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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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September252007

Buy One Laptop, Give One Free

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the developers of the so-called $100 laptop have changed their minds and decided to make the device available to the U.S. market. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to stroll down to your local Best Buy and pick one off the shelves. Why the turnaround, and what opportunities might it present?

There’s no getting around it - everyone, it seems, has an opinion about MIT’s One Laptop Per Child Initiative (OLPC), aka the $100 laptop. It’s gotten a lot of flak because of that nickname, because it gave the impression that this low-cost, low-energy, durable, education-oriented computing device would actually be made available to the market for a hundred bucks when it came out.

Unfortunately, that’s never really been the case. One hundred dollars was a long-term goal, not an MSRP. The idea was to make the laptop available to developing nations, which would purchase them in bulk - literally purchase orders of one million or more - so they could be distributed to students for use at school and at home. These bulk purchases, in combination with MIT’s efforts to lower the cost of the device’s component parts, would hopefully bring down the cost of each unit towards $100, if not that exact price. Unfortunately, meeting this goal has been difficult; just last week, media outlets ran the headline $100 Laptop Now the $188 Laptop. What was once a catchy name was quickly becoming a PR albatross.

Meanwhile, another criticism surrounding the initiative has been the complaint that the OLPC would not be available to U.S. consumers. From the beginning of the program, founder Nicholas Negroponte had insisted that the target audience for the OLPC was children in the developing world, but this didn’t sit well with critics who retorted that American students and households could benefit from access to the device as well. As early as 2005, Negroponte hinted at the possibility of making a more expensive version of the device available to the U.S. market as a way of offsetting costs in the developing world, but until now, there weren’t any details about how this might work.

All of that changed this past weekend when Negroponte announced that a working model of the laptop, now branded the XO laptop, would be made available during a brief window this November as part of an initiative called Give 1 Get 1. On November 12, OLPC will make the XO laptop available for purchase to US consumers for a two-week period, online and over the phone, but not in retail stores. To buy one, you’ll have to shell out $399.

For those of you who are beginning to groan about how $399 is a tad more than $100 or $188, there’s more to it than that. As the “Give 1 Get 1” name suggests, your $399 will actually be regarded by OLPC as a donation that will allow them to give one XO laptop to a child in the developing world. In return for that donation, you’ll get your own laptop as well. It’s basically the equivalent of buy one, give one free.

In many ways, the announcement is a repudiation of Negroponte’s original business model, in which large purchase orders by developing nations would lower the cost of the device. “I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a check written,” Negroponte told the International Herald Tribune. “And, yes, it has been a disappointment.”

OLPC News, a blog that serves as a watchdog for the initiative, gives Negroponte credit for this admission.

Rather than kick a man when he’s down, I’d like to say “Thank you” to Dr. Negroponte. He’s surprised me by actually admitting his mistake; I didn’t think his expansive ego would’ve permitted it. In addition, he is trying to correct his mistake and save OLPC production….

Nicholas Negroponte deserves credit for recognizing that developing world governments were not going to commit on his time or orders scale and changing his distribution method. He needs to get a critical mass of users and programmers to show that One Laptop Per Child is a credible agent for educational change….

Yes, American geek tech-lust and greed will usurp developing world children at first, and that will probably be the best thing that happens for One Laptop Per Child.

And that last sentence is perhaps the most interesting point to come out of the announcement. By making the device available to U.S. consumers, a certain percentage of those people who end up purchasing the device will do so to test it, tinker with it, try to break it, create new software for it, re-write the software that comes with it. Because the XO laptop will run on an open source operating system and employ open source software, there’s a large developer community out there eager to take a crack at enhancing its capabilities. And over time, this will help the XO evolve into a stronger computing platform.

The big question I have, though, is how many of those programming geeks will be interested in developing educational tools for the XO. I suspect we’ll be more likely to see a surge of gaming and entertainment software created for the laptop before we see a really cool physics simulator or musical composition tool. I hope to be proven wrong, though. It would be great to see school districts or nonprofit groups pool together to buy a bunch of the laptops to make them available to tech-savvy students and teachers specifically for tinkering in an educational context, whether for formal or informal learning purposes. They could also have their students test its capabilities in contrast with other computing devices, to see how it stacks up to computers currently used in educational settings.

However, if there are any schools champing at the bit eager to get some XOs for their schools, I only have one request for them. Please don’t tether them; let your students take them home. Don’t lock them down; encourage students try to run their own software and tinker with the operating system. Get them dirty. Make students collaborate and create stuff. Otherwise, the XO will be just a miniaturized desktop PC, a mere reference and publishing tool, and not the transformative device as was originally conceived.

It’s an experimental platform, folks. So let’s experiment. -andy

Filed under : Cool Tools, Mobile Devices

Responses

“I suspect we’ll be more likely to see a surge of gaming and entertainment software created for the laptop before we see a really cool physics simulator or musical composition tool. I hope to be proven wrong, though.”

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/TamTam

You’re wrong.

Awesome! That was easy - though I was thinking of something more along the lines of Sibelius. Either way, I’ll take it.

Nonetheless, I still suspect we’ll see a surge in gaming programming that’ll probably surpass educational programming. But I still hope that won’t be the case.

Andy,

Do you realize this laptop will not sell more than a few hundred units in the USA (mostly to clueless geeks)?

Marketing the XO to the American public is Prof. Negroponte’s latest blunder. How long will it be before the word spreads that:

1. There is no tech support or clear warranty policy. For example: who do you call if the XO doesn’t work? Do you get $200 or $400 back in case of returns?

2. You can’t do many of the things the regular person takes for granted when buying a computer: you can’t do something as basic as attaching an off-the-shelf printer to the laptop; you can’t store your work; you can’t install your favorite software, etc. etc.

I’m not surprised by the OLPC’s failure; that could be seen coming from the beginning. Too many empty promises, too much hype and too many outright lies.

What surprises me the most is the fact that nobody is addressing the simplest issues, like the ones I mention above.

How dumb can these smart people be?

Think about this for a second:

You can’t use a printer with this laptop. Yes, you heard right: you can not install a printer.

Do you honestly think people will buy it if they know this?

I don’t.

Selling only a few hundred devices is a bold prediction, Lou. Let’s see what happens.

Andy,

I forgot about the much-vaunted battery life “measured in days, not hours” according to Prof. Negroponte, direct beneficiary of some of the biggest and most blind press coverage in recent memory.

It turns out that life is not so rosy in the real world:

“We are encouraging them to bring their laptops fully charged from home, though the battery takes too long to get fully charged and around 2 to 3 hours to get discharged.

Children found that the chargers get too hot for them, so they have been instructed to turn off the power strip before lacing or removing their charger. “

Source:

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Peru/Arahuay

Any chance that the Big Stores could facilitate a “want to donate towards a third world PC” project in this Christmas season?

I might not be able to donate a full $188, but if 4 folks purchasing a new PC would be willing to pony up $47 (or purchase a $42 upgrade on the machine for $99 with the difference being donated, or …. let the marketers be creative and come up with a better package) there might be a whole lot of machines available.

“Yes, American geek tech-lust and greed will usurp developing world children at first, and that will probably be the best thing that happens for One Laptop Per Child.” - OLPC News.

Couldn’t agree more. I’ll predict (in contrast to Lou) that many geeks and universities will get a cult-kick out of tinkering with this device. I’ll bet that the thing sells poorly, but to the right people and that those few people will develop software and tools (crank powered printers which run off the network instead of usb or something) to make the thing pretty amazing.

I don’t know, as far as I’m concerned geeks can do just about anything. They’re like wizards of the modern age, but with fewer girlfriends.

Kudos to Mr. Negroponte for believing in community and for making an effort!

I agree with Wilson. But I can’t help wonder about the underdeveloped countries who still have basic needs like clean water, food and clothes? I think that I will give to them this Christmas season. I hope you will too.

Really good idea.
Rgds
Andrew

I think I like the idea of a low cost laptop especially with an alternative power source option such as hand cranking. Was surprised that the XO will not come with a printer interface. It is exciting that students may be able to use it as an experimental kit and yet at the same time use it as a regular laptop.

As usual, people sitting at home behind their monitors feel justified in pointing out all the flaws in a new idea.
You have to make mistakes to learn anything of real value.
Take chances, make mistakes, learn, and get up and do it again. And in a perfect, world you will be hailed as a hero and someone willing ‘to be the change’.

I would like to know what you think about the viability of this for the children intended in the developing world. If my students want to support education for impoverished children in SEA or Africa, is this a good vehicle right now?

Lou - I hear Intel is a pretty good place to work. How long have you been there?

Is the program still available? Also, my only use for the laptop would be to access the internet for e-mail; shopping, etc., without having to go to my home office to use the desktop. Is this possible? Thanks

Re:
1. There is no tech support or clear warranty policy. For example: who do you call if the XO doesn’t work? Do you get $200 or $400 back in case of returns?…..
Each location worldwide is encouraged to establish a tech support center for hardware repairs and replacement. We encourage the students to be involved in the repair as much as possible. Some ideas on this have been written up in the Laptop Service Program Ideas.

We strongly encourage you to get involved by initiating/joining a local users group, many of which are listed above.

See Disassembly for instructions on taking apart your XO. Do NOT remove the watch battery on the mother board if you disassemble your machine; prior to the Q2D07 version of firmware, this can result in the computer becoming unusable.

RMS Logistics may offer Post-Warranty Repair Support at their North American repair facility, after your 30-day Warranty expires.

Thanks for giving such laptop information for me.I often buy notebook and notebook battery from online stores.

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