Microsoft Software & Hardware Technology

OLPC Quanta leap in laptop price?

an image of Nicholas Negroponte and Kofi Annan demonstrating the OLPC laptop computerI tend to get some interesting search queries bringing people to my ‘blog. Recently, there’s a been a steady tide of traffic drifting in on the subject of the One Laptop Per Child project, and more specifically with regards to the commercial, consumer availability of the XO laptop.

This is something I’ve given some thought to:

“The damn thing would pretty much market itself, but for the One Laptop Per Child to function and focus on its primary goal – that of providing a laptop to children in developing countries for free – what they don’t want is mission creep, which would quite possibly cause some loss of focus on the job at hand.

Which tells me that Nicholas Negroponte and team don’t really want to even think about selling these things right now…”

However, things have changed recently, but the change wasn’t one of the heart-shaped kind by Nicholas Negroponte. No, the change came from the very company producing the XO laptop in the first place. And the implications of this change are quite, quite massive.

A quantum leap by Quanta

“Quanta, the company manufacturing the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project’s XO laptops, plans to begin selling low-cost budget mobile computers for $200 later this year.”

This is significant for several reasons, points not lost on either Michael Wang, president of Quanta, or the author of the Ars Technica article from which I lifted this news.

Firstly, by making use of those self same manufacturing processes, Quanta themselves benefit by saving in terms of production costs, but intriguingly, the benefit is mutually felt by both Quanta and the OLPC project:

“Quanta’s increased involvement in the low-cost mobile computing market will allow the company to further decrease manufacturing costs and help the OLPC project reduce the XO’s total cost per unit.”

From a commercial standpoint, Quanta has at their disposal the resources and infrastructure to roll off and rattle out zillions of these damn things.

Well, maybe not zillions, but you get the idea, right?

Second, Quanta gets to sell a computer that has enjoyed the scrutiny of some very formidable and learned minds. So not only is the XO laptop relatively cheap, it’s also a laptop computer built to last, which is a consideration few computer manufacturers can boast of, save Apple.

Lowering the price and raising the bar

And finally, yes, there’s a Microsoft angle in here, and maybe even Intel, too:

“Although few details are available at this time regarding the software that Quanta will ship with its own XO-like laptops, it is known that the company intends to use open source software. Since virtually every element of the OLPC platform (including the unique user interface) is available under various open source licenses, Quanta could easily ship its own computers with the exact same software used on the XO.”

So for Quanta, the profit margins look quite healthy.

Contrast that against what Microsoft and their various OEMs could offer in this space, and the playing field is somewhat tilted in the favour of Quanta, the One Laptop Per Child project et al.

I’m pretty sure Microsoft could compete in this space over time, but is that what they want do? They’ve got the no-frills edition of Windows out there in Asia, but signs are, it’s not doing too well against the more established free version .. ahem.

Then there’s the Intel Classmate PC – who may well not have been competing head-on with the XO laptop – which will almost certainly come to blows in the market place with Quanta.

What makes this so interesting is that Intel was quite critical of the OLPC project, as too were Microsoft by way of Bill Gates some time ago. But with Quanta wading into the middle of things, who may well drive the cost right down .. well, things just don’t add up for the other guys, do they?

Intel + Microsoft != cost-effective, easy-to-use laptop…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.