$100 laptop: Now $200, and delayed again


See here. Few small problems. Apparently they can’t get the user interface software working right. And countries aren’t placing orders. And the manufacturing partner won’t give the same discounts for tiny orders as they could for the big order that Herr Professor Nicholas Negroponte originally promised.

Frankly I’m shocked to see these guys having problems. I mean, a brand new hardware design, a new screen technology, a customized Linux operating system, a one-off user interface, and the customers are the poorest nations in the world, and they’ll be paying with government money which means they have to get politicians to vote on orders, and they’ll have to place huge orders with no pilot programs, and the kids will have these things tossed in their laps and be expected to write code and do all their own maintenance, and the whole project will be run by woolly academics who have never even worked in a real company let alone run one. What could possibly go wrong?

Remember all those big, splashy, gushing, goofy, stupid, incredibly naive stories in all the major publications about the Hundred Dollar Laptop? Remember the cover story in the NY Times Magazine about how this was going to save the world? Remember the insanely stupid 60 Minutes piece? Ever wonder why nobody, and I mean nobody, ever stopped to think about whether the whole thing could actually work? Or even to question how it was going to work? Did you notice that nobody looked at the business realities? Did anyone even consider looking at Negroponte’s disastrous track record and his utter lack of experience? Did anyone point out what a ridiculous waste of space the entire MIT Media Lab has been? Of course not. Partly it’s because no reporter wanted to pee on Negroponte’s shoes and get branded as a meany and a kid-hater and a racist by the noisy freetards who backed this silly project.

But there’s another reason nobody scrutinized this project and it’s much more scary. The truth is, the average filthy hack knows even less about business than the average MIT professor. They simply don’t even know what questions to ask. Just like the professors, the hacks have never worked in a company. They’ve never dealt with suppliers. They’ve never haggled over prices. They’ve never developed a product. They’ve never taken a programming course, let alone shipped a piece of commercial code. They have no idea. But why let facts get in the way of a great story? We’re going to give laptops to all the poor children, and change the world, and these laptops will be better than anything you can get from Apple or Microsoft and they’ll only cost a hundred dollars each. Wow! Putting these hacks together with these professors and letting them sell this train wreck in the media was an incredibly dangerous idea. Or incredibly hilarious, depending on your point of view.

Now what I wonder is this. Do you think the New York Times Magazine and 60 Minutes and all the others who touted this disaster will go take a second look and hold Negroponte’s feet to the fire? Nah. Not anytime soon anyway. If they do anything it will be long after the whole project has failed and Negroponte will have worked up a long list of people to blame — the politicians in Third World countries, the manufacturers, the component suppliers, the competitors. (“They tried … to compete against us. Gasp! Can you imagine? What kind of monsters are these people?”) Or maybe Intel and Microsoft, since he’s already teed them up as the bad guys in previous coverage.

Somehow, trust me, the whole thing will be presented as a sad tragedy, and Double-N will be the hero who struggled against all odds but could not overcome the forces of evil that amassed against him. Much better story than saying he was a daffy professor who bullshitted his way into a project that never made any sense in the first place, and predictably failed. (Photo: Burt Hammer, MIT Media Lab.)