Laptop project blames Intel for breakup

By BRIAN BERGSTEIN,
AP Technology Writer

The founder of the One Laptop Per Child project claimed Friday that Intel Corp. undermined his group's effort to sell $188 computers for schoolchildren in the developing world even after the chip company got a seat on the nonprofit's board.

A day after learning that Intel was abandoning his project over "philosophical" differences, the laptop group's founder, Nicholas Negroponte, said Intel's sales representatives had been disparaging One Laptop Per Child as they pushed Intel's sub-$300 Classmate PCs.

Negroponte said Intel even tried to undo a deal One Laptop had already sealed in Peru by citing flaws in the One Laptop "XO" machine and telling government ministers "we ought to know, because we are on the board." Such hostile comments were prohibited, Negroponte claimed, under the July peace treaty that brought Intel into the One Laptop Per Child camp.

"I want to say we tried, but it was never a partnership," Negroponte said. "There's not one single thing in their contract or agreement that they lived up to."

Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy denied that his company did anything that violated its agreement with One Laptop Per Child. He reiterated that Intel could not live with Negroponte's demand for the company to stop selling its Classmate PCs overseas.

Because Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. supplies microprocessors for the XO laptops, Negroponte had said — in press interviews, at least — that he had not expected Intel to actively advocate for the XOs until Intel chips made their way into the computers sometime this year. In fact, Intel and Negroponte had planned to display an Intel-powered XO at next week's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but that is now off.

The brief dalliance with Intel and this week's breakup enhanced the drama surrounding the "$100 laptop" project, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff that originally had intended to have sold millions of innovative little green laptops in the developing world by now.

Instead the group has sold 300,000, with many countries that initially expressed interest later changing their minds. One hurdle has been the XOs' higher-than-originally advertised price and lack, for now, of support for the ubiquitous Windows operating system. But another hindrance has been its own buzz, because the group's plans to spread computers for developing-world education awoke rival vendors to get interested in the market.

Perhaps the most aggressive competitor was Intel, which Negroponte accused of showing interest merely to fend off an AMD machine. Then Negroponte made his peace with Intel CEO Paul Otellini last July, hoping to get an enemy close.

Negroponte said Friday that no longer having Intel on his team wouldn't hurt his efforts to find more international buyers.

"No, it probably restores some momentum," he said. "We were being extraordinarily distracted."

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