“For one thing, we are doing something patriotic, if you will, after all we are and there are poor children in America. The second thing we’re doing is building a critical mass. The numbers are going to go up, people will make more software, it will steer a larger development community,” Negroponte said.
I think you may have that backwards, priority-wise. This smells like the latest scheme to get minimal production numbers for the OLPC out. First it was the minimum-million-laptop order, then as that didn't work, smaller and smaller orders were accepted, then G1G1 to get double benefit from people willing to pay for two to donate one and get one, now OLPC is opening up the US educational market; going head to head against Intel and other one to one laptop programs already on the ground here.
OLPC-US is now promoted as having always been part of the plan:
But although the U.S. was not the focus of OLPC in the beginning, it has always been in the plans. "To have the United Sates be the only country that's not in the OLPC agenda would be kind of ridiculous," Negroponte said.
But this just isn't the case, to quote Negroponte from 2006, when he presented at the OAS:
For me to change education in the United States would be very hard. First of all, we have thirty thousand school districts. I can’t change the United States or Europe. They’re entrenched. Worst, we admire countries like Korea and Taiwan, whose children are absolutely brutalized but do very well on the tests and teach to test is a fundamental mistake. Now tell that to the United States? Tell that to this administration? Tell it to a European country? They won’t agree with you.
Brazil gets it. Argentina gets it. Thailand gets it. Nigeria gets it. So we're finding, in fact, even though our mission is developed and developing countries, that we find more open reception to new ways of learning in some of those countries.
In April 2007 at the OLPC Analyst Meeting (transcribed at OLPCTalks), he got more wishy-washy, and in an unusual show of imperfection, admits during the Q&A that OLPC is flip-flopping on the US educational market:
Question: Didn’t Mitt Romney commit to buying them in Massachusetts, as a publicity stunt? Because you’re not saying that… before you always said ‘no’. But I don’t hear you saying ‘no’. [laughter!]
Negroponte: First of all, let me tell you the story about that. You're absolutely right. [... in] September 2005, we get this phone call saying, "Would you like to come up to the statehouse tomorrow when Governor Romney announces One Laptop Per Child for Massachusetts?" So we had our then industrial designers whip up overnight a model, and I arrived beautifully, thinking that I'm going to be like the flowers, you know, the decor, like a little sort of rubber plant at this whole thing. Instead, he puts me on stage, and says to the press corps, "We'll now hear from Professor Negroponte."
[...] [A]fter Quanta came onboard, after we started to do it, we said, "No, let's not do the United States." [...] We've now been saying constantly 'no', so the gentleman who said we changed our minds is correct. But on the other hand, we're changing our mind again. And we're going back to 'maybe', and we're looking at it very seriously, as we talk. I mean, we're looking at it right now.
OLPC has moved from a definite No (Romney and governors) to a maybe, and now to a definite yes in Alabama and perhaps other states with the new OLPC-US office in DC.
Can the OLPC XO provide a useful service in the US, where it will have to compete with Intel's ClassMate, the Asus Eee, and other low-cost laptops without the situational drivers that support the XO in less developed nations? The OLPC has been designed with the developing world in mind with it's adaptations to low-power-reliability, dust and humidity, and the like. It still will have an edge over more traditional US-centric low-cost laptops, but that central, must-have feature is simply less important. Mark Warschauer dismissed it out of hand in his latest book on laptops in the classroom as being underpowered for the US market. Time, and Alabama, will see. I'll leave you with a snippet of Tom Lehrer's lyrics from "Who's Next?"; a comic song about nuclear proliferation (yeah, that's not a phrase you see very often):
Egypt’s gonna get one too,
Just to use on you know who.
So Israel’s getting tense.
Wants one in self defense.
“The Lord’s our shepherd,” says the psalm,
But just in case, we better get a bomb.
Luxembourg is next to go,
And (who knows?) maybe Monaco.
We’ll try to stay serene and calm
When Alabama gets the bomb…