Laptops

One laptop left behind


I'm sure you've all heard about the One Laptop Per Child initiative. It started in 2005 at the MIT Media Lab. The goal: Create a laptop for kids costing no more than $100.00 USD. 

Recently the cost for that laptop went up to $175.00 USD. Ironically that cost hike came very near the same time OLPC announced the little "green" machines would also run a version of Windows. Also, around this same time, Microsoft announced the release of a very cheap Windows/Office software bundle.

I don't know about you, but this seems too tied-together to be coincidental.

Think about it, the OLPC initiative was  going to place very cheap laptops into the hands of possibly millions of children. Those laptops would be running an open source operating system (XO) and an open source office suite (OpenOffice). This would have been a huge battle flag for the open source community to wave about. 

And what better platform for this initiative than the open source platform. It's cheap, it's easily fixed, it's supported by hundreds of thousands of users and developers across the globe, and it needs just this type of "marketing" to take it to the next level.

But then around the corner, as always, in its typical Machiavellian fashion, lurks Microsof, ready to pounce on a pet project they should simply leave alone. 

Although I do strongly believe their are far more better ways to spend resources on impoverished countries, this project has a heart and soul that begs the question: is the education of impoverished countries important. Yes it is. And the OLPC initiative shows exactly how to do this while, at the same time, showing the corporate world that there are ways to achieve such successes while not placing energy and power demands on places where those resources don't exist. 

Think about it: a cheap laptop that can be run with the power of a hand crank. At the same time impoverished children are hand-cranking their way to writing their first document (in the open format), people in more effluent countries are whining about the battery life in their MacBook Pros. 

Don't worry, I'm not comparing or slamming richer countries.

My question is "Why did Microsoft feel it necessary to step into this picture?" This initiative was perfect. A $100.00 dollar laptop, running open source software, intended to aid the education of poor countries'  children. But along comes MS, the price raises, and the OLPC initiative is now proclaiming the laptops can run a form of Windows.


This is a fairly low blow Microsoft. The timing pretty much reveals the strategy you usually keep hidden beneath your +12 cloak  of subterfuge. But I'm not really surprised. I'm just saddened by this. The OLPC initiative was a chance for the IT industry to really do something special. Now, to me, it seems tainted.

Don't get me wrong...I have a TON of respect for the philanthropy of Bill Gates. I have come to the point where I no longer associate Microsoft and their Business un-ethics with Mr. Gates. In fact, I'm surprised that the only stamp Bill Gates didn't put on this project was nothing more than a big fat check. Instead, the company he created, is digging their fingers in a pie they should just leave alone.

I have been applauding the OLPC initiative since it's inception. Now, I'm not even sure if it will get off the ground. Why? Microsoft. 

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

18 comments
rtaylor1755
rtaylor1755

I feel micro-soft is trying to keep everyone out of there territory. This laptop is for the children in other countries that would like to learn computers. We are so spoiled with technology that we should share this with them. I hope the laptop becomes a huge success to let Bill Gates know that it isn't all about him and his company. I would like the see the faces on the children that are able to use the laptop. Good luck with laptop for I believe it is a good idea. It isn't about the money but about the children learning the new technology out this techno world.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Hmmm... this project's 'heart and soul' appears to have flown out the Window.

Quasar Kid
Quasar Kid

This entire excercise is an absolute waste of time and resources. A wind up laptop??? Lets feed, clothe, house, and educate these kids first. The kids targeted by this project don't even have the proverbial pot to pee in....lets focus on the basic necessities of life.

hillman.d
hillman.d

I grew up in a third world country. Only about three somewhat rich people in my village had a TV. It didn't matter, since we got blackouts about 80% of the time. We also had a single little library that was really far away. My father moved to the United States and sent me a little device called a Spelling Master that I treasured. It had all kinds of games and puzzles. I even took it apart to see how it worked. It was because of that device that I decided I wanted to work with electronics. Unlike the Spelling Master, which wasn't even a real computer, that $100 laptop can help a lot. Kids in poor countries aren't any dumber than kids anywhere else. They just don't have access to information or even the infrastructure that can bring that information.

RknRlKid
RknRlKid

We should let the intended recipients have their say, not ours. How can we in the spoiled west (or east, for that matter) know what anyone in a third world country wants or needs? My guess is that its repackaged "white man's burden" mentality from British colonial days. Those poor third world people, we developed countries know so much better than you....(not). Sorry, I digress. I am in 100% agreement with trellix78. People are smart everywhere. They just don't all have the same resources. The purpose of OLPC is to give them some resources. Let's give them some hope, rather than just criticism.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]Lets feed, clothe, house, and educate these kids first.[/i]" You want to educate the kids. What the hell do you think OLPC is meant to facilitate? I'll give you a hint. It's a word that starts with "edu", ends with "ation", and has a "c" in the middle.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I've heard the "but starving people need food not computers" argument. It usually comes out as a knee jerk reaction from someone who's not actually thought about the topic but wanted to have an opinion anyway. Yes, starving people need food and shelter. The people who have food and shelter already need information and education. OLPC is for those children who have food and shelter but need information and education. Exactly what makes OLPC a failure before it starts and a complete waste of time in that regard? The handcrank bit; perhaps you could prepose a better way to charge a battery when no wall socket is easily available? You don't think that a hand crank power generator is acceptable for charging a battery? But that leads to the rest of the hardware so let's squash that before it starts. Like the hand crack, the hardware specs may not be up to your descriminating level of quality. Try to remember that this is designed to work on low power; something like five days per battery charge. It's also designed to be carried through rain and sandstorms too and from school along with being dropped randomly. If you have issue with the hardware, you'd best tell me where I can get a rugged notebook for under $500 cause the one's I'm seeing still retail around $2500~$5000 unless you want something fancy. This is a bit of a rant but hearing a reactive "starving people don't need computers" from someone who doesn' know anything about OLPC in the first place just sucks. If people like that had there way, nothing would ever be started let along struggled through and completed.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Recently the cost for that laptop went up to $175.00 USD. Ironically that cost hike came very near the same time OLPC announced the little "green" machines would also run a version of Windows." Did the OLPC project initiate the use of Windows, or did MS approach them first? If the former, then I don't see how we can fault MS for an OLPC decision.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

But that was back in early 2006 and Gate's scoffed at the project an it's request for an open MS OS for it. Late 2006, OLPC ships units to Redmond for Windows retrofit along with now including an SD slot at MS request. I couldn't tell you who approached whom in this latest change but I'd suspect Microsoft renewed an interest in OLPC now having seen the potential that it brings. A world of new computer users not cutting there teeth on MS products has to be a terrifying idea. We also haven't heard much more about the MS mighty smartphone for developing nations outside of the initial marketing reaction to OLPC. That's all idle speculation though. Let's hope OLPC can do what no organization has done in the history of Microsoft; survived being a "partner".

jlwallen
jlwallen

as soon as I get a reply I will post here.

jlwallen
jlwallen

Jack, Thanks for your inquiry. Microsoft asked OLPC for boards so that they could make Windows work on the XO Laptop. OLPC is deeply committed to open source and did not approach Microsoft. Furthermore, none of the countries that OLPC is working with has asked for Windows on the XO machine. FYI - Microsoft Office and Windows are software for office workers, not for children. The OLPC XO is a children's laptop. Hope this answers your question. Jackie Lustig

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

coincidence. first it is unlikely that most or even bulk of this is made in the US. The dollar is at its lowest point since 1992 which is certainly likely to raise the price in $USD. (due to massive printing of US $ by govt). Plus these prices were ESTIMATES and for BULK PRODUCTION, and these are just starting to be produced. Here's some more 'coincidences': Most criminals went to elementary school, so it is sad these diabolical schools teach them crime. And most drug users drank milk as kids. It is terrible that they got moo-juiced then grew up to stay in the habit of getting juiced daily on evil brews like Guiness, or those heavily addictive disguised as 'soft stuff' fruit juice flavored Jack Daniels coolers or 'hard lemonade'.. To say nothing of the evil weed that is promoted by the evil snack empire and the evil empire of 'junk' TV.

jlwallen
jlwallen

Here's another reply from the OLPC initiative regarding the timing of Windows/Price jump: It's not at all related to Windows. The reason for the price increase is that the countries asked OLPC to add some features which changed the design a bit and added to the cost. (Windows was not asked for). Also some of the material components (nickel, in particular) have risen in cost. Let me reiterate that OLPC has a developer program that invites developers all around the world to write or modify programs for the XO. Microsoft responded to the program and got a board. That's it. Jackie

jlwallen
jlwallen

I think my questions to OLPC caused the initiative to come out with some new news. Walter Bender came out today to make an official announcement that there has been no agreement between MS and OLPC. OLPC also said that MS has not contacted them regarding the $3 software bundling program. Bender also states that no one has contacted OLPC requesting that XO operate with any version of Windows.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Sure MS has a few OLPC in Redmond now so they can squeeze a Windows OS into it but you have to remember that the head of the OLPC project had to say "yes" before those hardware units where shipped off to MS. (hm.. seems they've "borrowed hardware" before from competition) The goals are what really made the OLPC an interesting project and to that end, I hope they can still produce an open system though that particular goal is harder to do if the Windows OLPC become available. Perhaps the rest of it is just coincidence. I don't think MS is really slow enough in it's business strategy to not recognize the "other advantages" such as getting fingers into OLPC and showing shareholders that they are actively persuing all new sofware markets. For now, this is still a "we'll wait and see" topic. I'm curious to see different software running on the OLPC hardware. Maybe negraponte can somehow manage a dual OS ecosystem. Maybe windows on the OLPC hardware will suck rocks giving the FOSS fans something to gloat over. Maybe MS can work magic and produce a Windows/Office on OLPC that provides all the functions available through XO/Shugar.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

I mean developing countries have enuf problems with REAL diseases, it would be nasty if a network of these gets setup and they turn into trojan worm infested zombies :)

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