Three Minutes With Intel on Low-Cost Laptops
Intel VP Sean Maloney discusses low-cost computers for classrooms in developing countries and the digital divide.

Sumner Lemon
PC World
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 12:32 AM

Intel wants to see its low-cost Classmate PC help transform they way students in developing countries are educated. And the company is not alone. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project also hopes its low-cost XO laptop can close the "digital divide" that exists between the developed world and emerging markets.

Much has been made of these two efforts, which are often painted as rivals by the media and observers.

Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel's sales and marketing group, recently spoke with IDG News Service about the Classmate PC and the challenges Intel hopes to address with the device. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.

IDG News Service: Is there room for both the Classmate PC and OLPC as efforts to close the digital divide in emerging markets?

Sean Maloney: I've spent a good deal of my life traveling around emerging markets and the first thing I want to say is that it's a truly humongous problem. It's an enormous, enormous problem you're talking about.

No one company is going to solve this, whether it's us or the OLPC guys, or Asustek, or HP. And no one single approach is going to tackle the issue either. It's very diverse what people want. Even if you pick one country, say India, you're not going to get the state governments having the same opinions on how this should be handled.

It's a perfect problem that a Taiwanese economy of scale could tackle. What Taiwan has always done in the past -- with stunning success -- is drive down costs for standardization and mass manufacturing.

IDGNS: And standardization helps keep costs low...

Maloney: Yeah, if they're standardized it makes field repair easier and logistics easier and distribution chains easier and all that stuff. It's not just about the device. It's also about the education software that goes on it, the role of the teacher in the class, and then someone has to maintain the thing locally.

Many of these countries actually want to assemble it and someone has to do the integration, and all of that. It's a broader issue than just the device, regardless of whether it's an Asustek device, or a Classmate PC, or an OLPC.

IDGNS: Apart from education, will these low-cost computers help to increase PC penetration in developing countries?

Maloney: To be determined. I've spent a lot of time in the last year in emerging markets and the striking thing is how many mid-range and high-end notebooks are being sold. If you go to Egypt or Turkey or Ukraine or Poland or Czech Republic or Brazil or Argentina, you're seeing shopping malls everywhere converting over to selling notebooks. You could see it in China a year ago, where you go into shopping malls that used to sell desktops and now they're full of notebooks. You see the same thing all across India.

It is amazing how many mainstream, made in Taiwan or made in China, notebooks are sold in emerging markets. People have the same aspirations and brand aspirations. You can't patronize people and say we get the big one with the 14-inch color screen and you get the little one, that's not going to work. My view is that these things, like Classmate PC, are much better targeted at kids, with a much smaller screen, smaller keyboard.

IDGNS: Is the aim to give the students in developing countries basic PC skills, or is computer access the key to something larger?

Maloney: It's about the Web more than anything. I have young kids and it's almost obscene: my kids have access to it and there are 2 billion kids that don't. The disadvantage for someone who doesn't have access to the Web is overwhelming.

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