In November of 2005, Nicholas Negroponte and his OLPC CTO Mary Lou Jepsen traveled to Tunisia for the UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society, where they were able to present a "working" $100 laptop concept to Kofi Annan, UN secretary general. No longer did the machine rely on that pop-up rear-projection display; it was smaller, made of green plastic, and had a crank for the kids to work—for 10 straight minutes per hour of use—when they had no other access to electricity. It was a vast improvement over that January's pup-tent rear-projection laptop, hampered only by the fact that it was an absolute fake.
One attendee described it as a "balsa model with a keyboard and an LCD with a thick cable attached to a box under the counter." Others noted that the screen froze up during Negroponte's demo. Worst of all, when Annan himself approached the device with the sole intention of making Negroponte and his mission look good, the secretary general broke the crank handle. Clean off. Overnight, the broken handle story became an internet vote of no confidence. It was time to make this concept into something that would work. And that would take help.
Make It So?
As we covered in Part 1, whether Quanta founder Barry Lam's deal was a charitable donation or a crafty decision to get some fresh MIT thinking into his own laboratories, the dreamers from Cambridge started in earnest with the best laptop engineers in the world. Jepsen and others spent two years shuttling back and forth from Cambridge, MA to Taipei, Taiwan. (She actually filed her income tax return as a Taiwanese resident in 2006.) The American scientists would bring ideas to Quanta's engineers, who would either approve them, or disapprove.