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Nicholas Negroponte, founder, One Laptop Per Child Foundation | On the Hot Seat

Vision evolves, but $100 laptop is still the goal

(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
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February 24, 2008

In 2005, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte's idea of distributing $100 laptops to poor children captured the world's imagination. Today, Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child foundation of Cambridge has begun distributing hundreds of thousands of its XO laptops around the world. Globe reporter Hiawatha Bray spoke with Negroponte for a progress report.

Q. How many of the XO laptops are now deployed in developing countries?

A. Five hundred thousand have been committed, 250,000 have been manufactured and half of those have arrived. They have arrived in Uruguay. They have arrived in Peru. They have arrived in Mexico, Ghana, Nepal, Afghanistan, Cambodia. It's a pretty long list.

Q. You're going up against rival laptops made by Asus Computer International. How is this competition affecting the foundation's plans?

A. That's actually heartwarming. We don't see that as competition; we see that as actually success.

Q. What do you think of the Asus laptop?

A. They're offering it for a number less than $250 per laptop, which is very encouraging. There are technical difficulties, but it doesn't really matter.

One of the arguments here at OLPC is, if 100 million kids could have an Asus running Windows, is that better with two million kids running the XO? And the answer is yes. We want kids connected and the largest possible number is the goal.

Q. Lots of American buyers paid $400 to the Give One, Get One program. In exchange, OLPC was to donate one laptop to a poor child, and send the other to the American buyer. Months later, many Americans still haven't gotten their machines. What went wrong?

A. The whole billing, the whole processing of orders, it's not something we do.

There were about 17,000 orders that we misplaced - 17,000 orders vanished and reappeared in January.

Q. How close are you to getting it done?

A. I think we're within days of completing all the orders. It's not six months from now.

Q. Is mass production of the laptops now up to speed?

A. This month is an odd one, because you have the Chinese New Year. I think this month was 60,000. Last month was 110,000.

The target for the year is to get it up to 220,000, 440,000 a month.

Q. But the foundation is counting on governments to buy millions of the machines and distribute them to poor kids. You don't have enough orders from governments to support your production capacity, do you?

A. We're also looking at alternatives, just like Give One, Get One was an alternative. We're going to continue selling through governments, but we have to, in parallel, do things differently.

Q.What other plans do you have in mind?

A. One is a global Give One, Get One program. Another thing we're looking at is twinning (a cooperative arrangement between an affluent city and another in a developing country). The first city to twin is Florence, Italy, twinning 10,000 laptops with three African cities. We have a number of cities - they tend to be European at the moment - that would twin with other cities.

The third thing that we're exploring, which is in some sense the most delicate and the most complicated, is to have a third party release the machine commercially. You have somebody release it where $50 or $80 per laptop flows back to fund kids. So it's a partial Give One, Get One. And that, if it's big enough, creates critical mass for software developers.

Q. All along, critics have urged you to sell the laptop as a commercial product, but you rejected that idea.

A. Rejected isn't quite the word. We couldn't do it ourselves, because that just takes the clarity of purpose away. Suddenly I'm just a laptop salesman. Now that it exists . . . it makes it commercially more attractive.

We're talking to four or five people about doing something where they would release it commercially, and that would help fund kids in other parts of the world.

Q. The laptop sells for $188. You still say you'll get it down to $100, and then even cheaper. How?

A. The way you get down to $100 is by integration. There are 900 pieces in that machine. You want to get it down to 50. That's the big barrier. Then I'd like to go one step further, and the one step further is to bring the price to zero. Our goal has to be the zero-dollar laptop. Give One, Get One generated about 100,000 zero-dollar laptops. Somebody else paid for them, but from the recipient's point of view, that's zero.

Nicholas Negroponte founder, One Laptop Per Child Foundation

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