feed the addiction: Drovak takes a potshot at the $100 laptop, the Peanut Butter manifesto and other “computing fiestas”

+ Eric Osiakwan seems to have a new blog up, you can catch it here or find the RSS feed here. The stuff he puts out makes it feel like I have a secret window into the politics of the internet in Africa.

+ The Peanut Butter Manifesto. Interesting piece, is it only me who sees the parallel to Ray’s memo of old? Others think that Garlinghouse is on his way out.

+ Apparently, Drovak thinks that $100 would feed a village for a year. I simply have no idea what to say in the face of ignorance like this when even a little basic research would have saved everyone a world of embarrassment. Over the last couple of months, I have found that his pieces on PC Mag seem to have become more rants than anything else making it difficult for me to take him as seriously as I used to.

. . . and Drovak is right in a sense:

“This sort of thing not only takes us away from useful projects in developing nations, but it distracts the high-tech scene in the U.S., too”

where we need to focus more and more on projects like this or this or this . And yes, they are all over this on slashdot

+ Why does the PS III cost so much? And why would I want one seeing that I do not even own a hi-def TV? $600+ for a game unit? And we are busy complaining about $100 laptops?

Discuss - 9 Comments

  1. AfroM says:

    Thanks for the link to E. Osiakwan,

    funny, i just read about the peanut butter manifesto like 2 seconds ago – dude can coin a phrase!! Yahoo would be wise to hold onto him for awhile – he seems to be onpoint…and also for the comedic effect. (yeah i know, it doesnt take much to get a chuckle from me)

    I don’t know, I thought to myself that this one email was definitely a statement that Garlinghouse wanted to let the world know that he was a visionary available senior management.

    No comment on Dvorak?

    – Steve

  2. sokari says:

    Thanks for these links – interesting progression on the $100 laptop – I had my doubts about the appropriateness and workability of this from the beginning but I believe it does have a place but not in the way it is presently being marketed.


    I have been very careful to avoid making comments on the $100 laptop: I think that it is a great initiative but I have serious issues with the implementation/approach being used to get governments to accept the whole concept. Lots of people at other places, you included, have been produced much better commentary than I possibly could on all of this.

    – Steve

  3. AfroM says:

    hey steve, i was thinking of revisiting the last post i did on OLPC, and see what’s gone on since then…On dvorak, his comment that the OLPC a dangerous distraction to the high tech scene in US doesn’t seem informed at all, his example abt AMD IMO is preety weak…its not like AMD was focused on OLPC as much as he claims…conjecture on my part but hyperbole on his.

    For models on appropriate computing initiatives, Ndiyo seems to have a decent approach, and demonstrable success in SA of setting these up. (Ndiyo.org)

    Actually Afro, AMD has been doing some SERIOUS work with low cost computing for developing nations and I like their approach much better than I like the OLPC. Check out their 50×15 initiative

    – Steve

  4. AfroM says:

    Thanks for the info – didnt realize it was this big an initiative…wacha i read more…

  5. David says:

    Dvorak’s piece was not very well written, researched or thought out.

    To be honest, I think Dvorak’s intention was to anger those that read his article and to get them to blog about it. It seems he was fairly successful (we wrote about it too).

    Having said that, there are certainly many questions about the OLPC project that remain to be answered, including (but not restricted to):

    * How will countries afford them?

    * What is the role of the teacher in an OLPC Nation?

    * Why are fledgeling economies being used as testing grounds for unproven technology and teaching methods?

    * Should developing countries be gambling with their education budgets?

    * Will the laptops reach the children?

    I could go on, but I’ll merely point you to a site where myself and a few other writers try to get to the bottom of these issues. Come along to OLPC News and join the debate.

  6. E-Nyce says:

    SNM, I don’t really understand the reference you ar etrying to make with those 3 links, black-box, Pets.com, etc. Was that, um, sarcasm?

    You all are assuming that AMD making investment in low-cost computing initiatives is some how on par with their “high-cost” computing effort. Or worse, you’re agreeing with Dvorak that these efforts are somehow bleeding effort and talent from more profitable and productive endeavors.

    No way in Hell.

    With Intel still the major player in processors, and the concern (no, the shitting-bricks concern) that India, China and other points East are going to come out with a just-good-enough, lower cost processor, no way AMD is sacrificing even a noticeable sliver of their mainstream productive capacity.

    Look, let’s temper this concern with Reality: not AMD, not Intel, not Chindia are going to make a lot of money producing computing goods for developing countries. Not yet. Life is that simple.

    So why these kinds of initiatives? My guess, hunch, is that AMD and others want to play both sides of the low-cost computing game: on one side, they want to be there – as commercial interests – if inexpensive computers become the rave like cellphones – and thus making it profitable to mass-produce and mass-market and mass-profit-from; on the other hand, even if such efforts fail (again), they can always point to their haloes and say that they did their part for less fortunate nations.

    I still believe it’s win-win for AMD, Microsoft and others because, if nothing else, they seed a type of brand interest in their products, and the research (both technical and marketing) that goes into exploring these new market makes for useful, long-term strategic planning. If and when these types of users “come online”, are be able to full use – and pay for – such products and services, these companies will be ready.

    Aren’t these exactly the points which the One Laptop Project has been promoting? One, that these laptops are in no way a threat to commercial interests, because their distribution will be so small, and to such a limited base, that companies wouldn’t (and don’t) target these users anyway. Two, by getting these populations hooked on computing, the users will then make the efforts to upscale their computing needs and equipment – in short, they will find/make the money to buy the commercial products.

    Remember’s Bill Gates’ famous foot-in-mouth statement, why would poor people who live on less than a dollar a day care about computers? (insert also cellphones) Dvorak also is no stranger to foot-in-mouth disease. Personally I think he’s just trying to make copy. Still, I understand why some people would be concerned about this project – hey, I’m not a complete fanboy of One Laptop Project. Let’s talk about the REAL limitations of the project. Not these made-of stuff he and others are trash-talking about.

    I don’t really care if the lappies cost 100, 150 (the current figure I’ve seen reported), or higher. Remember when IT professionals and company heads said that laptops would never sell for under $500. More importantly, remember the ones that said they would? These laptops will get made, and people will hunger for them. I truly believe that this will spur an interest in computing that will rival interest in mobile communications in developing countries.

    So if this post is too long. ICT is my “biz’ness”, development issues are my passion.

    My links to those sites were meant to be a blend of sarcasm and disbelief about what the article suggests that the priorities of the computing world (at least in “Western Nations”) should be. The OLPC is an ambitious project that attempts to cover a huge gap with an idea that may not initially seem sane. I just picked a couple of other projects that seemed to match the same premise to me.

    And no, I do not think that the OLPC/AMD/Intels’ projects are bleeding resources from their current commencial projects. Dvorak (and I thought I was doing this too) made it clear that the fight is about mindshare and not capital investment.

    Even more important is that in my opinion, Intel/AMD and “Chinidia” already are making a ton of money selling computing goods to developing nations – they are called “cellphones”. The problem is that the paradigm in place leads us to (falsely) assume that computers are a screen and keyboard running Word/OpenOffice and IE whatever/Firefox. Well, developing nations don’t need spreadsheets, they need information delivery since at this point, they are more information consumers than they are producers. Step back and you will see that cellphones can, if the information is properly formatted, deliver info as well as PCs can and in some cases, in a more reliable and convenient fashion for markets in developing nations.

    One of the functions of the OLPC is to capture mind share of the young by allowing them to shift from the thinking of the current generation of information consumers who use cellphones in developing markets to the thinking of western nations where they begin to think of the PC as a necessary tool that replaces the cellphone. PCs will always carry more margin than phones so no matter what, whomever is making them benefits from the OLPC in the long term. In the short term though, market margins are eroded as people realize that PCs are have to much capacity and are overpriced when they compare them with the OLPC. Basically 80% of the functionality for 20% of the price. It is a trade-off that many seem to be willing to accept.

    And, addressing you assertion that the OLPC will never be a threat to commercial PCs thanks to low distribution and a limited base, see this New York Times piece that reckons that the OLPC is poised to become the largest selling PC in the world. Is that a “limited base” or small distribution? I should also mention that I am not sure what you mean by “real limitations” of the OLPC (I am not denying that it has limitations), it would be nice it you elaborated some by giving the specific ones that you are referring to so that we are on the same page.

    E-Nyce, you raise some great points such as the fact that this product is not (yet) in direct competition with computers as well as the issues of mind share and demand but your argument is a little convoluted and I was left wondering exactly where you stand since by the end of your comment, you seemed to be supporting the product. Maybe you can elaborate a little more on what you were getting at?

    – Steve

  7. E-Nyce says:

    Steve, thanks for the reply. Sorry, only as an after-thought did I come back here to look at this topic. Sorry! It’s not a swipe against your content – just got other interests to keep tags on. I will return for follow-up though.

    You always do that! ‘Convoluted’ is one of your defense words. Check your comments in this and other blogs. Sorry dude, others can play at logic and semantics just as well as you.

    My points are neither convoluted nor conflicted. I’m totally down with OLPC, yet recognize that there are plenty of questions about it; some of which are: how it will be distributed, how it will actually get into the hands on children (personally, I see it being co-opted by the parents – but curiously, that is not a bad thing), how the networking aspects will truly work, TRAINING, etc. I thought this was called “knowing both sides of your argument.” Hmph, if that seems convoluted just call me a flip-flopper. Or John Kerry.

    Actually, I’m totally down with all low-cost computing trends because I’m a big believer that most people don’t need and don’t use most of the power built into their PCs. I’m always advising users to ‘go simple’ with their computing purchases. I’m sure most people would love to pay less even to get less. Sadly, people will NOT “realize that PCs are have too much capacity and are overpriced when they compare them with the OLPC.” Reasons:

    — Manufacturers don’t – and won’t – easily allow low-cost alternatives of their own products because of risk to their margins that you wrote about. So it takes people like us(?) to encourage, educate, guide and support people on using their supposed ‘obsolete’ units to their fullest advantage.

    — And before some coach-potato responds, I already understand the economics of building processors, PCs, etc. with ‘high-end’ components, instead of segmenting the levels of quality. Yes, it is called “economies of scale.”

    — Those margins are just too attractive for established manufacturers to segment their production. Now, if Chindia or – :gasp!: – Africa wanted to get a foot into the low-cost computing industry, this is their path. Developing markets would mob these products. Maybe some developed markets, too.

    — OLPC is not for sale – to users. See comments below.

    Your point about scaling cellphones use to the needs of the users, I wish such things were done here in the US. It is not easy (but not overly difficult) to find websites scaled to phone/PDA, and the list of available sites is a short one. No cellphone that I know of runs productivity apps – only PDAs, thus high-end scale of cellphone users. And there is more mobile banking and commerce going on in non-Western countries. In South Africa (and elsewhere in Africa?), you can pay some of your utility and grocery bills by using your phone. That cannot be done in the US. Again, another sweet market for developing economies.

    BTW, found an unchained link of the NYT article

    The article – you’re misquoting it. Here’s the line you’re referring to: “Overnight, even though it will not be available to consumers, the laptop could become the best-selling portable computer in the world.” This success will be based on advanced sales commitments by GOs and NGOs, not by customer sales.

    And even though 3-5 million units to distribute sounds large, yes it is very limited base. 3-5 mil for “at least one country each in Africa, Latin America and Asia.” [from article]. 1.7 mil units per continent?

    Later in the article, Negroponte proves my point about competition:
    But however attractive the idea of a $100 or $150 laptop, he said there were no plans to make it generally available to consumers.
    “They should buy Dell’s $499 laptop for now,” Negroponte said.

    Sorry again for such a long post. I’ll try to keep it shorter next time.

    OFF-topic, I would really love it if you talk more about the “glut of capital” in Kenya, which you touched on in one of your entries elsewhere on your site. I got a few thoughts on my question posted on bankelele’s blog, but I think the topic hasn’t been explored enough. Strangely, I almost feel that a silent agreement has been made not to address it fully. I wonder why?

    I know its naughty and I know that I love the word convoluted (if a fella can’t have a crutch to turn to in times of need then what is the world coming to??) but I can’t resist doing this:

    . . . convoluted on ntwiga.net . . .

    . . . convoluted on the web . . .

    Less than 6 total mentions anywhere.

    But, I will admit that I do like the word. It has a certain cachet to it.

    Seriously though, I think that part of the deal here was that I assumed that you were completely anti-OLPC. I have mentioned before that I was trying to be extremely cautious about what I said about the project because I do not know enough to avoid inserting-foot-in-mouth when discussing it with those who have done some research. I also do not believe that you or anyone else has to have a polarized opinion about the project as a whole. It is entirely fair and sensible for example to think that the machine itself has issues while agreeing with the logistics of getting it out to students and so on.

    We agree on not most users not fully using the capacities that PCs offer so lets not belabor that point any more.

    You asked about productivity apps on cell phones: I don’t know but maybe I did not make my (possibly flawed) thinking clear. I wanted to postulate that the larger part of populations using cellphones in developing nations are looking to consume info and not to produce it. This fact means that productivity apps are not that useful to them. For example, farmers want to see prices of produce in the three towns closest to them and maybe update some database saying I sold 400 units of product Y at Town X. Period. They do not need to know the price of the same stuff or anything else in town z that is 400 miles away that they cannot possibly get their stuff to. You do not need word or Excel or Access to do this. True, some guy somewhere has to use Office/Visual Studio/something to create/manage the app that manages all this data but end users just need cells phones to access the little bit of content that they need to see.

    Cell phones are great for consuming these little bits of information and computers are overkill. I am arguing that we need to think past the PC paradigm and create applications and web services that allow cell users in the third world to do this stuff for themselves. This is coming , I think that one of the TLDs that was created in the last round was .mobi for pages formated for cell service. All the larger sites are beginning to offer content formatted for cell phones. Try Google SMS or Google Mobile (works on a cell since it detects your browser) or mobile.yahoo.com or any of a ton of other sites from ESPN to MSN.

    Check out Mistowa for an example of the type of applications that I am talking about or this discussion at White African’s African Network paper.

    And all the stuff you talk about – paying bills/utilities – you do not need a PC to do that stuff, the cell is enough.

    On to other stuff.

    The OLCP numbers you pointed to are numbers of ordered units. The eventual target market size is every school child in a developing nation. In my mind, that number has got to be somewhere in the 1B range (for comparision purposes, Kenya has about 3 million children in this group.)

    Don’t be afraid to post – I enjoy the discussion.

    My response on the investment issue is here. Please feel free to share what you think.

    – Steve

  8. E-Nyce says:

    Oh yeah, just wanted to gloat again about Gates inserting both feet into mouth — again (read beginning part of article).

    This from a “leading philanthropist for the Third World.” Poor Bill, he really has no clue.

    The fella is a little lost, navigating these waters is not as easy as managing Microsoft (not that that is an easy task)!!

    – Steve

  9. bath screens says:

    Added to my favourites list and added to my blogroll.

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