Why white and green? Negroponte explains the OLPC colors

An inspirational comment lies behind OLPC's bright color scheme

The white case and bright green trim of One Laptop Per Child's laptops have made them among the most recognizable in the world, but what's the story behind the choice of colors? On Thursday, Nicholas Negroponte, former head of the OLPC project and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, explained the backstory.

It dates back to late 2005, just after the first OLPC prototype was shown to reporters at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.

"After the Tunis meeting, I was asked to go to Nigeria and present to President Obasanjo and his cabinet," said Negroponte. The MIT professor arrived and was ushered into a meeting room with a large table. Seated along one side were many of Nigeria's government ministers, and on the other was a lone Negroponte, he recalled. The former president's seat was empty, as those gathered awaited his arrival.

"He comes in and -- he always wore robes, so he was a big, imposing man with tribal robes -- he points at me and says, 'Professor Negroponte, I have one word for your project: enchanting,'" Negroponte recalled. "I was in seventh heaven."

He returned to MIT full of enthusiasm for the project and quickly turned the prototype seen in Tunis into the first working OLPC laptop.

"About six months later, I went back to Nigeria and asked to speak with the president," he said. "I told him, President Obasanjo, your comment was so inspiring that I want to say 'thank you,' and as a token of our gratitude, we want to make the laptop the colors of your country."

And that's how Negroponte came to choose the white and green of the Nigerian flag as the color scheme for the first OLPC.

"It's the color right down to the Pantone number," he said.

Negroponte spoke Thursday at the Fujitsu North America Technology Forum, held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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