The OLPC Dream Fails

The One Laptop Per Child project aimed to design an open computing platform that could affordably bring computing to poor nations worldwide where it was most relevant, by providing children with laptops charitably for their education. The laptop would be small, obviously designed (to discourage theft or resale), friendly and intuitive, would educate children in the use of technologies which will be essential to their country’s development in the near future, and, critically, it would cost less than $100.

Key attractive features of the OLPC platform were openness, reliability and customisation. The Open platform was supposed to enable children to learn programming and computer skills. The Reliability was essential where the laptops would effectively be irreperable if they suffered software or hardware damage (third world, remember?), and customisation would allow them to be tailored to various educational uses. They could be used as ebook platforms for schooling, edutainment platforms, or programming and networking computers for advanced use.

OLPC has recently abandoned all three features by adopting Windows as its default platform rather than the open platform it had started with. This means the operating system will not be open, it will not be reliable, and it will not be customisable. In addition, the low cost of the laptop, essential to its success, is due in part to the cheap manufacture of what’s basically a sub-standard modern laptop, and the requirements of Windows XP have already forced one change in the laptop’s manufacture to support its unnecessarily large memory footprint, which still leaves less available memory for applications despite doubling the hardware.

More important than the annoying effects on the hardware and the flexibility of the software, the OLPC project has become exactly the opposite of its ideological root. Rather than enabling a generation who may come to empower their countries with computing skills that are unfettered and flexible, they will now be provided with the least flexible and most commercially crippling operating system in existance. Microsoft has already flooded third world markets with Windows products to encourage dependance on their products when payday comes around, and the OLPC has become yet another Microsoft marketing ploy.

I’m bitterly dissapointed in the project. I was actually planning to donate. With any luck, the EeePC will be marketed at the third world in a similar manner to compete with Windows there, before we end up with yet more of the population stuck with a Microsoft addiction.

Shame on you, Nicholas Negroponte.