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OLPC: Could Personal Computing Become an Entitlement?

There was a day, not too long ago, that the soda pop companies understood that they weren’t in the soda pop business. Coke wasn’t simply competing with Pepsi. The carbonated sugar water companies were competing in the “drinking stuff” category. Every time a consumer chose water or ice tea instead of a cola drink, they lost a sale. That was the beginning of bottling and marketing tap water.

Intel seems to have had a similar revelation. One Laptop Per Child is a human development project. Its goal is to enable new modes of thinking and interacting through providing a currently unavailable toolset. Intel could view this as seeding a huge new market for laptop computers. At some point, after sufficient development, it’s possible that these new consumers would chose to buy a commercial laptop (and experience the joy of Windows). Intel has decided that One Laptop Per Child is a lost sales opportunity. Of course it’s also possible that the entire developing world might begin to view personal computing as an entitlement.

Our current computing environment in the developed world is a active market of products converging on a set of devices. Some pieces are purchased from commercial vendors, others are shareware or freeware, and more and more software is a service acquired through the network. One Laptop Per Child creates a ecosystem where all local hard drive based pieces are free. There’s a large upside for web-based applications, but there’s little opportunity for Intel in that category.

The One Laptop Per Child program has put a spotlight on the largely ignored markets of the developing world. But are they really markets yet? Perhaps it’s only if One Laptop Per Child is successful that markets for technology will start to emerge.

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