Top OLPC Executive Resigns After Restructuring

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Drastic internal restructuring at the One Laptop Per Child Project has led to the resignation of one of the nonprofit's top executives from the effort.

Walter Bender, the former president of software and content at OLPC, has left the organization to pursue "new activities," an OLPC spokesman, George Snell, said on Monday.

Bender's original position as a president was eliminated during OLPC's restructuring process, and he resigned as a director of deployment, Snell said. "There is no position remaining known as [president of] software and content, so Bender will not be replaced," Snell said.

"OLPC recently restructured into four areas -- development, technology, deployment and learning -- and Walter's responsibilities will be absorbed by those teams," Snell said.

Bender, the former executive director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, played a key role in the development and deployment of open-source software for the organization's low-cost XO laptop, aimed as a learning tool for children in developing countries.

"Walter Bender was the workhouse for OLPC. While [OLPC Founder Nicholas] Negroponte met with presidents, it was Bender's day-to-day management that built the organization," said Wayan Vota, who follows OLPC and originally reported the news on his Web site, OLPC News.

Bender promoted the use of open-source software for the XO laptop in the face of repeated efforts to load Windows XP, which has gained him a big following in the open-source community, Vota said. The loss of Bender and other key personnel over the past few months could be a sign that OLPC is focusing more on the technology than the educational aspects of its mission, Vota said.

OLPC has lost three top executives in the past few months. In January, OLPC lost Chief Technology Officer Mary Lou Jepsen, who started an organization to commercialize parts of OLPC's technology, including the screen and battery. In February, Director of Security Ivan Krstić resigned from OLPC to protest the organization's restructuring and "radical" change in goals.

Bender's move from president to director of deployment was a "demotion," wrote Krstić in a March blog entry after he resigned. Krstić also wrote that he resigned because OLPC asked him to stop working with Bender, whom he highly respected.

"Following Walter's demotion from OLPC presidency, I was to report instead to a manager with no technical or engineering background who was put in charge of all OLPC technology," Krstić wrote.

The group has been dogged by problems since it launched the effort to develop a US$100 XO laptop for children in developing countries three years ago. It has struggled to realize the ambitious vision, facing delays, rising costs and reduced orders. A few days after the OLPC lost CTO Jepsen, Intel said it was quitting the initiative after the nonprofit insisted that Intel abandon its effort to develop and distribute Classmate PC, a rival low-cost laptop. OLPC later said that it would welcome Intel back to the effort.

In an interview with BusinessWeek in early March, OLPC Chairman Negroponte said OLPC was "doing almost impossible things," and that the organization needed to be managed "more like Microsoft." He said OLPC was reorganizing into four departments and looking for a CEO to lead the nonprofit.

The reorganization, which was completed last month, has helped OLPC streamline positions and focus on deployment of laptops around the world, OLPC's Snell said on Monday.

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