In light of the bush-league behavior of Intel in undercutting OLPC's education project with the meritless "Classmate PC", I read this morning with schadenfreude that the New York State attorney general is going after Intel ...
"Cuomo Subpoenas Intel Over Antitrust Accusations" | Nicholas Confessore | The New York Times | 11 Jan 2008
While the inquiry does not overtly pertain to the recent behavior of Intel toward OLPC and the article does not mention OLPC at all, and while AMD has been pursuing lawsuits against Intel for anti-competitive practices in other locales for several years now, the chance seems remote to me that this new heat on the gorilla chip-maker is not directly connected to Intel's bullying of John Negroponte's little brother, Nicholas.
Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC's chief, has (despite being the one being assaulted) sounded like a whiny schoolgirl throughout a series of petulant, uncoordinated and apparently improvised complaints against Intel's CEO, Paul Otellini.
"A Little Laptop with Big Ambitions" | Stecklow & Bandler | The Wall Street Journal | 24 Nov 2007
"Negroponte on Intel's $100 laptop pullout" | interview with David Kirkpatrick | Fortune | 4 Jan 2008
Otellini, for his part, comes out looking only a few degrees worse, like a hapless corporate chieftain caught in the crossfire of the throwing tantrums of his own Board of Directors and also Bill Gates -- the real and undisputed czar of Intel -- both of whom are undoubtedly breaking Otellini's balls to win back the OLPC chip business from AMD (with, ironically, only disastrous implications for Intel's already weakening profit margins).
Clearly what has taken place is that Gates and Intel have together determined that OLPC -- which could eventually embed GNU/Linux in a global ecosystem of a billion or two billion computers for young people -- must not fly and must be halted at all costs. This is why Intel's salesforce is out in the field cajoling, threatening any OLPC-buying national education departments not to purchase OLPC. What is so surprising is that they have apparently been successful, even though Intel's alternative, the "Classmate," offers not comparable technology and no comparable value.
OLPC's President, Walter Bender, sets the mood straight today with a brief letter to The Wall Street Journal, telling of Intel's anti-competitive behavior:
"... OLPC even went so far as to help Intel improve its competitive offering by incorporating the unique features of our XO laptop. However, Intel didn't meet our cost, power or environmental specifications. In contrast, we have a very fruitful collaboration with AMD."
Mary Lou Jepsen: Where to start: Classmate is more expensive, consumes 10 times the power, has 1/3 the wifi range, and can't be used outside. Also, the Classmate doesn't use neighboring laptops to extend the reach of the internet via hopping (mesh-networking) like the XO does. So not only is the XO cheaper than the Classmate, the XO requires less infrastructre expenditure for electricity and for internet access. In Peru we can run off of solar during the day and handcrank at night for an additional $25 or so per student – this is one-time expense – the solar panel and the crank will last 10 or perhaps 20 years. Just try running electricity cables up and down the Peruvian Andes for that cost while making sure it's environmentally clean energy. The Classmate isn't as durable as the XO, and its screen is about 30% smaller, the batteries are the type that can explode and only last 1-2 years and can't be removed by the user and harm the environment. The batteries are expensive to replace: $30-40 per replacement. The XO batteries last for 5 years and cost less than $10 to replace. Finally, the XO is the greenest laptop ever made, the Classmate isn't – this matters a great deal when one proposes to put millions of them in the developing world.
My own speculation: with his brother in a high position, Nicholas Negroponte is not in the mood to lie down to Intel's (Microsoft's) co-manipulations here at the low end of the important education laptop segment. Not calling in a favor from the Empire State, or from Andrew Cuomo personally, may be too hard to resist, but it is the Negroponte's responsibility to apply pressure on the ugly establishment in whatever ways they are able. (I have no information that John Negroponte has involved himself in this matter. That conclusion is purely speculation on my part.)
Intel's cash costs and opportunity costs (in terms of further management distractions) are going up just through the New York State lawsuit, alone. That will proceed whatever the outcome, whether Intel joins OLPC and plays fair (which it may have to do to achieve the best outcome for itself).
It's about time we got into the "Chin-Music"! And it's good news for Free Software fans. This year, 2008, looks to be the year GNU/Linux players start to play hardball. We seem to be absorbing the necessary methods: some of the pitches need to be up & in if the other pitches, low and on the outside corner, are to be at all effective.
Fair is, apparently, fair in markets -- as in love & war.