Naturally, it failed. Nothing is that independent, especially an organization […] staffed by highly individualistic industry visionaries from around the world. Besides, altruism has a credibility problem in an industry that thrives on intense commercial competition.
By the end of the Center's first year, Papert had quit, so had American experts Nicholas Negroponte and Bob Lawler. It had become a battlefield, scarred by clashes of management style, personality, and political conviction. It never really recovered.
No, that's not this week's story, that's from Dakar, Senegal in 1983, when the project involved Apple ][ computers and LOGO, but this week we read:
During an interview with BusinessWeek, he revealed publicly for the first time that he’s searching for a chief executive while he continues in the role of chairman. He says the organization has been operating “almost like a terrorist group, doing almost impossible things” for three years. Now, he says, it needs to be managed “more like Microsoft.”
The CEO search comes amid a retrenchment for the organization that Negroponte started three years ago. OLPC will hand more of the development and support of its XO laptop and its core software to technology companies, including Red Hat (RHT), the leading distributor of the Linux open-source operating system, and Microsoft (MSFT), which is just now putting the finishing touches on a version of Windows for the XO machine. OLPC will concentrate on developing prototypes and other new concepts. "In the end, we should not be in the hardware or software business. We should be in the learning business," says Negroponte, 64.
Intel Breach Exposes Flaws
Running the organization became particularly hard for Negroponte in January with a vitriolic split between OLPC and one of its partners, chip giant Intel (INTC) After briefly becoming a member of the OLPC Assn., Intel abruptly withdrew, claiming it was pressured by OLPC to stop selling its own device aimed at students in poor nations, the Classmate PC. OLPC accused Intel of denigrating its XO laptop to leaders of governments. Intel denied it. After the spat, Negroponte says the OLPC lost its "Mother Teresa status" and was picked at by critics for falling far short of its founder's original goals.
Coming months after the OLPC CTO Mary Lou Jepsen left to start her low-cost own company, one wonders if the OLPC project will fully follow the path of the Senegal project Over at OLPCNews, there's more commentary debating Wayan's prediction that this is the first step in Negroponte totally leaving the OLPC project.
Despite the disturbing parallels, this could be a very positive development for OLPC. I've said for a while now that the ego of the project and its inflexibility has hurt its actual success and deployment. If the new CEO can be independent from Negroponte (good luck!) and work on implementation and integration plans for the laptop instead of focusing on the technology and end-goal vision, we could really see some innovative use-cases for the laptop.