OLPC Lets Consumers Support the Cause -- Kinda

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I've been a little critical of Nicholas Negroponte and his One Laptop Per Child project, not because of its intentions, which are obviously good, but because of its anti-market insistence that only governments be able to buy one of the admittedly nifty devices. In fact, back in May, I -- along with about a million other folks -- suggested that Negroponte might want to let consumers in wealthy countries buy the devices at a mark-up to tap the market for support of his good intentions.


Apparently, Negroponte listened -- not to me, of course, but to common sense -- as the initiative this morning announced that consumers will be able to buy the $200-or-so systems for $400 through a "Give 1 Get 1" program. This is good news -- mostly.


BusinessWeek reports that the promotion is targeted to raise enough money to get the machines -- which now are projected to cost $188 to produce, although they are still commonly referred to with their initial catchphrase, "$100 laptops" -- into production for four of the poorest countries: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti and Rwanda. BusinessWeek also reports that the "Give One Get One" promotion will last for all of two weeks, starting Nov. 12.


Two weeks? In a market where Apple had folks standing around the block to pay $500 for a "hip" gadget that can't even run on a 3G network?


Generous folks can go ahead and donate $200 now to buy a computer for a child at OLPC program's fund-raising site, XOgiving.org. Not coincidentally, the ability to simply give $200 to the project ties directly in with the much-publicized announcement of actually being able to buy an XO laptop about two months from now (with delivery expected in January or February of next year). Negroponte has proven to be nothing if not a master of PR, going so far as convincing "60 Minutes" to run a hatchet job against Intel for the audacity of making its own affordable, ruggedized laptop in the $200 range.


A solemn promise: I will buy an XO on Nov. 12, and I'll be happy to know that half of my purchase is going to buy a laptop for a child or, if somebody with a little common sense is interjected into the process, a school in a developing country. I'll continue to turn to Oxfam and other organizations that actually feed and clothe people for most of my international giving, but having hassled OLPC, it seems that I should chip in now that it's made at least a two-week concession to my misguided capitalistic ethics.


I don't even really need another machine, and I'm one of those wicked/stupid Windows users. I'll keep my XO downstairs as a public system for friends who want to check e-mail, a request I get all the time.


I don't know if that qualifies me as one of the "good people" that Negroponte cites in this quote about the frustrations of getting governments to actually pay for the XO laptops, which so far has been the hitch in the program:

"You wake up some mornings feeling that way, but then I think about all the good people who are helping us and supporting us."

I may not be good, but I am fortunate enough to have the means to support the OLPC project, just like millions of other consumers.