India to Negroponte: Drop Dead

Nick Negroponte must be beside himself. For the visionary behind the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, the hits just keep on coming. The single best bait-and-switch publicity ploy of the year was used to drive another nail in OLPCâ''s coffin. On 29 July, an Indian education minister announced that researchers at two of the countryâ''s leading technology schools were at work on a $10 laptop. TEN DOLLARS!! Of course, 10 bucks for a computer is a pipe dream, and the ministry issued a correction putting the anticipated price at, you guessed it, $100. But what a way to make a splash! Now everyone will be keeping an eye on Bangalore to see if India can do what the brightest minds contributing to the OLPC couldnâ''t: hold the line on that iconic price.

The announcement put an exclamation point on what had to be the most dyspepsia-inducing two-year period of Negroponteâ''s life. Back in 2006, Indiaâ''s Education Secretary, Sudeep Banerjee, characterized OLPCâ''s XO laptop as â''pedagogically suspectâ''â''a succinct way of saying that there was no certainty of a return on the nearly $200 million it would have to lay out in order to procure a shipment of the machines. After all, said Banerjee, â''We need classrooms and teachers [for the elementary school children targeted by OLPC] more urgently than fancy tools.â'' No arguing that.

Negroponte had to have gone from sipping to chugging antacid as he watched: the price of his brainchild creep up to $188 from the $100 figure that had become part of OLPCâ''s branding; Intel leave the OLPC governing group after the chipmaker refused to quit work on its in-house $100 laptop, the Classmate; delays in the XO laptopâ''s rollout and complaints regarding its durability when the computer finally appeared; and the defections of high-level contributors, some of whom cast aspersions on the effort. And now this: one of the largest markets for his product has not only declared the machine computer-non-grata, but now insists that whatever he can do, they can do better.

Pass the Pepto.


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