponte's 14 Million Laptop Impact


Three years ago, did you believe Nicholas Negroponte's crazy idea? That he could produce a "$100 laptop" designed specifically for education in the developing world? He claimed price would be low and yet quality high, through innovative design mixed with low-cost components, and sales would be focused exclusively on governments.

This heretical bombast upset the longstanding computer manufacturing tradition to keep adding functions to maintain high prices in the developed world, while ignoring the developing world. From One Laptop Per Child emerged the XO laptop - a revolution in computing, and the technology industry has never been the same.

We now have a whole plethora of revolutionaries - from the upstart Asus to the goliath Intel - who are developing "4P Computers" in response to OLPC's iconic XO laptop. 4P Computing is a new class of appropriate technology - computing power, performance, portability, and price specificity designed for the realities and markets of the developing world.

These 4PC's (or "netbooks") are now a significant portion of global laptop sales - 14 million units in 2008 alone. And that's up from less than 1 million last year, and zero before Negroponte came up with the idea.

Now join me in an overview of this XO-led revolution, the resulting 4PC's, and their impact on the whole information and communication technology industry:

A special thanks to Alexius International for creating this video and Nicholas Negroponte for making OLPC a reality.

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I wouldn't call Asus an upstart... they're a pretty large manufacturer, and known for making good motherboards. Very popular outside of North America, and they are involved with assembly of Macbooks, and other OEM products.

Asus is an upstart in laptop manufacturing and retail sales.

Crediting Negroponte with the current availability of cheap, under-powered laptops is not accurate.

The real reason for the proliferation of small, cheap notebooks is the natural convergence of lowering prices and new marketing opportunities all over the world. This would have occurred with or without the OLPC Project.

We must remember two very important facts:

1. The price of laptops had been stedily and rapidly going down for the last few years. This has nothing to do with Negroponte or his project.

2. Negroponte created a lot of buzz with his misleading and unfulfilled promise of a fully-featured $100 Laptop. However, such beast has never materialized. The best we can get (from any manufacturer) today is an underpowered notebook for around $300. Asus, Intel and everyone else is making the projected little profit on these computers.

Finally, if the promise of an ultra-cheap computer was the catalyst for whatever is happening today, then the credit can always go to the Simputer. A legitimate claim can be made that Negroponte was moved to act on his idea based on the preliminary marketing/technological/educational work done by the Simputer creators.


Watch the video. I credit the Simputer as the original concept and Negroponte as the popularizer of the concept.

Though do note that Negroponte offered a great educational tool for children, not a "full-featured" laptop. And many of us would take exception to the idea that 4PC's are "underpowered notebooks."

Yes, Wayan, it is true that Negroponte promised a "great educational tool for children". It is also true that he claimed the laptops could do "almost anything that a regular laptop can do".

We know that both promises/claims remain unfulfilled to this day (as are many well-documented others: human-generated power, student access to source code, fully-functional mesh networking, $100 price, battery life "measured in days, not hours", etc., etc.). The laptops' subpar performance reflect their subpar price, so it is a trade-off than needs to be pointed out. And, so far, the XO (much like all other models from Asus, Intel, etc.) remains a tool of unknown educational value at best.


Yes , there are many unproven claims, of which educational value of any laptop technology is the greatest and most glaring. May we have less hype and more proof in 2009.


You mean there were laptops on the market that would not run Vista?

And you claim Vista capable laptops were cheap? Or 4P?

The point is that MS was stopping XP sales and a Vista laptops must be very powerful.

The simple emergence of the XO, and the netbooks that followed it, forced MS to allow an extension of XP life.

So yes, 4P has a lot to thank to Negroponte and Jepsen, who themselves are the heirs of the Simputer. And NOTHING at all to thank to MS and the "conventional" laptop producers.



You misunderstand what happened. For decades oem's steadily raised the computing power of their bottem-level laptops so that they could keep prices and profits up.

Olpc bucked that trend by producing a laptop with far less power, but enough for the needs a great many users. Once it broke open the market that way, Asus jumped in, and then the mainstream oems were forced, much against their will, to follow.

Eduardo wrote:

"For decades oem's steadily raised the computing power of their bottem-level laptops so that they could keep prices and profits up."

Not true, Eduardo.

It is a known fact that laptop prices have been dropping steadily over the course of several years.


I didn't deny that laptop prices have been dropping. The fact remains that it is also true laptop manufacturers kept increasing the computer power of their bottem-of-the-line laptops. If they had kept the computing power of these machines constant then prices would have dropped much faster. And they didn't do this because they wanted to keep prices and profits up.

What olpc did was drop computing power back to where it had been a decade or so before, and so was able to produce a much cheaper machine.


Did you ever consider a career in TV broadcasting?

A wonderful video and a great promotion for the 4P concept.

A pity only few people realize the revolutionary origin in the Simputer.


To add:

The latest analyst's reports indicate that 17 million netbooks have shipped in 2008.

- Mary Lou

I think Wayan makes some good points, but the XO has several features that the Classmate and the eeepc do not have:
the ebook mode that works in bright sun.
Impact resistance.
Waterproof keyboard
Mesh networking and high gain antennas
ultra low power consumption

That being said, maybe the best route for an olpc program would be a piggyback strategy. Make a water/impact resistant silicone sleeve that the eeepc can fit inside to take advantage of the economies of the huge volume of eeepcs made, and put the bulk of the development into the software and accessories for the computer.