OLPC Changes Course, Again

“OLPC is a non-profit that planned to change the world, through cutting-edge technology, by connecting its poorest corners. And now it’s selling unnecessary gadgetry to middle-class Americans. Has it completely lost its way?”

see Has One Laptop Per Child Totally Lost Its Way?.

Of course that’s harsh. The first OLPC netbook was a wonderful advancement in small cheap computers. There were creative concepts introduced that are still valid today. The new XO tablet is instead made from COTS parts and only the packaging is unique. Selling at Walmart will generate revenue to fund distribution in emerging countries, bridging the digital divide.

At Walmart the price is ~$150 and these are the advertised features:

  • Fully functional Android tablet
  • Parental safety controls
  • Educational content
  • Customizable interface allows multiple users to cutomize tablet to their favourite character
  • Includes:

    AC Adaptor
    XO app store

There is distinctive stuff over and above a standard Android/Linux tablet and it is customizable for any market. What is the authour of TFA bitching about? From what I see on US TV USAians need to bridge the digital divide too and spruce up their spotty educational system. The XO tablet should fit right in.

From OLPC:
“The new family-friendly XO Tablet debuts July 16 on Walmart.com and will be in Walmart stores on August 1, and will provide kids with a fun and exciting new way to build, learn and dream at their own pace via a powerful Android tablet packed with free educational games, apps, videos, e-books and more. The flexible tablet also grows with the family offering up to three separate user accounts plus full-fledged Android tablet functionality with parental-controlled access to conventional Android apps and the Google Play store.”

Young children are uninhibited and need IT that works for them. The XO tablet has a role and should be sold globally. Young children have poor hand-eye coordination and appreciate cartoon-like colours. The XO tablet has that in spades. The current version is English/Spanish. Next will come French/Italian for Europe.

OLPC is a non-profit organization but to produce a product for the world it needs revenue and the established markets for IT has that. Since most of the devices in that market are for grown-ups, it makes sense for OLPC to ship units there at market-prices as a source of revenue and also to improve the life of children there. They can then ship units at subsidized prices to the rest of the world. Think about it. That’s not much different than the previous “by two, give one” campaign. Whatever works…

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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10 Responses to OLPC Changes Course, Again

  1. dougman says:

    Of course M$ jumped over the OLPC from the very beginning, as it does not want children growing up sans them. Once the children are use to other competing technologies, this extends into other venues and dilutes M$ market and mindshare.

    To Bill Gates, these computers are inferior technology, so massively inferior in his view that there is nothing that can be done with them that can’t be done ten times better with a computer that costs twice as much. But by dropping the price by 50% and then rethinking everything, discarding every assumption and building from scratch, you create an entirely new market, one that seems to be vastly inferior to the existing market, with a very long road ahead to maturity, and technology will, in a few years, produce a product that is the same as the low end PCs, so why waste all that time and effort.

    Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Wednesday mocked a $100 laptop computer for developing countries being developed with the backing of rival Google at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    The $100 laptop project seeks to provide inexpensive computers to people in developing countries. The computers lack many features found on a typical personal computer, such as a hard disk and software.

    “The last thing you want to do for a shared use computer is have it be something without a disk…and with a tiny little screen,” Gates said at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in suburban Washington, D.C.

    Funny reading that, as what he just described everyone’s cell phone.

    “Hardware is a small part of the cost” of providing computing capabilities, he said, adding that the big costs come from network connectivity, applications and support.

    AHhhh, wrong Billy. That is what M$ wants, but the market is saying otherwise nowadays. Texas Instruments has a chip that has an integrated IPV6 stack and built in wireless, cost .99 cents. Software does not costs hundred’s of dollars, it is mainly free today and what of support? Well, my Android tablet and Chromebook been working non-stop for quite sometime now, I don;t need support. The only people that need support are Windows users. Thats the main reason I am in business, 80% derived work is due to Windows problems.

    To summarize, M$ cannot tie up the market for ever. Computers will become smaller, faster and cheaper as we go and Moore’s laws says so.

  2. oiaohm says:

    bw read the one laptop per child goal of existence. Selling in wallmart is not counter to that goal.
    “Mission Statement: To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.”

    Some of the poorest children are in the USA. Next there are a lot of design selections in the OX Tablet that make it stronger than most other tablets on the shelf.

    This is the thing making profit is not counter to the One Laptop Per Child. Where does it say the laptop has to be free and people cannot make a profit making it.

    bw this is the big problem with people like you. You fail to understand FOSS is about profit in different ways. Those different sources of profit fund FOSS projects forwards.

  3. bw wrote, “You have to agree that the situation is suspicious.”

    This is business as usual with such electronics. Moore’s Law etc. has caught up with the concept of OLPC and normal OEMs can crank out the units more efficiently. It’s all good.

  4. bw says:

    That’s the way they work

    If you had read your own cite, you would see where a couple of commercial interest, the OEM and Wal-Mart, are taking their normal bite and the OLPC has been refusing to comment on the charity aspect of the deal. You have to agree that the situation is suspicious.

  5. Mats Hagglund says:

    Never mind, there lots of new cheaper devices coming. Raspberry PI ain’t the only and last one.

  6. bw wrote of OLPC, “No evidence that the sellers are saying that proceeds go to charity at all”.

    OLPC is a registered charity. That’s the way they work. Make a little money here. Spend all of it there.

  7. bw wrote, of OLPC, “flopped, more or less, and very few of these beasties ever saw the light of day”.

    M$ and Intel did their best to ensure that but it lives on and millions were produced enlightening the world and showing millions they had a choice. Venezuela got a bunch of Classmate PCs (inspired by OLPC) and, guess what, Venezuela has one of the highest GNU/Linux page-view shares on Statcounter, 5.81%. It was as high as 9% at one point.

    So, OLPC did not flop and it was not simply a concept in the ivory towers. It was innovative and prompted all kinds of developments. It was probably right behind the ASUS eeePC in promoting the small cheap computer concept and look where we are today, more small cheap computers shipping than legacy PCs.

  8. lpbbear says:

    “OLPC was a stupid idea from the start.”

    That may or may not be true but…….the “pick me pick me” company, who just can’t stand it when some other idea or technology is getting some media attention instead of them, sure jumped in the OLPC arena with both feet as fast as their greedy little envious psychotic corporate selves could.


    Apparently the braniacs at Mickeysoft must have thought it was a good idea eh?

  9. bw says:

    OLPC was a stupid idea from the start. A bunch of MIT and Harvard profs sitting around the faculty club at 100 MemDrive sipped their cognac and came up with an audacious plan to drive PCs into a new price point and create a nerd heaven feel-good moment at the same time. It flopped, more or less, and very few of these beasties ever saw the light of day.

    The local LUG was showing one around a few years ago that derived from a buy one (at $400) and we’ll send a free one to some needy kid somewhere, with a rather vague sort of guarantee that would happen. One big-hearted member of the LUG bit on it and brought his $400 toy in for show and tell. A real piece of junk. It still needed a wall-pack to charge up and only ran for a couple of hours before the battery died. I doubt that it was going to make any kid’s day in the third world.

    I felt that it would be far better to just buy up the world’s surplus of decent laptops that were laying around eBay and surplus outlets for $50 to $150 and sent them out to the kids. Put Linux on them or leave them with XP, who cares when all they are doing is web surfing?

    What we have now is a $69 cheapo Android tablet with a goofy rubber case selling for $150. No evidence that the sellers are saying that proceeds go to charity at all. Maybe its the next Tickle Me Elmo, but I bet not.

  10. Agent_Smith says:

    OLPC lost its way when they sold it to M$ and Intel. From that point onward, it only went downhill.

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