It is interesting to compare Intel’s participation in Croquet vs. the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC).
Intel is a corporate member of the Croquet consortium, along with HP and Qwaq. Intel’s CEO Justin Rattner demonstrated Croquet-based Qwaq Forums during his keynote at the big Intel Developers Forum, and they are building a joint product with Qwaq. This all makes complete sense for Intel. For example, this week the market research pundits at Forrester released a report that says the 3D Internet will be ubiquitous in business in the next few years and that Information & Knowledge specialists should get started now with Qwaq. But there’s an even deeper fit specifically for Intel, which does not apply to OLPC.
Intel has made a lot of money, and relatively high margins, on the Windows-Intel platform. A couple of years ago, Apple replaced the IBM-based PowerPC chip with Intel for its new line of high-margin Macs, becoming a huge seller in the deal. The classic move for Intel now is to not try to compete in a price war at the bottom of the market, but to keep moving up-market with ever more-powerful processors. Alas, today’s processors are way more than adequate for today’s Windows and Mac applications, particularly for business applications. The smart move is to encourage a new class of applications that can push the demand for processing upwards. No wonder then, that Rattner’s keynote for future directions was all about the 3D Internet.
By contrast, the key to OLPC’s educational plans is to deploy zillions of low-cost non-Win-tel boxes. Gandhi said, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” I’m not sure why Intel didn’t stop at the fist step, as it doesn’t fit Intel’s best plans. But instead they ridiculed it. Then they tried to take it over by joining the board and pushing for a new Intel-based design. (Intel’s press release, still cached by Google, has now disappeared.) They also joined with Microsoft’s efforts to dump zillions of below-cost Win-tel boxes (e.g., some as low as a $1/per) to stamp out OLPC’s designed-for-the-problem box. But Intel’s next promised payment was due to OLPC, so I guess it was time to pull out.
I don’t think that a successful OLPC is really going to hurt Intel, and I think Intel is doing the right thing with their Croquet support. Like Henry Ford paying his workers enough to buy model Ts, my guess is that OLPC will simply create a larger market for creating and using what will eventually be a 3D Internet market owned in-part by Intel.