The recent order by the government of Uruguay for 100,000 XO laptops has certainly given proponents of the OLPC project something to cheer about.
Yet the hard truth is that there has been little in the way of good news so far. In fact, the dearth of actual orders have resulted in the OLPC project not being able to realize previously projected economics of scale, aka the $100 laptop. This has resulted in a steadily increasing price that hit the $200 mark recently.
As founder Nicholas Negroponte told the New York Times: "I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a cheque written."
On the other side of the fence, Intel and Microsoft have managed to sell 150,000 units of the Classmate PC to Libya in August. Actual shipments started last month. Intel spokeswoman Agnes Kwan told Reuters, "So far, it's going well."
The Libya deal follows on the heel of a 700,000 Classmate PC order it won from Pakistan's Allama Iqbal Open University in April this year. Intel also appears to have signed up Nigeria as a Classmate PC customer. Despite having evaluated the XO laptop, it decided to place an order for 17,000 of the Classmate budget PCs instead.
Intel's Classmate PC is essentially a shrunken down, low-end notebook computer that cost more than the XO laptop. Its competitor, on the other hand, is designed to be a responsive yet durable machine suitable for use by poor children living at remote locations.
Now, are users really after the cheapest laptops, or does functionality play a bigger role than anticipated by the OLPC project? What exactly did the OLPC group do wrong?
Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.