After a bizarre series of events in which Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, first belittled Nicholas Negroponte's plan to provide the world's poorest citizens with low-cost computers, and then actively sought to undermine the program with a competing product, Intel has finally caved and will support the program. This weekend, Intel announced that it will join the board of the non-profit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization, contribute funding going forward, and help promote the device.
Negroponte has spent the past few years promoting his concept for a $100 XO laptop that would provide basic computing capabilities and innovative answers to power problems to the world's poorest people. The device (which costs about $175 to make and should become cheaper over time) is being tested in a number of countries around the world. But Intel did much to undermine the project by announcing its own competing low-cost computing platform, and numerous governments have expressed concerns about the viability of OLPC because of competition from Intel. Now, with Intel on board, those concerns will hopefully disappear.
Intel's earlier criticisms of the device, which uses a low-power CPU from competitor AMD, are embarrassing to the company. Intel CEO Craig Barrett once referred to the XO as "a gadget" and said that its own Classmate PC, which offers a more traditional PC experience at a higher cost, made more sense for low-income customers. Now, the XO and Classmate might be marketed together. Intel says the Classmate might make more sense in urban environments, for example, because it needs to be plugged into a power source. The XO, meanwhile, is a portable device that would better serve rural users.
Intel notes that although its decision to back XO and OLPC was based on a desire for "philanthropy," the company also hopes to compete with AMD for the right to power future XO devices. "We build first-class silicon," an Intel spokesperson noted.