Two years after Nicholas Negroponte left MIT Media Lab to found One Laptop Per Child, the first XO laptops are finally rolling off a production line in China, the organization announced Tuesday.

Taiwan-based Quanta Computing is manufacturing 15,000 machines a month at its new Changshu manufacturing facility outside of Shanghai. OLPC said volume will ramp up over time. The new plant doubles Quanta's manufacturing capacity Relevant Products/Services.

"Today represents an important milestone in the evolution of the One Laptop Per Child project," said Negroponte. "Against all the naysayers and thanks to great partners such as Quanta, we have developed and now manufactured the world's most advanced and greenest laptop and one designed specifically to instill a passion for learning in children."

First Machines to Uruguay

With the start of production, OLPC said, children in developing nations will begin getting laptops this month. But a government association in Uruguay -- the only group to have definitively placed an order -- has said it's being told it won't receive laptops until December, Wayan Vota, editor of the OLPCNews Web site, said in a telephone interview.

It has been a long and winding road from OLPC's founding in Cambridge in 2005 to having the green machines roll off an assembly line in China. Negroponte has spent most of the past two years trying to cut deals with leaders of developing nations to buy millions of laptops to distribute for free to children. Few of those deals actually panned out.

Vota said Negroponte has been transitioning to a different philanthropy model. Rather than having governments purchase the machines themselves, OLPC is urging Western consumers and foundations to donate machines to the developing world through programs such as Give One, Get One (G1G1), in which U.S. and Canadian consumers spend $400 for two machines -- one to keep, the other to go to a child in the developing world.

G1G1 Success Crucial

The production launch is key to the success of the G1G1 program. OLPC is only running the program for two weeks, from November 12 to 26. With machines now in production, OLPC will be able to "start delivering laptops" in December, OLPC said. That language seems to mean many G1G1 buyers won't receive their laptops until after the end of the year.

Indeed, said Vota, with Uruguay expecting 20,000 machines in December and a production rate of 15,000 machines per month, how many laptops will actually be available for G1G1 participants?

"I'm hoping there will be a really strong response," Vota said. "OLPC needs to prove to Quanta and the world that there is strong demand." Without a strong showing for G1G1, OLPC might be unable to maintain production momentum. Even if the charitable program is a success, developing countries will want to see the machines used and serviced successfully in the field, before those million-unit orders start flowing, Vota said.

Support for OLPC Plans

OLPC has had several bits of good news lately. T-Mobile announced that it would offer a year of free Wi-Fi hotspot access to everyone participating in G1G1. "We are excited and proud to partner with One Laptop per Child, and are hopeful that our contribution will not only encourage other people to participate, but also make a positive difference," said Joe Sims, T-Mobile's vice president and general manager for broadband services.

In addition, Hosting.com announced that it would donate the cost of one XO machine for every server it sells during November and December, a minimum of $10,000 or 50 XO laptops.

Finally, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi "reconfirmed" Italy's commitment to buying 50,000 XOs, OLPC's Walter Bender said. But OLPC has trumpeted such commitments before only to find that "presidents loving laptops doesn't equal ministers buying XOs," Vota said.

Vota urged OLPC to expand the G1G1 program beyond the two-week window and beyond North American consumers. "I'd love to see G1G1 go global and consumers in Europe, Asia, even South American and Africa" be able to participate, he said.