Saturday, April 28, 2007

OLPC Revisited

Well it looks like Nicholas Negroponte may have finally done it -- killed his own project (in spirit) I mean. Today it was announced that the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project will now cost $175 per laptop instead of the intended $100 per laptop. Why the increase? Because the RAM and the hard drive space were both doubled to 256MB and 1GB respectively.

You may ask why the RAM and drive space were doubled (if you didn't read the article, you'd ask at any rate). This was to bring the OLPC into a set of hardware specifications that would permit the functioning of Windows on it. That's correct, the low-cost free-as-in-speech and Linux-based OLPC has been made more expensive in order to make Microsoft happy (since it would seem they cannot figure a way to get Windows to run on the lower-powered hardware).

This has some chilling effects for the project the foremost being that if the $100 price tag was too expensive before, it's nearly doubled making it unlikely that those countries that could barely afford $100 per laptop to stay in for as many as they were committed to. Said another way, if the goal is to make it inexpensive so each child may have one then they've just shot themselves in the foot by making it more expensive such that not as many can be purchased to have one for each child.

In my last post on this topic, I said it would probably not be a good idea for each child to have their own laptop because sharing and cooperation should be encouraged. However, in this turn of events I think the potential of getting these children hooked on Windows is even more disturbing than each of them having their own laptop. Microsoft has offered a $3 version of Windows -- but that's just silly to me. If they can drop the price to $3, then they can give it away for free -- they simply don't want to give Windows away even if they only charge $1 for an incredibly restrictive license.

Boo to Negroponte for this bone-headed concession and good riddance to a poorly conceived project with virtuous goals. I believe this to be the effective death of OLPC because even if it survives, there's not going to be a very strong movement of developing countries to drop $200 on a laptop (since there were only a few willing to do so for $100).

I do feel very sorry for the children who are the real losers in this scenario, instead of an over-engineered laptop to share, they'll likely have none or get something handed to them from the government involving an activation key and a holographic 4-color sticker.

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