It's the season for giving and getting, and a good time for the One Laptop Per Child's Give One Get One program. Because of reported sales averaging $2 million per day, OLPC announced late last week that the G1G1 program is being extended through the end of this year.
In mid-November, the nonprofit OLPC launched what was then described as a limited, two-week program for individuals in the U.S. and Canada to buy two of its XO laptops. The buyer gets one, and the other is donated to a child in a developing country, such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia, or Rwanda.
Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC's founder and chairman, said in a statement that the public response to the program has been "truly gratifying and encouraging." He added that the G1G1 program will transition in the new year to "a program of giving only."
Challenging Time for OLPC
Although OLPC has not posted numbers of laptops sold, one observer estimated that, at the current pace, the organization could sell nearly half a million units by December 31. For buyers of those units, half of the $400 is tax deductible, and donors get one year of free T-Mobile Wi-Fi access at over 8,500 locations in the U.S.
The success of G1G1 comes at a challenging time for OLPC. Begun in 2005, the OLPC project was intended to create a new, low-cost, low-power laptop for the world's poorest children, at the unheard-of price of $100. The OLPC team built an innovative laptop that uses a Linux-based operating system, mesh technology, a rugged design, and a high degree of energy efficiency.
But over the last year, the dream of getting millions of the devices into the hands of the world's poorest children has run into several problems. OLPC announced that the initial price tag would be just under $200, and massive orders from third-world countries have yet to materialize.
Meanwhile, low-priced laptops designed for developing nations have emerged from Intel. And Microsoft has said it would offer developing countries a version of Windows and Microsoft Office for as little as $3.
Has OLPC Been Derailed?
Some observers have said that these setbacks indicate the OLPC project is failing. Yesterday, for example, Steve Stecklow and James Bandler wrote in a column in the Wall Street Journal that Negroponte's "ambitious plan has been derailed" by a counterstrike from Intel, Microsoft, and others.
The column reported that Libya, as one example, had planned to buy 1.2 million laptops, but was having "second thoughts" because the machines lacked Windows. The Journal also noted that Nigeria was deferring its initial pledge to buy a million units because of the price hike.
But Laura DiDio, an analyst with Yankee Group, said that she doesn't agree with the "naysayers" and described herself as "bullish" on OLPC. "It's very easy to sit on the sidelines," she said, and proclaim that OLPC has failed.
While sales numbers are important, she noted, OLPC can already be declared a success because of its influence in changing the industry's thinking about price points, technological innovations, and the markets in developing nations.