OLPC: Won't miss Intel's 'half-hearted' laptop effort

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Intel's resignation from the One Laptop Per Child Project's board of directors will have "no impact" on the group's operations, since the chip maker contributed little to the project since joining last year, OLPC President Walter Bender said in an interview.

"We never really got much going with Intel to have an impact," Bender said.

Intel joined OLPC's board of directors in July as part of an agreement that seemed to bury the hatchet between OLPC and Intel's competing Classmate PC project. In addition to ending a war of words between Intel and OLPC, the two sides agreed to cooperate on technology development. Work also began on the development of a version of OLPC's XO laptop using an Intel processor instead of the AMD chip found in the current version.

But the partnership agreement ultimately yielded little, and Intel made a "seemingly half-hearted effort" to build a version of the XO based on one of its microprocessors, Bender said.

The development of an XO laptop based on an Intel processor was widely believed to rely on a version of Intel's upcoming Silverthorne processor, due out early this year. But the use of Silverthorne, billed by Intel as an inexpensive and power-efficient processor, was never confirmed by either Intel or OLPC, although Intel employees privately hinted at its use.

Regardless of which chip was actually used in Intel's development efforts, the prototype laptop didn't live up to OLPC's expectations. "They developed something that, as far as I know, is more expensive and more power-hungry than our current offering, so I'm not quite sure what the point is," Bender said.

Bender's comments underscore the mutual nature of Intel's decision to quit OLPC, but he also hinted at missed opportunities.

"My expectation was that there's lots of room for cooperation, particularly on software ... [but] I couldn't get Intel interested in helping me with any of those problems," Bender said, adding Intel executives seemed most interested in using the agreement with OLPC for marketing purposes and public relations.

"The only thing they were interested in was ... helping them make marketing statements about how Intel's approach to learning was different from OLPC's approach to learning," Bender said. "They weren't interested in how we can learn together and make something better for kids."

For Intel's part, a source familiar with the company's decision to resign from the OLPC board said repeated requests to abandon the Classmate PC in favor of support for the OLPC's XO played a major role. Intel has invested heavily in Classmate PC, which is currently being tested in several countries, and the company did not want to walk away from those efforts, the source said.

During the six months that Intel belonged to OLPC, the chip maker contributed around US$6 million to the project, the source said, estimating that Intel spent around $100 million on education-related projects last year.

Bender declined to comment on Intel's financial contributions to the project.

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