Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 18, 2007
A few weeks ago, we reported here in BusinessWeek that archrivals Intel and OLPC – one a giant multinational, another a small non-profit, both trying to launch low-cost laptop computers for kids in the developing world - were actually talking about collaborating. Given the amount of sniping that had gone on between OLPC chief Nicholas Negroponte and Intel chairman Craig Barrett, the report was surprising and, according to some skeptics, unbelievable. For instance, a blogger at Engadget wrote that the chances of an Intel-OLPC détente were “pretty low on the likelihood meter.” The Inquirer website referred to BusinessWeek’s “bizarre claim.”
Strange but, it turns out, true. Last week the two sides announced that they were indeed going to work together, with Intel joining the OLPC board. Some Intel critics are spinning this as a triumph for Negroponte and a setback for Barrett. “OLPC czar shames Intel into board seat,” according to Ashlee Vance at the Register. “Intel folds on OLPC” was the headline for a blog post by Frank Hayes at Computerworld.
A triumph for the little guy? We’ll see. In the meantime, though, Intel insists it has no intention of backing away from its Classmate PC, the company’s answer to Negroponte’s “$100 laptop” (which will actually cost $175 when it becomes commercially available later this year). Here’s what Nor Badron, an Intel spokesman in Shanghai (where most of the Intel engineers working on the Classmate are based) has to say about the company’s plans now that it’s part of OLPC. “Will we continue to sell the Intel-powered classmate PC? Absolutely! It’s a great product!,” he writes in an email. “This agreement with OLPC means we will have access to more technology. We will work to align the various software vendors to a common model. Intel and OLPC are each unequivocally committed to making both the classmate PC and the OLPC XO machine even better over time.” No details yet on how the former enemies plan to do that. But one thing worth considering is that Willie Agatstein, the Intel exec in charge of the Classmate project, told me last year – back when Negroponte was still denouncing Intel for competing too aggressively - that he had a friendly relationship with the MIT professor. “I talk to Nicholas fairly regularly,” Agatstein said then. Maybe they’ll be talking a lot more now.