Former OLPC CTO predicts a $75 laptop by 2010

In an interview, Mary Lou Jepsen, the former head of One Laptop Per Child and current head of Pixel Qi, talks about her departure from OLPC and her US$75 laptop plans.

IDGNS: All of that still calls for performance. Is there going to be some kind of trade-off in capabilities relative to a mainstream notebook?

Jepsen: There's two ways to be fast, one is the standard, more blah way, where you just heap on the megahertz and megahertz and then heap on the code. Vista's footprint is 12G bytes, as opposed to our OS at OLPC, it's 0.1G byte, it's 120 times smaller. You could do big code and big iron or skinny down the code and make do with a 500 megahertz processor... that was a state-of-the-art laptop in 2000. All of the software has gotten bloated, and do you really need a little paper clip guy or doggy telling you what to do?

The XO is ... an outdoor usable laptop. You can drop it, you can spill on it and the batteries last a long time. And it's green. Those are performance metrics that really matter. Making your batteries last a week is also a performance criteria. Intel has said for a number of years that it's not about 1 more megahertz anymore, it's about lowering the power consumption.

IDGNS: Are inexpensive laptops a new category? IDC says notebook computers like Eee PC -- they don't take those laptops when they measure market share or measure unit shipments. They're calling the category "notebook gadgets." How do you feel about that?

Jepsen: It's funny. I don't feel much about the word. I just talked at a gadget conference, "Greener Gadgets," but ... [Intel's] Craig Barrett, when he was trying to be derogatory toward the laptop project, called it a gadget. I think that we think of gadgets as things that don't really work for long, have a short life and are transient, not real machines. The XO lasts two-and-a-half times longer than a standard laptop. That's not a gadget-like property of it. What is a gadget? Is it a learning machine or is your laptop a gadget or cell phone a gadget?

IDGNS: Did Intel undermine the OLPC project with their Classmate PC?

Jepsen: It's such a long story with them, especially for me because I used to work [at Intel]. It's hard for me to summarize. Certainly, there are so many individuals at that company on the technical side when we finally got working together, it was great. We were really pursuing an -- I think it's been announced -- Intel chip in the XO, that was something we were working well together on with their technical team. I think the difficulty was from the sales and marketing side as I understand it and I really wasn't involved in that in OLPC. I would only hear from the ministers in the countries I would visit and from Nicholas and so forth. I wasn't that involved in it towards the end.

IDGNS: Is there a release date for the US$75 laptop?

Jepsen: It's not that hard. It will take about two years. Realistically it does need that time because what you have to do first is make the components and then you put them together. At OLPC it took 3 years because we had to start with the disbelief, but now people believe. Now cut that down to about two years, it's about reasonable. It's 2010 we're looking at.

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service

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