We’re the World Food Program and they’re McDonalds

That was Nicholas Negroponte’s way of describing the difference between the OLPC project and its erstwhile ‘partner’, Intel. The quote comes from a revealing interview in Fortune. Excerpt:

When Intel joined us we thought we could move toward that being a reference design more and more, and less toward them selling the Classmate itself.

But oddly it went in the other direction. And then they started using their position on the board of OLPC as a sort of credibility statement. When they disparaged the XO to other countries they said that they should know about it because they were on the board. They even had somebody go to Peru, which was a done deal for OLPC, and rant and rave to the vice minister in charge. He dutifully took copious notes and was stunned.

Fortune: And he shared them with you?

Yeah. It was unbelievable. “The XO doesn’t work, and you have no idea the mistake you’ve made. You’ll get yourselves into big trouble,” and that kind of stuff. We kept the sale of course, but when one of your partners goes and does that, what do you do? It first happened in Mongolia. And at that point [Intel CEO] Paul Otellini called me and basically asked to not be thrown off the board, because they were going to change their ways. But they didn’t.

Fortune: Why, do you think?

He’s got 100,000 people and he can’t control all of them. That’s part of his problem. When I sign a nondisparagement clause that means all our people. He said we’ll get a machine ready for CES and make a joint statement together there. As recently as three days ago we still thought we were going to introduce it. We had asked them to do very very small things and they just decided not to.

Fortune: Do you wish OLPC and Intel could be less acrimonious?

Well, we weren’t acrimonious for 7 months. But they signed an agreement and didn’t do one single thing in the agreement.

Fortune: Like what?

Nondisparagement is the easiest. That clause they violated all over the place. They said they’d work on software, but they didn’t touch it. We said we’d work on the architecture together, and that wasn’t done. We said we’d work on a processor and to this day don’t have a spec on it. The nonfulfillment on theiir side was so continuous I don’t even know what to say.

Fortune: So the real issue was they were competing with you?

We’re like the World Food Program and they’re McDonald’s. They can’t compete. They are both food organizations but for completely different purposes. If the Classmate were in the hands of every single child in the world, that would be pretty good. Could it have better power characteristics, a better display, etc.? Sure, that would be good. But I don’t care if kids get the XO so much as that they get laptops.

Fortune: So what happens now?

Nothing different. We’re sort of unemcumbered, so we can move forward with clarity, to be honest with you.

Leopards like Microsoft and Intel never change their spots. They can’t.