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The $100 Headache

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Three years ago, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) was a shining example of innovative, nonprofit goodness. It had a bold humanitarian mission to develop and send $100 laptops to children in developing nations, and its founder, Nicholas Negroponte, had ambitions of distributing up to 10 million units by the beginning of 2007. The XO laptop won widespread acclaim and plenty of accolades (including a 2006 Best of What’s New Grand Award in this magazine).

But this past year has brought the high-flying OLPC back to earth. Production of the laptops has stalled, and the price tag of the machine has doubled to $200. As of January, OLPC had built only around 250,000 laptops, and delivery problems left some critics fuming. Worse, Intel parted ways with the organization over creative and management differences to work on its own low-cost educational laptop, called Classmate. On top of that, an international tech firm slapped OLPC with a $20-million lawsuit in Nigeria claiming keyboard-design infringement, and founding chief technology officer Mary Lou Jepsen tendered her resignation to run her own for-profit company, Pixel Qi, that develops inexpensive computing devices.

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