My personal tech ramblings about the day to day tech happenings

Will OLPC Dump Open Source ??  

Remember the $100 laptop?? That was the original description of Nicholas Negroponte's dream for a dirt cheap computer that would be distributed by governments to millions of students in dozens of developing countries. A combination of open source software, low-power hardware, and some of the leading educational researchers in the world made for a great headline , and for a seemingly unstoppable force fighting against illiteracy and poverty.

The "One Laptop Per Child," or OLPC, project started with a bang, and has gotten a lot of press attention. Unfortunately, this great story has been plagued by many practical problems, starting with

  • the price of the systems, which has risen to about $180.

  • Commercial software and hardware companies, such as Microsoft and Intel, have publicly ridiculed the OLPC, saying that it is underpowered and (not surprisingly) incompatible with their current systems.

  • As if that weren't enough, many of the governments that had originally pledged to buy one million or more computers ended up backing out of the project, or pledging to buy many fewer.

  • Seymour Papert, the researcher who was providing much of the educational vision for the project, was critically injured in a traffic accident.

  • Just a few months ago, Mary Lou Jepsen, who designed the high-resolution, low-powered screens that are essential to OLPC's success, resigned from the project.

  • And an effort to jumpstart the project by selling OLPC computers to Americans seems to have encountered some hardware problems.

The latest blow occurred earlier this month, when Walter Bender resigned from the presidency of OLPC, announced via an e-mail message released earlier. Bender didn't point to any problems with the project, but indicated that his interest is in creating a "community of developers, educators, and learners dedicated to advancing the quality of free and open source software for learning."

The OLPC news site said that Bender's resignation might be because Negroponte is warming up to the idea of using Microsoft's proprietary software on the OLPC, making it more marketable, by bringing in Microsoft's name, money, and compatibility. This would obviously be a terrible blow to the open source community which has encouraged the OLPC project, and to Red Hat, which has dedicated resources to it.

David Pogue reviewed the OLPC back in October, indicating that the OLPC does not compete with regular business laptops -- but it is not designed to do so. Rather, it is designed to be an educational tool for children. If you consider it in that context, the OLPC is a terrific success, Pogue declared.

There has been a great deal of criticism of the OLPC project, from its inception until now. But the project's many internal problems, including the loss of key staff, might prove even more deadly than any attacks that external forces might have waged.

I personally thought that bringing in a OLPC which is about $100 with the open source would kill the market for the propreitary softwares, but i never knew that they had the potential to ruin the whole project by influencing the people key in the project moving out of it. Those who were keen on implementing it sheer away from it. I'd personally love it to be with the open source.

What do you think about OLPC? Will it make a difference if the project switches to proprietary software? Do you still believe it would be better with the open source ?

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  • Anonymous  
    May 14, 2008 at 5:32 AM

    I guess if getting laptops into the hands of kids is the goal, than the matter of whether it's open source or not isn't particularly relevant (though it would be awesome if they did ship with an open source OS :-).

    I guess the thing that troubles me more than whether the XO ships with Windows or not is what seems to be the total disintegration of the organization itself. I mean, look at how many people have left since January. It's really a shame.

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