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OLPC CTO Quits to Commercialize OLPC Technology 168

Posted by Zonk
from the there's-more-money-in-money-than-in-charity dept.
theodp writes "The One Laptop Per Child project suffered a blow Monday, with CTO Mary Lou Jepsen quitting the nonprofit to start a for-profit company to commercialize technology she invented with OLPC (the first of Jepsen's pending OLPC patents was published by the USPTO on Dec. 13). The OLPC project halted consumer sales of the cheap laptop at the end of December."
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OLPC CTO Quits to Commercialize OLPC Technology

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  • Initial Reaction (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JamesRose (1062530) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @11:05AM (#21874550)
    My initial reaction was "What the hell, you theiving bastard stealing technology from a non-profit organization" But when you look at it, what difference does it make going out and selling these cheap laptops for profit, firstly the main selling point is gone, and the market is gone, so its just another cheap laptop- all be it with a littl einteresting technology, but nonetheless, atleast here in the UK that market has already been entered (asus eepc) so, betrayal- probably morally rather than contractually (Sp?), good move- probably not actually.
  • It Makes Sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bmartin (1181965) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @11:05AM (#21874554)
    A person claiming responsibility for some of the XO's innovations has left the OLPC in order to be compensated for her inventions. I don't see the problem with this. The power consumption technologies are amazing; hard drives, processors, and displays all consume a lot of power.

    My laptop only runs about 40 minutes at full bore (i.e., if I disable all of the power saving features). There is much work to be done in this area. I'd like to see a huge transition from HDD to solid state disks (i.e., 2.5" and 3.5" flash-like drives), as well as from CISC to RISC processors, especially for servers running on the x86 architecture. The former is probably more likely. HDD pales in comparison to SSD for reliability, performance, and power consumption. We already have small devices that run on flash memory; why can't we use similar technology for laptops in the future?
  • Re:It Makes Sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MMC Monster (602931) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @11:16AM (#21874642)
    Frankly, I'm surprised someone hasn't commercialized the OLPC hardware/software combination yet.

    The specs are free, and the hardware is quite impressive (battery life and durability wise). Sell a laptop for $200 that can do internet access and you will likely sell-out to the Walmart crowd.
  • Re:It Makes Sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MacTO (1161105) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @11:17AM (#21874646)

    A person claiming responsibility for some of the XO's innovations has left the OLPC in order to be compensated for her inventions.
    The main problem that I see: she has benefited from another purse while developing this technology, then kept the patents for her self to benefit on. It may be acceptable in a human-eat-human world, but it is far from charitable. Maybe it would have been better for her to move on and develop better technology, then patent and profit from that. For example, that XO display has a number of benefits over the competition but still has deficiencies. With her knowledge of the original, perhaps she could have gone on to develop one with a higher contrast reflective mode. (As an example.) That way at least she is doing something outside of the context of the OLPC project to add value, without straight off stealing the goods.
  • by hab136 (30884) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @11:36AM (#21874778) Journal

    The Third World doesn't need laptops. It needs rice and medicine. Or ideally, it needs none of these things, since the reason it's having problems is that it's disorganized and cannot support its own population. Let them die out and the third world stabilizes itself.

    Rice and medicine are great in the short term, like after a disaster, but long term any free aid like that just kills local industry, ensuring that the third world country you're "helping" remains third world - and dependent on aid.

    Laptops to poor people may seem useless (and I'm not convinced of their worth), but at least it's trying to change the underlying cause of being poor (access to production), instead of simply prolonging their existence for another day.
  • Re:It Makes Sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Da_Biz (267075) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @11:52AM (#21874874)
    Too subtle?

    Nope, just right: it let us know that you're a raving, foaming-at-the-mouth troll. You may have some basis for what you're saying, but have decided not to explain it further.

    Thank you come again.
  • Re:Huh ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @11:58AM (#21874900) Homepage Journal
    Not only that, but if commercial sales result in higher volume, then the production cost will go down, and it's a win for everyone: OLPC users, consumers who buy the commercial version, and of course the open source software world in which this machine lives.
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:04PM (#21874944) Homepage

    OK, they need to get the price down to $100. Instead of selling them in the US at $400 at a 100% profit margin to raise money for charity, they need to just sell the things for $199 commercially and take over the low end market. In a year or two, they'll be down to $99 through sheer volume.

    Those things ought to be in bubble-packs at the local drugstore, alongside the cheap calculators, electronic dictionaries, and other low end electronics. This wouldn't stroke Negroponte's ego, but it would get the things out there in volume. Soon enough, they'd be available all over the world, purely on price.

    Jepsen probably sees this. Negroponte wants to meet with heads of state and be in the press.

  • Re:It Makes Sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:37PM (#21875166)
    The main problem that I see: she has benefited from another purse while developing this technology, then kept the patents for her self to benefit on. It may be acceptable in a human-eat-human world, but it is far from charitable. Maybe it would have been better for her to move on and develop better technology, then patent and profit from that. For example, that XO display has a number of benefits over the competition but still has deficiencies. With her knowledge of the original, perhaps she could have gone on to develop one with a higher contrast reflective mode. (As an example.) That way at least she is doing something outside of the context of the OLPC project to add value, without straight off stealing the goods.

    How? We have no idea what the agreement between her and OLPC was; and as another poster pointed out the patent is assigned to OPLC - not her. I would guess tehre has been some sort of licensing agreement reached between her and OLPC that both find reasonable and beneficial to avoid nasty lawsuits.

    She, understandably, wants to make some money off of her ideas; while still benefiting OPLC (selling components at cost per TFA). Just becasue she was at a non-profit doesn't mean she shouldn't do what many have done before - leave to start their own company. often, non-profits can't or won't commercialize products; and employees leave to fill what they see as a market opportunity; having worked at a non-profit I've seen that happen first hand - in this case; after trying to convince the organization that they could create a for-profit sub and use the profits to fund other activities.
  • by DrXym (126579) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:49PM (#21875228)
    The "consumer demand" for OLPC is based on its price and novelty, not on its performance or utility. She has jumped ship quite prematurely and her character flaws will soon result in a bitter future for the OLPC project and her own independent ventures.

    Not true. I have an Asus Eee PC. It's a fantastically useful little laptop. Sure it's not as fast as modern laptops, but its plenty fast enough for web browsing, mail, skype, word processing, even movie playback. The important thing is that it's cheap, small, light and boots and shuts down fast. You can throw it into a bag, you can open it up in coffee shops, or in a lecture hall, or wherever you like with no hassle at all. I even used it on a Ryanair clip tray the other day. If you've flown Ryanair you'll know what an impressive feat that is.

    The OLPC has many of the same benefits as the Eee PC and adds a few of its own such as lower power, kid-strength robustness and swivel screen. It's screaming out for a consumer version. Sell them with some more memory, some more storage and a cut down Fedora and they'll sell by the truck load. Just like the Eee PC is doing right now.

    I am really surprised they aren't commercializing the OLPC. The profits from a consumer spinoff can be used to lower costs and fund the charitable arm. Everyone wins. I'm personally disappointed since I ended up buying an Eee PC when I was very much hoping the OLPC would recognize the opportunity first. Oh well. Perhaps this story is garbled and CTO has resigned because this is exactly what they're trying to do.

  • by nick.ian.k (987094) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:50PM (#21875238)

    What afflicts the third world seems to be disorganization, corruption, dishonesty, and low intelligence. That's why they're in the fix they're in, just like some communities in the USA (trailer parks, urban ghettoes, "artist communes") are third world status because they're filled with dishonest, disorganized, foolish people.

    And we all know that these characteristics are absolute, because everybody in these places is dishonest, disorganized, and foolish, and they're all there because they chose to be there. And because all success takes is somebody to decide they're going to dig themselves out. It's not about resources, it's about willpower. These people can end their struggle and saunter off to Cigarandbrandytown and make a mint whenever they like.

    No, wait, it's not like that at all. People are born into poverty, it's a genuine bitch to get out of it, and most have to spend at least the first 16 to 18 years in it by default, during which they may either luck out and develop solid values and see what's so incredibly fucked about where they're coming from, or they may experience quite the opposite and have their health ravaged by subsisting on cheap convenience foods, using drugs, and placing heavy value on trivial material possessions viewed as luxury items --never mind the education issue. And then leaving home with no financial aspects whatsoever is an utterly fantastic way to get set to enter the job market, where most positions available for people with no certifiable skills provide precious little room for advancement in either position or wage; the result here is either changing jobs a ton and seeming unstable or unreliable, or sticking it out longer-term with one or two businesses and then not getting anywhere and looking like a slug who does the bare-minimum to not get fired.

    I could go on, but speaking as somebody who *did* grow up poor and pull himself out to live in a decent neighborhood and ultimately land a job paying $40,000 a year -a sum many of you will figure as paltry, but it's more than I'd ever anticipated making when I was a kid watching the cops come and haul away the latest drug dealing neighbors every few months- I can tell you that the people who pull themselves out are exceptions. Most people are stuck there because their situation is utterly hopeless, many of them know no better, and there is precious little in the way of outside stimulus to encourage them to get out beyond waking up every day and knowing that the people in the nice houses thirty miles down the road consider you to be the scum of the earth, which isn't really "encouraging" in the way most people would use the word.

  • Re:Huh ... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @01:15PM (#21875444)
    Interesting. You complain that I'm being too judgmental, yet immediately put me into a compartment conveniently labeled "typical American". Come back to me when you have some idea what a typical American is, my hypocritical friend, if you ever manage to successfully define what that means. Matter of fact, don't bother coming back.

    In any event, when someone leaves an organization and takes key patents with them it is usually not good for that organization, because they no longer control critical assets required for their future survival. In such cases, that usually means that the organization failed to protect its interests, and the fact this woman is promising that she will make parts available at coast is just rhetoric: you can choose to believe it if you wish, but that doesn't mean it will happen that way. That's the only point I was trying to make, genius. Deal with it.
  • by slamb (119285) * on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @02:56PM (#21876168) Homepage

    OK, they need to get the price down to $100. Instead of selling them in the US at $400 at a 100% profit margin to raise money for charity, they need to just sell the things for $199 commercially and take over the low end market. In a year or two, they'll be down to $99 through sheer volume.

    $100 is in some ways a harder target now than when they originally set it. I don't recall exactly when they first talked of it costing $100, but the dollar has fallen in the last five years (e.g. 25% against the GBP [yahoo.com]), and the OLPC folks have upgraded their system specs (e.g., 128 MB RAM -> 256 and 512 MB flash -> 1024 [thecommandline.net]).

  • by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @10:20PM (#21878988) Homepage Journal
    I'd happily pay $200 for an XO, I'd pay $250 if I had to, and I might (after a few beers) splurge $300 on one. But $400 for one device? Never going to happen.

    But apparently lots of people would. If you look at the actual price of things like an iPhone or BlackBerry, i.e. how much of your 2-year contract is for the PDA, you'll find that they are selling for well over $400, and selling quite well. And, as various others have pointed out, the OLPC really is just a slightly larger PDA with a handle. And it's a much better PDA than most (if not all) of the others on the market. Especially if you're 10 years old. ;-)

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