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Rory Cellan-Jones

One Laptop - hello Windows, goodbye Linux

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 16 May 08, 00:00 GMT

A revolutionary organisation sets out to change the world and empower millions by overturning the established order - but ends up abandoning its early aims and getting into bed with what used to be viewed by some of its supporters as the Great Satan. That is how some of the pioneers of the One Laptop Per Child project will view the deal that has been announced with Microsoft.

Child with green laptopWhen we spoke on the phone to Nicholas Negroponte, the founding father of OLPC, it was clear he was expecting flak from past and present disciples for deciding that the little green laptop would now run Windows XP as well as Linux.

There has already been an ideological battle raging within the non-profit organisation, with former colleagues of Mr Negroponte decrying his tactics - some publicly in blogs, others more quietly. They have laid bare the schism in this laudable project to bring cheap computing to millions of children across the developing world. It's a battle between hardware and software, and between pragmatists and purists.

The purists seem to believe that open-source software - the Sugar user-interface and the Linux-based operating system - is at the heart of the project and its educational mission. But Nicholas Negroponte, dreamer turned realist, just wants to get as many laptops out as possible and now appears not to mind whether they run Linux or Windows. "OLPC is not in the open-source advocacy business," he told us, "we're in the education business."

While conceding that sales of the XO laptop had not taken off as fast as he had hoped, he denied that was the reason for the Microsoft deal. But it is clear that the very survival of the project was in question as country after country failed to translate warm words about the laptops into firm orders. Mr Negroponte admitted that certain countries had been insistent that they wanted Windows XP as an option before they would consider signing up.

OLPC and Microsoft are suggesting that what we will see is dual-boot machines, where using Windows is only an option, just as it is on Apple computers these days. But who wants to bet that government education departments, already far more familiar with Microsoft's operating system, will now opt for he Linux alternative?

So where does this leave the whole OLPC project? Next week a new version of the XO will be unveiled, and later this year trials will take place in five countries of laptops with Windows XP. But in the meantime, other small, cheap laptops - the Asus Eee, the Intel Classmate - will continue to make inroads in developing countries. Even with the backing of the biggest noise in the software world, the XO laptop may not fulfill the dreams of its creators.

But then again, the OLPC vision was about spreading the idea that cheap computing could play as big a part in education in developing countries as more books or better facilities. And, even if it does not come in the form of the XO laptop, that vision now looks more likely to become a reality.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Lets be clear, this should not a debate about which is the better operating system. Stand aside all you fanboys! Quite simply, 3rd world governments are going to insist that their kids deserve the same education and access to IT as western kids. At that point they should naturally ask why first world schools are not using the XO and why are they using Windows.

    I believe the XO and Sugar needed to be launched, tested and developed in 1st world schools first. Eg. There is a growing base of Flash applications being developed for education. No thought was put into how the XO's Linux would support all that stuff straight out of the box.

    While the XO itself is a technological marvel, we should never underestimate the resourcefulness of people in the 3rd world countries in overcoming, for themselves, issues like power, heat and dust. They've even figured out ways to boost WiFi using tin cans. There is no reason why they shouldn't have conventional computers also.

    The third world is no place to start a war against Microsoft or Intel just to please a few delusional academics. While i am genuine fan of the Linux OS, i am saddened the way kids in the developing world have been channeled into using the OS in an almost ideological way. They have the right to choose, and if Mr Gates is willing to let them have a Windows OS for free, then why not?

  • Comment number 2.

    "we're in the education business."

    Make that branding and marketing.

    The OLPC project should have told Microsoft to build the the specs at hand but Negroponte does not have the guts.

    The UMPCs are killing Microsoft so the OLPC had to be upgraded to support their bloat. The fact is even this will not stop the raw coding power of our community.

    For other Ultra Low Power Computers they have some interesting licensing requirements.

    1. One gig cpu.
    2. One core.
    3. Very low RAM limitation.
    4. No touch screen.

    Why the tough licensing? They have nothing else to offer.

    Want to teach kids to use computers in amazing ways? Send them only real operating systems. Ones that do not need huge name plates to go places.

  • Comment number 3.

    It seems to me that the really important issue for the use of computers in schools is the actual applications that they support, and the educational activities and learning opportunities which those applications in turn support. (The operating system that enables those applications should be a secondary issue.)

    In that light, it is very interesting to read about the innovative learning experiences which the XO catalysed in the five countries where it was trialled - the Thai village site for example produced interesting uses of the machine in biology field trips, music making etc. It would seem the educational applications developed to run on Linux for XO show great promise.

    Let's not forget that the XO is not just a low-cost computer; a constructionist educational philosophy lies behind it, inspired by Seymour Papert et al. This has been missed by many who think the aim is just to put cheap computers in front of kids.

    The Sugar interface and mesh networking are important because they put the child at the centre, and empower autonomous links between the child and his or her friends and classmates. That is what will be missing from the Windows experience.

    But Rory, as I think your investigations in Nigeria showed -- as well as a battle between OSes, there is a battle between educational cultures. Remember how the Intel laptops were under the command of the teacher's machine in Abuja, and how the computers were taken off the kids at the end of the day? Whereas the XOs got taken home.

    There are many governments unwilling to subscribe to a constructionist view of education: it is potentially too liberating. Better to raise the next generation as Microserfs. (BTW, Linux can be used in a similarly controlling fashion.)

    In reporting on this issue, I'd like to read more about Sugar, the educational applications, the pedagogy, the meshing.

    Conrad Taylor

  • Comment number 4.

    OLPC has far more problems than the Windows decision. The ex-director of security architecture for the project, Ivan Krstic, has written a long and fascinating essay on the matter, which is essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest.

    Something with deployment dreams on the intended scale of One Laptop Per Child is fundamentally dependent on excellent management, but that seems to be a weak link here.

  • Comment number 5.

    The ‘laptop landscape’ has changed since the OLPC project was launched.

    We now have major vendors like Asus producing small, low-cost laptops with open source software - something not widely available in the market at the launch of the OLPC machine.

    Of course, as a piece of hardware, the OLPC laptop is built to be stronger and more robust than a typical laptop and thus, should be a better proposition. Especially in areas where there are fewer resources to repair damaged machines.

    Once a product starts to lose momentum, it’s very hard for it to get going again. It remains to be seen, whether the hook-up with Microsoft will have a positive impact or not.

    Watch this space!


    Jim Connolly
    www.theideasblog.com

  • Comment number 6.

    OLPC consumed only 2 watts power when running, mesh networking was out of this world, and Sugar simply shouted for curiosity and fun.

    I feel so lucky to have used some at an education show earlier this year.

  • Comment number 7.

    This has killed my enthusiasm for the project. It's not simply because this project was promoted open source, although that was part of it. But the XO used the open source capabilities of XO to tailor the OS to their needs far more than a Windows Operating System can be. They are throwing that out the window to suit the needs of national governments, not children. It is national governments (many with little legitimacy) which wants XP because they want their countries to compete with western nations. Whether you're in the west, the east, and even the third-world, people are vessels of skills which governments need to manipulate for the global marketplace. God forbid these laptops strike out against this consensus which dehumanises us and treats us simply as commodities, and, shock-horror, actually teach children purely for the sake of learning. The OLPC was something different. It wasn't just a cheap laptop, it was a different way for a different purpose. Now there is no reason for me to support it anymore than Intel's Classmate (apart from the fact that I dislike Intel).

    I still wish this project well, as I do for anything which reduces inequality of opportunity, especially in the third-world but my technical and philosophical enthusiasm has gone and I am no longer willing to give it financial support over any other cheap laptop project.

  • Comment number 8.

    Well there goes any chance of the 3rd World becoming more IT literate than the rest of us. Instead they'll be virus checking, defragging, and all of the other nonsense that Micro$oft insist people do to keep their machine running (kind of) stably, rather than using it for learning.

    Just a shame that the cancerous Micro$oft has managed to persuade OLPC to use XP.

    And another question: why haven't they given them Vista? Isn't that the OS Micro$oft are touting as the answer to everything?

    As usual, big business bullies its' way in.

  • Comment number 9.

    It is hardly goodbye Linux as XP still doesn't run as well on the OLPC. All this announcement does is allows a dual boot option to get the countries to buy it. The Linux OS will easily out perform XP and it no second rate option. If you still believe Windows is the only option, try a £220 Asus EEE PC. Linux in schools provides far more possibilities and educational benefits than any other system. The main problem is commercial vendors using their money to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt and articles like this trying to say goodbye to Linux when it is the fastest growing OS in the world.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think we have to be realistic and honest enough to say that, however much we don't like it, for this project to work, Windows HAS to be an option. I work in an enviroment (as I suspect many others do) where Microsoft products are used not necessarily because they're the best or most cost-effective, but also because there's a real fear of change. If we as `experienced' PC users feel that, how can we expect countries adopting the OLPC project to feel any different?

    That said, there's a couple of interesting points coming from this:

    1. If the machines dual-boot, given a couple of years, how many people will move away from Windows to Linux, or stay where they are? It'll be a more realistic measure than anything we can come up as these users will not have 10-15 years experience of using Microsoft products - there's no comfort zone to move out of.

    2. Where does this leave Vista? It's too big and bloated to run on the OLPC machines (hence the XP choice) and hasn't been the huge success Mircosoft had hoped for (primarily because they took all the options we spent 10 years learning and hid them somewhere else). Is there some faint hope that Vista will be consigned to the Windows ME dustbin and Microsoft will revert to the XP/98/95 layouts that we'd all become comfortable with?

  • Comment number 12.

    Of course MS want kids to get accustomed to their system and in the commercial world its to the kids benefit but its also good that they can learn about Linux.
    I would love to buy two XO and pass one on to a kid in the non-westernized world. Mine would still be cheap - and cool!

  • Comment number 13.

    Totally agree with Negraponte. This is an initiative for low cost educational computing for third world kids, not a evangelising exercise for Open Source, even though it has that as a side effect. Open source was a tool for Negraponte to achieve his aims, not the raison d'etre.
    I am a big fan of Open Source, but let's not lose sight of the big picture of this initiative.

    The whole point of education is about exposure to and learning about as many things as possible. Kids need to be faimiliar with both Open source as well as Windows.

    As for low cost: this initiative has already done its job of lowering prices of proprietary MS software: Windows is virtually being given away now- that wouldn't have happened without Linux as competition.

    As in the west, people will compare the 2, and decide which is the better to use. Remember you don't just have Windows: you need virus protection, regular patches, bloated and resource hungry software. There were reasons why Linux is gaining ground, and those reasons still stand.

    And idealogies will only survive when it has substance: if Open Source really is better it will come out top.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think if Microsoft can afford to sell Windows for $3, then that should be offered everywhere. Why can't we in the west get Windows for $3.

    If they're selling at a loss to get into a market then that's dumping and should be illegal if not already.

    I'd rather see these things run Sugar because that interface reminds me of the fun I used to have with computers that were easy to tinker with and program. The lower resource consumption of this system is also a huge advantage.

    What are we teaching kids to do? To understand computing and to be able to create and take control, or just to know how to pen-push in a Microsoft world?

  • Comment number 15.

    windiws is good choice over the linux

  • Comment number 16.

    ohhh Windows is Good choice over the Linux

  • Comment number 17.

    I think if Microsoft can afford to sell Windows for $3, then that should be offered everywhere. Why can't we in the west get Windows for $3.

    Because (adjusting for relative education budget - $7500 in the US, as little as $20 in developing countries) the price in the west should really be as much as 3*(7500/20) = $1125. We in the west are getting a bargain!

    ;-)

  • Comment number 18.

    In the end, the poorer countries seem to be the smartest: it is much better to spend your limited funds on teaching children how to solve problems and how to be critical, than to teach them work on a machine which, after all, is the instrument, used in solving those problems. Do the poorer countries have an opinion about the second point in the project, replacing the teacher by educational software? Wages are low in poorer countries.

    If these coutries now start spending more money on the project, that would be very good for Microsoft indeed. Just like the old days, when Apple was already offering machines with graphical user interfaces, and Unix had its networks. In those days the middle manager chose Microsoft Dos for the company. That was what he was used to, probably because he was running an illegal copy on his machine at home. Windows will be the logical choice for those kids who won't be experts, but still need to make a choice on a system some day.

    Still the Egyptian requirement is surprising. After all, you can start your spreadsheet on Windows or on Linux or on Apple. What you do after, is the same! And for the Colombian "marketable technology skills": If a student really gets involved in the technology, he won't have much trouble learning to work on one system, even if he has learned on the other.

  • Comment number 19.

    The people behind OLPC are very naive if they really believe the project is "just about" education. Educational issues are always highly politicised, and this is no exception. Some of the potential customers (ie governments) want their kids to learn to use Windows because they believe it will enable them to compete with Western economies in the IT field, which may be true. But surely education is about more than learning Windows-based IT skills? Should it not be about how effective the machine is in enabling a broader education? If certain key components of the sysytem will not work under Windows, then how can that be good for educational purposes? Microsoft is not primarily interested in promoting education in developing countries, but in protecting its market share. After all, today's children are tomorrow's adult purchasers of computers, so they want them to grow up with their brand i.e.Windows. Learning to use spreadsheets is not just about learning Excel any more than learning word processing is about MS Word. There are some great alternatives out there that are free and open source, but MS will do its utmost to ensure that children in developing countries do not learn about them at an early stage. So, whether one likes it or not, in the final analysis, it IS about politics as well as education.

  • Comment number 20.

    Microsoft's products now on the ULPC scheme's?

    Well that's one way to kill off innovation...

  • Comment number 21.

    The problem with windows is it tries to think. it assumes it knows better. I want an operating system that does not waste time and does what i want it to when i want it to.
    I also don't need an operating system to continually report back to microsoft in the United States of America which costs how much pollution on the planet and how much time wasted? it is the perfect spy.
    Does the so called "third" world really want microsft and whoever is friendly with microsoft to know exactly what what they are all doing?
    You would not employ a person who did any of this so why employ windows?

  • Comment number 22.

    It would be naive to assume that Bill Gates is doing this out of the goodness of his heart. Microsoft know that in the future, the biggest market is going to be in the developing world. They need to get all those young, potential customers hooked on Windows now. And don't forget, once they are using Windows, they will then most probably have to shell out for other software products such as Office. Microsoft also wants to ensure everyone uses Internet Explorer, so that there continues to be a range of websites that don't work correctly in Firefox, Opera or other alternatives. It's how they keep their grip over consumers.

    In the past, the West gave food to third world countries. But now the wisdom is that it's better to give them seeds and the tools to produce their own food. I'm afraid giving them Windows is the equivalent of giving them food. They will be forever reliant on the products of a western corporation, and that won't always be given away for free. Why not give them technology that will enable them to produce a generation of computer-literate people who will be able to do things for themselves.

  • Comment number 23.

    When it comes to ease of use, no doubt windows wins hands dwon. I use windows XP, Mac tiger and Ubuntu(Linux) and no doubt windows is easiest. ( it may not be best).

  • Comment number 24.

    I thought Microsoft wasn't going to support XP anymore. Now these kids will be running unsupported software and learning all about viruses, infected files, software patches, ad infinitum, instead of learning computing.

    Microsft XP will not support the mesh networking and other features of the XO computers which made them so attractive. The price of the machines will have to go up merely to accommodate the bad XP software and its hardware requirements.

    I can imagine hundreds of thousands of these machines ending up in garbage dumps because the software doesn't work. Think of all the viruses, patches and disruptions we've had in the western world because of Microsoft software. There's no way the third world can handle these problems and restore their machines to usefulness. The only thing the machines will do with XP is turn the users into endless consumers who need to buy the latest software, which again won't work properly almost as soon as it comes out.

    The computers should have a dual purpose such as doubling as tables or sunshades, or even be made of edible components, for them to be of future use to the population what will be stuck with them.

    I'm sure the government officials don't know enough about operating systems to "insist" on having microsoft software. Methinks the Microsoft salespeople have been there in advance. Microsoft should be the option, not Linux. And if Microsoft can't run on the machines as they're designed or meet functional requirements, then don't offer it.

    This seems like an illegal market tactic by Microsoft. This is turning into an embarassing debacle. I completely remove my support for this project. More publicity should be given to alternatives.

  • Comment number 25.

    While the One Laptop Per Child project has been and to a certain extent still is a relevant and much needed project, realities on the ground tell another story.

    Many people in the developing world, and this includes children age 12+, do not have a computer, but can go to a local Internet Cafe in the nearest town and get access to the Internet there. Many people use the growing number of Web 2.0 apps such as GMail, Google Docs, etc. available online. In many cases, the users have no real practical contact with the operating system, because the web browser has in practical terms become their operating system.

    The question is, haven't we all moved on from developing special low cost hardware? Emphasis should be placed on Web 2.0 applications (non-polluting), subsidizing Internet cafes in rural areas and maybe lower prices for USB pen drives. This would provide a higher ratio of computer processor utilization per machine and the impact would be high. It isn't the same as having computers in the classroom, but money saved could provide better teacher training in rural areas.

  • Comment number 26.

    The brute force of MS/Intel is staggering. Questions unasked:
    1. Will the new OLPCs be more expensive since WinXP is more expensive than Linux, and Intel is more expensive than AMD?
    2. The countries being "insistent" on Windows is laughable. Why, because XP is more secure, more stable, never freezes requiring reboots and losing data, requires less RAM, doesn't bog down after 9 months of use, because MS Office is needed (not included, and if it were, would be Office 95), or never requires additional drivers for peripheral devices.

    Come on.

    If you're still self-censoring, you can see for yourself, as Negroponte describes the assault by MS and Intel.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/05/20/60minutes/main2830058.shtml

  • Comment number 27.

    Bravo SteveFarr, I'm glad your sensible post was the first.

    For too many people, the OLPC is like handing out bibles to starving people, just a means to evangelize their ideology. Let the third world make the same choices that we can make, to run whatever OS they want.

    And yes, they may chose to run the OS that almost everyone in the developed world runs, Windows. That could be a logical choice for them, and not one we should deny them.

  • Comment number 28.

    @27 "For too many people, the OLPC is like handing out bibles to starving people, just a means to evangelize their ideology"

    That is true. Unfortunately, most of those people seem to think it is (or was) merely an operating system ideology being evangelised - an extension of the very 'western' consumer PC Windows v Linux v Mac war.

  • Comment number 29.

    @DonPMitchell / Magwitch

    Such staggering naievety! When did you last visit a shop selling PC's? You say: "they may chose (sic) to run the OS that almost everyone in the developed world runs". Yes, the choice is simply overwhelming - you can "choose" Windows or.......let me think......Windows.

  • Comment number 30.

    @SteveFarr

    "At that point they should naturally ask why first world schools are not using the XO and why are they using Windows."
    - easy to answer - they are wealthier.

    "There is a growing base of Flash applications being developed for education. No thought was put into how the XO's Linux would support all that stuff straight out of the box."
    - can you expand on this please?

    "They've even figured out ways to boost WiFi using tin cans."
    - just a bit patronising, don't you think?

    "While i am genuine fan of the Linux OS, i am saddened the way kids in the developing world have been channeled into using the OS in an almost ideological way. They have the right to choose, and if Mr Gates is willing to let them have a Windows OS for free, then why not?"
    - you want to have your cake and eat it, by trying to sound oh so reasonable - what is your evidence to support your assertion that it's ideology rather than cost/flexibility that led OLPC to use Linux? And MS does charge for XP on all computers, even OLPC machines, so you haven't got your facts right.








  • Comment number 31.

    I am absolutely disgusted - once again "Microsloth" and its sloppy, endlessly irritating and time-wasting hassles, "win" the day. Why? MONEY of course - no surprises there. I earned my computer system through a disability/retraining work-scheme here in the USA but the only choice was for Micosoft Windows XP 2002 at that time. It has been a disgusting experience ever since! Every single day is a drag; as a disabled person in terms of my hands, I especially hate all the extra crapola I constantly have to cope with. Let alone the glitches and endless "fixes." SUCH AN INSULT TO EVERYONE'S INTELLIGENCE! The kids of the developing world deserve real computers: OPEN SOURCE AND SMART.

  • Comment number 32.

    Why WindowsXP and not CE? Unless highly modified, XP just won't make the grade on the present hardware. Flash? Well, it actually appears it may become open, but until then, it is a Windows application. (I'm rather shocked how poor the other mainstream media players perform on Windows.)

    If the hardware is upgraded to allow for a dual-boot and the kids are encouraged to use it, its a no-brainer which one they'll pick. People in the West use Windows because the first computer they used ran Windows! Fortunately, in the 70s, Unix was about it for a non-toy machine. Therefore I grew up with Unix and to this day find it easier, far more flexible and brutally more efficient than the alternative desktop OS.

    As a kid, I'd choose the system that got my homework done the fastest. Lets just hope there really is a dual-boot and no excessive pimping from big business put on the teachers. (Is that unrealistic?) Let the suits have their Windows, but please let the kids make the final decision. I can almost hear it now: "You used Unix/Linux, you cheated, you get a zero!"

  • Comment number 33.

    Even as an Open Source supporter, I feel that offering XP is a good thing. Choice is always a good thing.

    However, please do not assume that an Open Source solution is just a cheap option for the developing world. Developed countries Educational Departments are also switching to Open Source platforms (such as Ubuntu and Debian based customisations) - such as the state of geneva here in Switzerland (http://www.tdg.ch/pages/home/tribune_de_geneve/l_actu/sciences_hi_tech/detail_hi_tech/(contenu)/211880). These choices are not just based on cost but on practical and functional reasons too.

  • Comment number 34.

    If these kids learn on an open source OS it's inevitable that within a decade they'll be modifying and improving that OS beyond our, and Microsoft's, wildest dreams.

    Whereas if they learn on Windows...

    Just think what a huge pool of untapped talent there is out there. And how, in the longer term, both they and we could benefit - provided they have the right (i.e. open source) tools to do so.

  • Comment number 35.

    @29 Imagine I actually bothered to read about OLPC - on its website and elsewhere - and that I am not ignorant of the reasons FOSS was a core principle of OLPC, and see if you can't detect the sarcasm, rather than naivety, in my last comment ;-)

  • Comment number 36.

    Yes lets all trust the convicted monopolist Microsoft and that their reasons for forcing XP on the project are purely altruistic.

    I wonder how much money they "donated" to the project so they could get the third world hooked on the M$ gravy train and protect it's monopoly ?

    Bill Gates seems to want to give with his foundation yet take away with Microsoft.

    Shame on you Bill Gates !

    Time to call the EU competition commission again ?

  • Comment number 37.

    Of course, XP has not been "forced" onto the XO or any other strange, world strangling arrangement.

    Microsoft has been talking for some time of stripping down XP so it can run on computers that, because of power limitations, have less processing power. So it is natural that XP and the XO would come together.

    However, the strengths of the system is in the hardware - the lightness, the screen that works in strong sun light, the robustness of the build. The OS was neither here nor there. Debian was chosen because it was free, not because it was better!

    The world really doesn't care a jot for the rather nasty MS v Linux spats - they are a little footnote buried in the technology pages that proves that IT attracts rather too many overheated zitty kids!

    But the world does care about education - that is the priority here.

  • Comment number 38.

    #30
    @MarkyMark47


    “ @SteveFarr
    "At that point they should naturally ask why first world schools are not using the XO and why are they using Windows."
    - easy to answer - they are wealthier.”

    If wealth and prosperity were marked by choosing Windows PCs over Linux XOs (not my view) then, i would imagine, that alone is a sufficient motivation. Developing world governments make procurement decisions the same as the rest of us in the developed world. I don’t image they are any way willing to make themselves a special case on the recommendation of just a few academics.



    "There is a growing base of Flash applications being developed for education. No thought was put into how the XO's Linux would support all that stuff straight out of the box."
    - can you expand on this please?”

    Ok...

    Adobe Flash is the platform of choice for a many educational applications, be it on the web, or distributed in other formats, PC or Mac. You can also run Flash apps on a range of consoles, eg. PSP, Leapfrog. I know this because i have kids. In my mind Flash support is a priority.

    Yes, you can run Flash apps on the Linux XO too, but it was never a priority of OLPC because Flash is proprietary, it is owned and maintained by Adobe. For that reason it is not available out of the box and must be installed later which i am told is not straight forward.

    So what was stopping OLPC from getting it together with Adobe to fix this? Ideology. Thankfully, licensing is no longer a problem with the Windows XO, and installing Flash on-demand, over the web is a doddle.



    "They've even figured out ways to boost WiFi using tin cans."
    - just a bit patronising, don't you think?

    No i don’t think. My intention was not to be patronising. I was trying to make a point, perhaps unsuccessfully, that the developing world is capable of fixing stuff for itself. I’m not saying we should leave them to it. I am just saying they should be afforded some dignity, to choose and to find solutions of their own, not just have stuff imposed upon them. Using tin cans to boost WiFi is well known - even dudes in the developing world have figured it out (Oops, patronising!).



    "While i am genuine fan of the Linux OS, i am saddened the way kids in the developing world have been channelled into using the OS in an almost ideological way. They have the right to choose, and if Mr Gates is willing to let them have a Windows OS for free, then why not?"
    - you want to have your cake and eat it, by trying to sound oh so reasonable - what is your evidence to support your assertion that it's ideology rather than cost/flexibility that led OLPC to use Linux? And MS does charge for XP on all computers, even OLPC machines, so you haven't got your facts right. “

    That is not my assertion. I did not say that. Indeed there is no such evidence.
    Linux is low cost, being distributed for free and is very flexible, no doubt a good choice for low cost computing hardware. Well done, the OLPC team. But on that point about Linux being flexible: it is capable of supporting both open-source and commercially-licensed-based software and educational applications. Why deliberately restrict the Linux OS to open-source? Why? Why? Why? Try and answer that question in a non-ideological way!

    My next point about Windows was a separate one - sorry I should have paragraphed that out. I delivered my words carefully when i said “for free”. There is no question of me having got my facts wrong. But, if you want facts: Microsoft are charging $3 per unit, and it costing OLPC a further $7 to adapt each unit to allow dual boot either Linux or Windows. MS work to business and legal model that doesn’t allow them to sell it for less. Its about as “free” as you can get in a commercial world, where distribution and deployment costs money and requires commitment. Do you have an ideological problem with that?

    Finally, for those wondering about Microsoft’s continued commitment to Windows XP on the OLPC, check out this video:-
    http://mediadl.microsoft.com/MediaDL/WWW/U/unlimitedpotential/WindowsXP_XOLaptop.wmv
    Be first-world cynical as you please.

  • Comment number 39.

    #38
    "- even dudes in the developing world have figured it out (Oops, patronising!)."


    Meant to say...
    "- even dudes in the developed world have figured it out (Oops, patronising!)."

    Totally ruined the punch line! Deeply embarrassed.

  • Comment number 40.

    @SteveFarr

    "Why deliberately restrict the Linux OS to open-source? Why? Why? Why? Try and answer that question in a non-ideological way!"

    - OK, I'll try. Linux always has been, and always will be, open source because that was and still is the expressed wish of its original creator, Linus Torvalds. Therefore, most Linux distributions only come packaged with open source software, as it is in keeping with the basic philosophy that all software code should be open to inspection/modification/redistribution by its users. However, it is easy to add software that is not open source to a Linux system, if you choose to do so. Granted, they don't always work "out of the box", but this is because the developers of commercial software don't choose to make them work easily with systems that aren't Windows! But having said that, there is no reason at all why software developers can't write applications to work on the OLPC machine.

    One other point. Are you aware that using XP on the OLPC machine will mean that some of its key functions are disabled?

  • Comment number 41.

    @Gurubear

    "But the world does care about education - that is the priority here."

    - Absolutely right, and the fact that using XP will disable some of the core functionality (and therefore educational use) of the OLPC machine is the major objection to its (very belated) introduction to the project.

  • Comment number 42.

    The amount of sheer stupidity and breathtaking ignorance shown by a good number of the posters here is staggering.

    Please try to understand that these PCs will be used to show kids basic skills like word processing, spreadsheet usage, etc. It doesn't matter what OS is used because they're not learning to program it.

    So, please, before you start on an idiotic "omg Ms iz teh dev1l!1!" rant you might actually want to consider what the machines are being used for and that MS's muscle might, you know, actually enable kids to learn and survive instead of dying in poverty.

    Just a thought.

  • Comment number 43.

    "The world really doesn't care a jot for the rather nasty MS v Linux spats - they are a little footnote buried in the technology pages that proves that IT attracts rather too many overheated zitty kids!"

    Seems to me the OLPC initiative is all about spreading the knowledge among overheated zitty kids, even if they are somewhat poorer than others :o).

    I think Linux is great - i am using it here. Windows is sometimes easier to install stuff on. But of course business and politics are involved. If Linux continues to develop at its current rate maybe it would be short sighted to concentrate on Windows.

    As a side not I work at a huge banking concern and we have tens of thousands of Linus servers, much of the support of which is outsourced abroad. Linux is a business system if not on the desktop. Availability of free compilers etc is a consideration for learning to no?

  • Comment number 44.

    I also think that the Linux supporters would be consistent and would like to see advanced nations using Linux in schools too and why not open-office and the range of applications now available make Linux it a genuine candidate.

    It does seem that that some of the educationalists are suggesting that the linux supporters are idealogues. Certainly there is some truth to that. However I would bet that most opensource developers actually work in private sector enterprises whereas most educationalists are employed in the public sector. Perhaps this is why in return the Linux supporters have a tendency to think of the educationalists as somewhat naive. A cultural clash. All the more outstanding I guess that Mr Negroponte has held the OLPC together this long.

    My guess is that in 12 months technology will have made OLPC product obsolete, shelf lives are terribly short in technology. What is important are the concepts and the program rather than the boxes themselves. If OLPC endures half as long as opensource then it will have proved itself a worthy initiative.

  • Comment number 45.

    @SteveFarr "Why deliberately restrict the Linux OS to open-source? Why? Why? Why? Try and answer that question in a non-ideological way!"

    Linux isn't an OS, it is an OS kernel. Nonetheless, doing other than "restricting it to open-source" would be illegal.

    "In my mind Flash support is a priority."

    Never mind the fact that installation of Flash on the XO is trivial and detailed on the OLPC website anyway, I find it hard to believe that Flash is an essential or even merely important requirement in the education of 6-12 year olds. Do you have evidence for this? From Becta or somewhere?

    @Mark_MWFC "The amount of sheer stupidity and breathtaking ignorance shown by a good number of the posters here is staggering."

    Indeed.

    "Please try to understand that these PCs will be used to show kids basic skills like word processing, spreadsheet usage, etc. "

    And that is another example of it.

  • Comment number 46.

    I am disappointed that many participants in this debate seem unable to move beyond the Windows versus Linux issue. "The main issues are educational ones," says Negroponte. But in saying so, he himself seems to be missing the point, and the point isn't the operating system -- it's Sugar.

    What makes OLPC special is the interplay between the Sugar interface and its Activities (applications), and the machine's mesh networking capabilities. In its departure from the desktop metaphor, Sugar places the child at the centre of her activities, and encourages collaboration in learning. As the Sugar Labs wiki says: "The Sugar interface... is the first serious attempt to create a user interface that is based on both cognitive and social constructivism: learners should engage is authentic exploration and collaboration... Everyone is a teacher and a learner."

    Consider, for example, the Write application, based on AbiWord. This is being developed to integrate with the mesh-network capabilities of the XO, and the "presence services", so that children can seamlessly co-edit written work in real time, even if they are away from school but within range of each other. Windows and its apps cannot deliver this experience.

    Go to http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Home and explore the accounts from pilot sites to see how children are using Sugar activities in their education.

    The Sugar suite is not a set of office applications being used in an educational context; they are being developed uniquely to serve an educational purpose. This is what countries who want the XO with the Windows option will be missing out on; but then, it is likely that these countries' educational authorities reject the constructionist premise. Such countries also seem to want to acquire computers for an older age-group, to teach marketable skills, whereas Sugar is aimed at fundamental abilities to think, learn and express oneself from the primary years onwards.

    I was cheered to read that Walter Bender is taking Sugar Labs into independent status, and that he hopes Sugar can be ported to other platforms, such as Ubuntu. Sugar deserves support!

  • Comment number 47.

    #40
    @MarkyMark47
    "One other point. Are you aware that using XP on the OLPC machine will mean that some of its key functions are disabled?"

    Yes. You mean stuff like Mesh networking? That was kind of a bridge too far for old WinXP. They would have needed to change some core functionality, by which time you're on your way to a whole new OS. But, remember my point about old tin cans?

    Given that OLPC was never designed for WinXP they've done a good job of incorperating most of the XO's key features.

    Interestingly, when you look at most PC manufactures, they have designed PCs particularly with Windows in mind which is why Linux has had such a rough ride over stuff like graphics cards. There is a real issue about the value of open hardware here, because when you go past education and onto IT training, in the developed world, you need to be able to do a lot with very little.

    Coming back to the issue though, i think its important that the XO can dual boot. Each OS adds its own particular value to the XO.

    Finally, i think it would be really exiting if Microsoft were to target the XO for Windows 7. As things stand porting Vista is practically impossible. And, why not have an OS X too? I have criticized Steve Jobs in blogs for ignoring the developing world. I used to similarly criticize Bill Gates. Thankfully we've moved on a pace.

  • Comment number 48.

    @conrad_taylor

    So it's not just a cheap consumer laptop then? ;-)

  • Comment number 49.

    #45
    @Magwitch

    "
    @SteveFarr "Why deliberately restrict the Linux OS to open-source? Why? Why? Why? Try and answer that question in a non-ideological way!"

    Linux isn't an OS, it is an OS kernel. Nonetheless, doing other than "restricting it to open-source" would be illegal."

    More precisely, its a licensing issue. Something that not-for-profits or charities need to do sometimes is negotiate a license that means they can have something for virtually-free. Its not illegal in the same sense as treason, breaking a trade embargo (sadly, XO cannot be exported to Cuba from the US), terrorism, or calling something an OS when it’s only OS kernel (apparently). Ideology sucks which ever way you look at it.


    "
    "In my mind Flash support is a priority."

    Never mind the fact that installation of Flash on the XO is trivial and detailed on the OLPC website anyway, I find it hard to believe that Flash is an essential or even merely important requirement in the education of 6-12 year olds. Do you have evidence for this? From Becta or somewhere?"

    If it is so trivial why not put in the box? OLPC should be reaching out to Adobe about licensing instead of trying to figure out alternatives, which nobody wants right now. If Adobe have a problem with that, OLPC should tell us all, 'cos i reckon public opinion is a powerful thing. Does having to learn English and learn how to use the world wide web before i can install it, count as trivial?

    Ok, i have two kids that fit into your age range, and yes they have moved on to using non-flash based applications such as OpenOffice for doing projects and homework. I have noticed that all their web-based homework assignments are all still flash-based tho. Seems awfully popular to me, Flash. I think restricting the age range for the OLPC is a bit severe. My four year old loves her computer. Right now, she’s even getting me into phonics! I’m having a hard time to find educational software that isn’t Flash based. Never heard of Becta. No sorry, i’m just a parent.

  • Comment number 50.

    @Magwitch:

    I can guarantee you that's what 95%+ of the laptops will be used for.

    OLPC's misison statement is to allow open source development but they admit they don't expect every child to become a programmer. The bottom line here is to teach these kids basic computer literacy.

  • Comment number 51.

    "OLPC should be reaching out to Adobe about licensing instead of trying to figure out alternatives, which nobody wants right now."

    I disagree. OLPC is (or was) about innovation: new ideas about and methods of enabling education for educators and children. Perhaps it would've been a mistake if it had just been about providing a low cost device capable of running the commercially available education software already available - and perhaps not. But that certainly isn't the case now that OLPC has stimulated competition and...

    "I?m having a hard time to find educational software that isn?t Flash based."

    ... I wonder how all the other developing country oriented educational charities have fared when they've reached out to commercial educational software providers. Perhaps not well enough to make the OLPC project and its Sugar etc. a redundant and purely ideological initiative.

  • Comment number 52.

    @Mark_MWFC

    Sorry but that (#50) is just blatantly incorrect:

    http://laptop.org/vision/mission/

    Read conrad_taylor's posts (#3, #46) above and spend some time surfing more of the OLPC site.

  • Comment number 53.

    One has to wonder why most of the writers are concerned about what flavour of OS is being used rather than being concerned at what the impact software will have on the success of the project. The real issue is what governments will allow the users to have access to and what they will be able to do with the material. At the present time third world nations seem to have more need of a cessation of wars and more opportunities for the population to access the necessities of life, food and shelter. After that comes intellectual freedom before the tools to take advantage of that freedom. As long as the tragedies of Darfar, DRC, Zimbabwe, Somalia etc continue the relative merits of OLPC are minuscule.
    The real issue is not with what or how children will be educated but what they will be able to learn. Given the continued advancements of hardware technology the form and internal machinations of the OLPC will become irrelevant. The most likely device will be something akin to the blackberry, a device where the end user has little or no concern of how it operates only what it can do. It will be a commodity throw away, easily and cheaply replaced.
    Neither Windows nor Unix in all their various flavours are the ideal OS. Windows is bloated beyond belief and breaks regularly usually in a most user unfriendly manner. Unix is like a religion with its own special lingo which while being amusing to the guys in the rubber rooms(I was one but got cured) that develop the code are just a pain for people who want to use it.
    I have one of the first ASUS eee boxes and its a great concept. It does what it claims it can. Its great for filling in time surfing the net between segments of Family Guy or South Park.

    I wish Mr. Negroponte ands the project every success. I think he's just being pragmatic and has realized that he needs to focus on the end rather than the means. Perhaps some of the naysayers could put their energies into achieving the objective rather than badmouthing the means of achieving it!

  • Comment number 54.

    You can justify and pontificate all you want;...

    IT ALL COMES DOWN TO *** M O N E Y ***

    An it's a damn shame that those in need suffer for those who are shameless in their greed!!

  • Comment number 55.

    @Magwitch:

    I have read the OLPC vision which was nice when they had their vision of farming out thousands of Sugar based machines.

    Of course, no-one actually cared enough to do this so now they can use them for a useful purpose - giving kids basic computer literacy which MS's clout will enable them to do.

    Clear enough for you?

  • Comment number 56.

    @Mark_MWFC

    What a depressingly limited view you have of the uses of the OLPC machine. I don't think you have understood the original vision at all.

  • Comment number 57.

    I am certainly a "first worlder" and my son has an OLPC from the G1G1 program. Personally, I respect the ideals that open source supporters hold dear. That said, I run 4 MS machines at home (xp and vista), 4 xp machines at work. I have a drive that I set up to run linux on one of my machines, mostly so I could learn along with my son and know how to support him.
    I don't think the choice of OS is all that important. I prefer windows. Big deal.
    I do have one question. At the writing of this message, there were already over 50 blog entries. These were mostly heated discussions of Linux vs. MS. There should, at this point, be about 600,000 OLPC's in the hands of children around the world. Many of them should have some form of access to the web - else why bother with "browse" activity. Is there anything that could be done to enlist their( and their parents' and their teachers' and their leaders') input in this discussion?
    Without such input, this discussion here is seemingly petty and academic.

  • Comment number 58.

    I found something which kind of illustrates my point. This link also contains a useful video...

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120647629738663217.html

    The original vision of OLPC may have been fine, but it is clear that the modern child's learning experience is centered around web-based applications. Perhaps there needs to be more direct focus in deploying the web in developing countries. Stuff like internet connectivity, and perhaps web-application server appliances in the classroom.

    I fear the OS wars thing is a totally unhelpful distraction.

 

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