Intel surprised no one when it left the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project. The biggest surprise was why the chipmaker joined up with OLPC when it’s currently selling the OLPC’s competitor – the US$350 Classmate PC. Think of the kids or think of your profit margins – no surprise where Intel swung.
A little harsh on Intel, you say? In the New York Times article on the breakup of the partnership, it’s obvious the OLPC group wasn’t the one threatening the relationship. Intel’s sales rep, Isabelle Lama, tried to dissuade a Peruvian official from buying an OLPC and go for the Classmate instead. Never mind that the OLPC costs $150 less than the Classmate.
Paul S. Otellini, Intel’s chief executive, said that Intel would change their practises and accelerate the development of the Intel OLPC prototype. OLPC founder Nicholas Negropointe called their bluff. Negprointe insists that on the sales field, nothing changed. Instead, he claimed that Intel salespeople were now using the OLPC spat as part of their sale pitch, saying they had insider knowledge that the organisation was in trouble.
Now Intel’s spin is that their leaving is due to a stalemate regarding whether they could still sell Classmate PCs. Let’s see, you’re selling a product competing with the one you’re supposed to jointly promote. The conflict of interest was glaringly obvious from the start. Why both parties wasted time going through with it initially is mind-boggling to say the least.
It’s sobering that what was supposed to be a charitable endeavour to provide underprivileged children affordable access to PCs is being undermined by corporate self-interest. Intel is well within its rights to produce what they probably see as a better alternative to the stripped-down OLPC. What it had no business doing was getting its fingers in both pies and deliberately sabotaging an effort it had promised to promote. In the end, it all boiled down to ethics versus profit and Intel chose the latter.