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One laptop per child program struggles January 13, 2008

Posted by Matsu in Business, Information Technology, Open Source, Technology.

OLPC Logo ImageBack in November 2007 I ordered one of the first computers made by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project.

At one time this project was known as the $100 Laptop project, but it proved to be too difficult to get everything they wanted into the computer and still keep the manufacturing price that low.

One of the early battles was over the operating system. For obvious reasons, Microsoft wanted them to use a version of Windows. Instead, they selected an open source operating system. This Wall Street Journal article does a good job of reporting the journey and problems experienced along the way.

It has not been an easy task for Nicholas Negroponte to bring his dream into reality. Besides the struggles to keep his computer priced as close to $100 as possible, he has had to fend off competition that is trying to do the same thing… for a profit. In fact, one of the biggest corporate competitors was brought into the project last year and then after only about six months, broke off support. That corporate partner was Intel. This article Intel’s describes their departure from the OLPC project.

One thing I have wondered is if Mr. Negroponte’s vision is to get these laptops in the hands of children in developing nations to help them improve education then why would he care who builds the computers. In that same spirit, why not make the hardware specs and plans fully open source? That way, anyone and everyone could manufacture the computers and he wouldn’t have to be in the business of manufacturing and selling computers. He can just promote the concept and help companies find ways to bring the price down to that $100 price point. I realize that it might not be that simple, but it would be a way in which the OLPC vision could be realized.

OLPC laptop photoI ordered one of these new laptop computers because there is no substitute for holding a product in your hands and putting it through it’s paces. You can read all of the reviews about a technology or product, but until you experience it first hand you can’t have that gut feeling about how well it’s made, how easy it is to use, or how well it will meet the needs of the organization you support. Therefore, I purchase one.

Well, technically I purchased two computers. As required by the OLPC purchasing website (buy one, get one), sales to people in America require the purchaser to not only pay for the one they are buying, but also purchase one to give away to a child in a developing nation. I find that to be a very good approach to fund raising and allow those who can afford it to purchase the computer. Unfortunately, this program was a limited-time offer and ended on January 1, 2008. There was some speculation here that the OLPC “buy one, get one” program may be extended into 2008, but nothing official has come out, yet.

The problem is that after almost two months, I still don’t have the computer. The website says not to contact them about orders that haven’t been fulfilled (they don’t have projected shipping information, they just want people to wait patiently).

What is even more surprising, today it was announced here that OLPC computers will be distributed to American children in 2008. Huh?!? Is this because they can’t get anough money to ship them overseas? Or, is the thought that if American schools purchased them it would increase the volume and help drop the manufacturing costs? I don’t know, but this seems to be a deviation from the original emphasis, which was children in developing nations.

I just hope they ship my order to that needy child in a developing nation before they start taking orders from American school districts!



1. matdesa - January 15, 2008

Interesting. I have always understood that the project was supposed to cater for the children in the developing and third world countries. Having them shipped to American children is… not necessary. Prices for PC in US has already been fairly cheap and highly spec compared to OLPC.

And I agree, they should made OLPC a concept and technical specification while making it a standard to use one type of OS, scaled down Ubuntu for example.

Just found your blog through random hop in wordpress, you’ll find me as a regular to your site now. 🙂

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