It's ego check time for Intel, Negroponte

Neither side comes out looking good in public row between chip giant and the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child.

I've long admired the work done by Nicholas Negroponte in helping the world's cyber have-nots get wired. Ditto for Intel. That company's track record of achievement through the decades speaks for itself.

So I'm especially puzzled over the inane dustup that erupted this week between Negroponte's nonprofit One Laptop Per Child and Intel .

Intel sits on the OLPC board but this has been a bad marriage for months. On Thursday, the rancor went public. Intel leaked to The Wall Street Journal its decision to cut ties with OLPC. One day later, a press release went out under Negroponte's name, accusing Intel of a litany of misdeeds. This sort of heat seeker is rare to find anymore in the oh-so-scripted tech industry where PR dainties usually run the show. As such, it deserves being quoted at length:

"We at OLPC have been disappointed that Intel did not deliver on any of the promises they made when they joined OLPC; while we were hopeful for a positive, collaborative relationship, it never materialized.

Intel came in late to the OLPC association...Intel has violated its written agreement with OLPC on numerous occasions. Intel continued to disparage the XO laptop in developing nations that had already decided to partner with OLPC (Uruguay and Peru), with countries that were in the midst of choosing a laptop solution (Brazil and Nigeria), and even small and remote places (Mongolia).

Intel was unwilling to work cooperatively with OLPC on software development. Over the entire six months it was a member of the association, Intel contributed nothing of value to OLPC: Intel never contributed in any way to our engineering efforts and failed to provide even a single line of code to the XO software efforts - even though Intel marketed its products as being able to run the XO software. The best Intel could offer in regards to an "Intel inside" XO laptop was one that would be more expensive and consume more power - exactly the opposite direction of OLPC's stated mandate and vision.

Despite OLPC's best efforts to work things out with Intel and several warnings that their behavior was untenable, it is clear that Intel's heart has never been in working collaboratively as a part of OLPC.

This is well illustrated by the way in which our separation was announced single-handedly by Intel; Intel issued a statement to the press behind our backs while simultaneously asking us to work on a joint statement with them. Actions do speak louder than words in this case. As we said in the past, we view the children as a mission; Intel views them as a market.

The benefit to the departure of Intel from the OLPC board is a renewed clarity in purpose and the marketplace; we will continue to focus on our mission of providing every child with an opportunity for learning."

OK, it's obvious that Negroponte is pissed. Royally. But as my CNET News.com colleague Tom Krazit pointed out during Friday's podcast, neither Negroponte nor Intel has a divine right to market laptops to the developing world. This is a competition between organizations that are shooting for the same goal. Forgetting the Godfather rule of business, Negroponte's whiny diatribe is turning this into a clash of personalities.

That doesn't let Intel off the hook.

The company's actions make it appear every bit the money-grubbing predator that Negroponte suggests. The company is going after many of the same markets earmarked by OLPC. On the surface, that doesn't sound untoward. If anything, it's old-fashioned competition. But you have to wonder whether Intel would be so gung-ho if the OLPC's machine featured an Intel processor rather than one from rival Advanced Micro Devices. (The public divorce obviously puts the kibosh on plans for an upcoming Intel-based unit from OLPC.)

There's too much ill will to get the sides back together. But nobody came out ahead in the aftermath of this ridiculous spat. The only losers are the world's poor who might have benefited from a fruitful partnership between Intel and OLPC.

 

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