Nearly three years later, only about 2,000 students in pilot programs have received computers from the One Laptop project.
Impoverished countries are indeed snapping up cheap laptops for their schoolchildren [like the Eee PC and Classmate PC]-- just not anywhere near as many of his as he expected. They now have several cut-price models to choose from, raising the possibility that One Laptop Per Child, or OLPC, will end up as a niche player.
Potential buyers in the developing world have expressed concern about the availability of training for schoolteachers, and after-sales support. Mr. Negroponte's plan is for the machines to be simple enough that students can train themselves -- and solve any glitches that arise.
Some potential buyers are having second thoughts about One Laptop Per Child. Officials in Libya, who had planned to buy up to 1.2 million of the laptops, became concerned that the machines lacked Windows, and that service, teacher training and future upgrades might become a problem.
"The Intel machine is a lot better than the OLPC," says Mohamed Bani, who chairs Libya's technical advisory committee but doesn't have the final say on buying laptops. "I don't want my country to be a junkyard for these machines." Libya has decided buy at least 150,000 Intel Classmates. The future of the One Laptop program there is now uncertain.
As sales problems mounted, the project recently reversed course on its plan not to sell the device to American consumers. On Nov. 12, it began selling pairs of laptops to U.S. and Canadian buyers for $399. Under the program -- called "Give One. Get One." -- one goes to a student in a poor country like Haiti, the other to the buyer. The program was supposed to last just two weeks, but on Thursday One Laptop said it was extending the offer through Dec. 31 because "people want more time to participate."
Mr. Negroponte says he communicated this month with Intel's chief executive, Paul Otellini, and demanded that Intel stop selling the Classmate. Intel, which says there is room in the market for many machines, has refused, according to a spokeswoman.
Later, at a private meeting with a group from Rwanda, he announced that 20,000 laptops, courtesy of the "Give One. Get One." program, would soon be distributed. Carine Umutesi, who works for Rwanda's Information Technology Authority, questioned who would fix them if they break.
Just who would provide support a few years from now, he said, was "a frightening question." The students, he said, will need "to do as much maintenance as possible."