I am disappointed to hear that the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative may be changing its original focus of providing a low-cost laptop to the world’s poorest children. Originally, the small device was to enter the market at $100 USD but had a production release price of $188 USD. It is still low-cost by any standard. It may take a huge jump in price if the OLPC group changes from the free Sugar OS, based on Linux, to the costly, proprietary, and soon to be unavailable Windows XP.
The cost of Windows XP is not the only factor in this equation. The hardware requirements are also higher for XP than for a Linux-based OS. And what happens when there are no more patches, fixes, and support available for the potentially hundreds of thousands of OLPC users? They will have an attractive doorstop or worse they will end up in landfills.
Chairman of the OLPC program, Nicholas Negroponte, is taking some heat over this whole “switch to Windows” suggestion. He claims that Sugar isn’t perfect and a switch to Windows would broaden its appeal. Walter Bender, president of software and content, has bailed-out of the project for sketchy reasons but many suggest that it is due to this XP scuttlebutt. Whatever Bender’s reason was for leaving the project, I feel confident that he will pick up a similar project or continue to work on the open source version of the OLPC project.
Perhaps companies like Microsoft should donate their Windows XP Operating System to the project and a few developers to keep it running. That would certainly bring some good will into their less than perfect corporate reputation.
If we truly want to provide laptops to every child, there needs to be a concerted effort to do so. A single non-profit company and a few developers with some spare time can’t do it. The project needs a dedicated work force regardless of the Operating System it uses. Of course, I would prefer that they use Linux but if Microsoft were to donate XP or another OS (OK, not Vista) to it, I would be happy. Maybe Apple should step up on this one and provide OS X.
The Operating System, and the bickering that follows, is far less important than the goal of the project itself: To provide one laptop per child.