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Assessing the true cost of One Laptop Per Child

By Lisa Hoover on December 08, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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While Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has garnered a tremendous amount of support worldwide, it has also become a lightning rod for critics who have questioned the viability of its long-term success and impact. As the OLPC receives its first shipment of laptops and continues to formalize agreements with developing countries, the cost of individual laptops hover at about $130. Critics, however, suggest that the "true cost" may be several times that amount.

Jon Camfield, a writer for OLPC News and master's degree candidate in the International Science and Technology Program at George Washington University, says that once maintenance, training, Internet connectivity, and other factors are taken into account, the actual cost of each laptop rises to more than $970. This, he says, doesn't even take in to account the additional costs associated with theft, loss, or accidental damage. Camfield contends that such an expensive undertaking should at least be field-tested in pilot programs designed to establish the viability of the project before asking countries to invest millions, or perhaps billions, of dollars.

Maintenance and support issues

According to Camfield, one of the largest factors associated with the cost of the laptops involves training local educators on how to best use the machines in a classroom setting. "Training is critical," he says. "OLPC has a very specific vision with regards to educational pedagogies which is very child-centric. This is certainly a valid approach, but in many (if not all) cases, there are institutional constraints that will not change overnight. Some degree of teacher training and integration into educational curricula/daily classroom practices must take place for the laptops to be used. They are fantastic tools with great promise, but if the education system mandates written tests based on specific printed materials, the laptops will not find a place in the class where students and teachers are focused on getting a solid test grade which increases downstream educational and occupational opportunities. Teaching for tests in this way is not ideal, but may be a reality."

Then there is the importance of training local people on the nuances of supporting and maintaining the machines themselves. Although Negroponte has said he hopes that 95% of the maintenance will be done by the children who own the laptops, Camfield says that goal "may or may not work out in practice."

Chris Blizzard, a Red Hat developer working closely with the OLPC project, says routine maintenance of the machines will be easy, given the simplistic nature of the laptop's design. "[M]ost of the maintenance of the laptop can be done in the field and should be very easy. For example, it should be possible to replace the LEDs that run the backlight for the display in the field. Battery replacement is easy and low-cost. Common fixes should be able to be done by just about anyone with a small set of tools."

Edward Cherlin, a volunteer with the OLPC project, says he expects children will respond enthusiastically to the opportunity to learn how to do their own machine maintenance. "Any sufficiently nerdy 12-year-old can beat out an adult on learning computer software and hardware any day. We don't recognize the existence of nerds in village societies because they traditionally have nothing to be nerdy about, but they are there. So the cost is nearly nothing, as long as the manuals are free in electronic form."

Theft and resale

The concern over theft (and subsequent gray market resale) of the laptops is so prevalent among supporters and critics alike that the OLPC team has invited suggestions from the computing community at large on how to address the issue. Khaled Hassounah, OLPC's director for Middle East and Africa, says, "The theft challenge is more complex than people believe, but not necessarily more difficult to handle. There are different dimensions to the theft problem, and there is a wide variety in the reasons why people steal, the sophistication of their methods, the ways in which they sell the stolen goods, etc. Given the complexity, multiple methods will be used to prevent theft."

According to Blizzard, "The best way to prevent theft is to make the machine useless if it's stolen. So we're looking at ways to make the machine useless if it's taken out of range of a school for a certain period of time." Although making the machines available to the developed world at low prices would help minimize the laptop's resale value on the gray market, Blizzard says OLPC has opted not to at this time.

Cherlin points out that the design of the laptops themselves will decrease their resale value on the gray market. "Sellers of stolen laptops will not be able to pretend that they were legitimately acquired. Buyers have to not mind that the laptops are rather underpowered for business, with slow processors, limited memory, small screens, no hard drives, and other deficiencies. Internal expansion is not possible, by design. They have to keep the laptops hidden or not mind that other people know they are using a stolen computer."

OLPC News' Jon Camfield acknowledges that "while there's no real 'solution' to loss or theft, OLPC is on the right track for dealing with them, focusing on the economic and social aspects. The OLPC is strongly visually branded, and there's some discussion of various security settings requiring connection to the mesh network in some form or another, reducing its resale value. This won't prevent all theft, and probably some insurance-like policy will have to be put in place for replacement (which doesn't further encourage gray and black market transactions). It's a difficult topic that's being addressed well."

Internet access

Placing a laptop in the hands of a child is one thing, but providing Internet access for maximum usefulness is another. In many countries where even basic electricity is lacking, establishing Internet connectivity can quickly cause the actual cost of a laptop to skyrocket.

"This is a big question mark," says Camfield. "SES Global has made a promise to provide to the project, so perhaps this is a moot point, but I wonder how long SES will be able to donate bandwidth at such a low cost to a billion children. They have a track record in connectivity projects, so there's hope. Standard forms of Internet access in third world nations are prohibitively expensive, averaging $56.31 for 20 hours of monthly dial-up access."

Hassounah says that OLPC is looking into low-cost alternatives for Internet access, including creating infrastructure "in a way that allows for maximum use of local skill, tools, and components and in a way that insures it can be locally maintained going forward." Depending on local resources, connectivity could take the form of WiMAX, local ad-hoc networking between schools, satellite connections, and even cellular-based connections.

According to Cherlin, wireless connectivity is the least expensive option, with other alternatives that range into the billions. "There is a fiber optic link down the west side of Africa, and another being laid down the east side. These cost a billion dollars or more each, but connect dozens of countries for some tens of millions each. Copper is highly impractical outside the cities in Africa and in some other regions. It gets stolen and sold as scrap. Point-to-point links cost less than $1,000 each for up to 50 miles. Local Wi-Fi distribution for a village costs a few hundred dollars. WiMAX will cover whole towns and the surrounding villages to tens of kilometers out, at somewhat higher prices. VSAT terminals cost $900. Satellite service in Africa is extremely expensive, but will come down whenever sufficient competition takes hold."

So, what's the "true cost"?

From theft deterrent to wireless connectivity, clearly there are several issues to look at before the true cost of the OLPC project can be determined. Camfield says the most realistic way to determine those costs is through thorough field testing. While Negroponte has already supplied school children in a rural Cambodian village with their own laptops and often refers to that effort's success as a motivating factor for the OLPC project, he has declined to provide specific results of the Cambodian field tests.

"[OLPC's] annual projected budget will be $30 billion to push these laptops out, which is more than Intel's annual income and more than the World Bank's entire lending for all of 2005," says Camfield. "And naturally, all the countries will be taking out loans to cover this purchase. It's a huge risk to take without seeing some pilot project evidence. As Negroponte pointed out, the success of the OLPC project may be hard to quantify using testing methods. With a loan, however, there is a simple measure of success -- will the OLPC laptops improve the country's economy enough to begin loan payments in time? Wouldn't a pilot project be a safer way to test this?"

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on Assessing the true cost of One Laptop Per Child

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Cost is a two sided coin

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 02:31 AM
Yes, there is a cost of both buying and operating the systems, but people seem tothink that this is 100% loss. That is simply not true.

What if some of those village geeks really understand the stuff? Then they might start using this for more than just school work. They might have a side gig doing development. That would likely pay far more than the $1000 thrown about in only a year.

Perhaps this technology will allow communities to work together to build better agricultural or sanitation systems, once again saving more than it costs.

The real point is two fold:
1) Cost is real, and may be higher than expected, but must be balanced with profit.

2) This is a complex system, and I do not think that anyone can really understand the full implications of it. We may never know if this was really beneficial or not.

#

I'm Surprised

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 02:37 AM
I'm surprised at the number of big critics of this project. For all the good that it is supposed to offer, there seem to be a lot of people who simply do not WANT it to happen. I can't imagine why these people do not WANT it to happen.

I'm one of many who doubt that this will be the warm and fuzzy project that they hope it to be but, I don't want to prevent it from happening.

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Re:I'm Surprised

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 02:58 AM
Yes, that's true - I _want_ to see every child in third world countries with a laptop, but I also want to see the cure to AIDS, cancer, etc.

It will be great if the project succeeds, but it's absorbing huge amounts of money - if it fails, think of what that money could have been used for. If the money were _really_ well spent, the children of third world countries might not live in third world countries any more!

It's a good project, but only if it works<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-)

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Re:I'm Surprised

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 03:37 AM
So you don't think that enabling the very people with the strongest interest in the cure for AIDS to become better educated and to be more productive in many things that they do will speed the development of a cure?

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No. It Won't.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 04:04 AM
There's a slim chance that the education that you speak of might reduce the spread but, it's highly unlikely to have anything to do with finding a cure.

You're one of those project supporters with the warm and fuzzy, 'OLPC will save the planet', fantasies. All I can say is sorry. The world doesn't work like that. Get use to it.

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Re:No. It Won't.

Posted by: EnigmaOne on December 09, 2006 02:02 PM
That's right.

Uneducated people find cures and improve their own lot in life all the time.

People like you disgust me...ALL THE TIME.

#

Don't be silly

Posted by: alandd on December 09, 2006 05:02 AM
It's good "only if it works." Duh.

So what should the money be spent on? Maybe:

Water wells? They might dry up next year or be dug in the wrong spot or poisoned or something. It might not work! Think of what the money could have been used for!

Inexpensive housing? If they aren't built right they'll be no better off than their current shelter and people may steal the materials to resell or the environment might be harmed. It might not work! Think of what the money could have been used for!

Farm technology? They might eat the seeds instead of planting them or locusts may eat the crops or they have no way to maintain the tractors or whatever. It might not work! Think of what the money could have been used for!

Anything tried might fail to combat poverty as much as hoped. Is that a reason to not try?

Anything choosen to spend money on will not be "_really_ well spent" according to someone's opinion. Is that a reason to vacilate or cancel your own project?

Obviously you think giving poor kids a computer is *not* "_really_ well spent" but you offer no specifics as to what would be better and why. And frankly, Negroponte and lots of other people disagree with your assessment. That makes neither them nor you right or wrong. You just care about different aspects of the overall problem.

#

Fanboy ilLogic.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 05:46 AM
I'd much rather see money spent on time tested, long proven techniques and technologies like, clean water, (you forgot)sewerage, inexpensive housing, farming(!!!) even if they are failed attempts, than see good money wasted on yet another halfbaked technology solution.

That's my biggest issue with OLPC. It is yet another attempt at a technology solution for a people problem. It is my opinion that people solutions, like those mentioned above have a far greater chance of success as well as providing immediate and measureable relief to a people problem.

#

Short sighted

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 07:50 PM
Have you ever been to the third world?

You are short sighted.

Not everyone in the third world lives at the absolute minimum. Quite a few people in the third world don't have the worry about their daily food and water a great deal, though they have to be crative and cautious on what they spent their little money on. However, for this people education is beyond their reach. It is too expensive. It is this kind of people the OLPC project is aiming at.

 

#

I Have.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 10, 2006 03:57 AM
Have YOU ever been to the third-world? For more than a four day cruise? Are you one of those "world travelers" who once spent a month in some village on a church mission? Your assertion of short sightedness is both presumptuous and laughable.

I was born and raised in a third-world country. I have lived in four others since then and I have traveled extensively to more than a dozen so called third-world countries. In most of them, education, at least to the fourth form(high school) level, is provided free by the government and attendance is mandatory.

In these same countries many "under privileged" families have homes, stolen electricity, televisions, pirate satellite dishes, cell phones(!)and a few even have cars. ALL of these same people would greatly benefit from clean water, sewage/septic services, family planning education, affordable housing, farming education and more.

They may or may not receive some slight benefit from OLPC but, the previously mentioned things would benefit the majority of the people and in a much shorter term. Is that what you fee is being short sighted? Helping many people right now, versus possibly helping a few in the distant future.

#

Re:I'm Surprised

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 11:15 AM
You only have to look at the vested interests of the naysayers to understand why there's so much FUD being lobbed in the OLPC's direction. This includes Billie "I own the fucking universe" Gates and Craig "it only works if it's Intel inside" Barrett, along with the usual crowd of "we need to make a gazillion dollars profit on this or it's not viable".
The bottom line is that greedy bastard U.S. corporations were shut out of the equation and they'll go to any lengths to denigrate the project - including spoon-feeding FUD to the completely technology-illiterate media pundits who eagerly regurgitate said tripe.

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Re:I'm Surprised

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 06:43 PM
Stop shouting, moron.

#

OLPC and probably critics both right

Posted by: alandd on December 09, 2006 03:04 AM
The debate is silly since it is not really a debate about the same thing. It depends on where you draw the cost boundary. The OLPC project defines the boundary at the "retail" price of the computer itself. The critics are drawing a much larger boundary that includes maintainance, etc.

One side cannot change the conditions of the measurement and then claim that the other side is wrong.

How much does a car cost? Well the sticker says $10,000 but to drive it off the lot with delivery fees, dealer prep, sales tax, etc. it will take much more than that out of your pocket. And then it takes gas, oil, insurance, tires, etc. So how much does it cost? Depends on where you draw the boundary and what you care about.

The discussion is fine but argument about this is a waste.

#

Are You New Here?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 04:23 AM
Haven't you heard? It's all about Total Cost of Ownership(TCO) and Return On Investment(RIO). OLPC like Linux is certain to rule the world, if you're so inclined, because of the TCO and RIO.

Many will debate that the TCO is quite high because of the hidden costs like support and theft(???). But, they fail to realize that the ROI offsets the TCO in a major frigging way.

The children supposedly don't pay anything for the laptop so their investment is 0 and if they get anything at all out of it, even if it is just the pennies for recycling the raw materials, then their ROI is gigantenormous. Nicholas Negroponte hasn't invested anything in it, not even his time(the university pays him quite well for his flights of fancy and he is also paid by One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a Delaware-based, non-profit organization created by faculty members from the MIT Media Lab), so the money he gets from this endeavor is a massive ROI. Not to mention the press which will likely land him a position on some corporate board of directors for another healthy salary.

Now the businesses that are donating to this and the governments that will supposedly fund it with real cash and IMF loans, their ROI is going to be much harder to measure. After sinking millions or billions of dollars into OLPC they can expect to reap ethereal gains in their economy, thanks to increased education. Besides, the world will be a better place and that's imeasurable. If nothing else, think of the children!!!

Please send donations to: OLPC c/o Nicholas Negroponte

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And let's not forget...

Posted by: Joseph Cooper on December 13, 2006 06:53 AM
What is the Total Cost of Ownership of a $1000 laptop with a fragile hard drive, equal risk of theft, greater value of theft and a more elaborate, complicated interface that will cost more to train and learn, and higher electricity costs, and so on?

Obviously it's Total Cost of Ownership is greater than the cost of the unit itself, but it really has no competition there either.

#

Buy one = give one for free to a needy child deal.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 07:33 AM
I would buy one today to $200.

Heck, why not sell them in the market place where you offer a price where if someone buys one then another one is given away for free in some corner of the world and have a non-pofit available to give a receipt for the donation of the additional sum for tax donation deduction purposes. If that meant that some had to pay $260 for the laptop and got a $130 donation reciept... I bet many would line up for the deal.

How about everyone else would this sound good to you too?

#

get out of my head!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 11, 2006 07:54 AM
Hehe.. I was thinking the same thing. For my own child, I'll eventually need a basic introductory machine and you really do need to start simple and build to a "realy" adult OS. I wouldn't have a second thought about paying double the ratail knowing that half of it was a machine going to a truly needy child.

#

this is bogus

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 08:47 AM
The claim is that a $150 laptop actually costs $970 due to training, maintainance, internet access, etc.

So, that means my US $1000 laptop actually costs $1800 or so.

I certainly haven't spent $800 on support and internet (yet). Sure, if you cost the *time* I've spent configuring it, downloading software, learning how to use the software, etc., at $50/hour, it would reach $800 easily.

But that is not the right way to think of it. Each school is going to develop a couple gurus, often teenagers, who will troubleshoot the local problems, enjoy doing so, learn from doing so, and do it for FREE.

Further, economics is tricky stuff. For every "cost", there is someone else who can look at it as a "sale". For the economy as a whole, it's misleading to look at only the cost side of things. This is going to create new jobs, generate new business, etc.

Thus, bogus, and I suspect intentionally so.

#

Seems quite low for TCO figures

Posted by: ayeomans on December 09, 2006 07:04 PM
A decade or so ago Intel put out TCO figures around $9000 pa for a PC, when you added all those extra costs. I came across a Gartner study cliaming they had dropped to $6800 by 2003. So these figures of $900 are *really good value* in comparison.

#

Who says they didn't? Ignorance isn't an opinion!

Posted by: bob_calder on December 09, 2006 09:13 AM

Hasn't anyone noticed that OLPC criticisms are like ID arguments? Who the hell says nobody did any of this crap yet?


The laptop project was tested in two places I know of. Cambodia and Maine. Negroponte went over it in his TED talk way back last winter. No infrastructure? Americans are such arrogant jerks.


At many schools the only way you get anything fixed is by asking a kid. But forget fixing. What is the cost of replacing one? Oh, yeah, $150.00.


The cost of support CAN'T be measured by our costs either. It will most likely be similar to any university running Moodle, a mail server, and DHCP. Big damn deal. Ask Open University. What, the largest online institution in the world isn't good enough for you? You need more tests? In think I remember Negroponte answering that one too.


Good thing they didn't suggest Microsoft's solution. The $12,000 laptop per child.

#

Cost of support is a laugh

Posted by: lsatenstein on December 09, 2006 09:05 PM
What does it cost in an underdevelopped country to train a person who draws no salary, and who, if he/she works, has an hourly rate far far below that of the author.

If you were to indicate the number of hours required for support, then I would say that that is a way to compare apples with apples. Again, my hours are more costly then another's.
I would say that the author is trying to generate controversy and nothing more.

#

Re:Who says they didn't? Ignorance isn't an opinio

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 11, 2006 08:12 AM
Ah yes, the M$ solution braught to you by the mind that forsees WindowsTM on every computer and phone, the MS sat net in orbit making every call a local one (did I mention the msPhones are all satphones?).

As I remember, BillyG had a nice knee jerk reaction.

Negroponte aproached M$; we'd like to develop a basic notebook that can be baught in bulk and given to children. It has to be open so that children can dig into it and learn how it goes together.

BillyG; We'll give you an old build of WinCE slightly modified but we can't open it up or include the source code.

Negrophonte; We were thinking something at least closer to win98 and it needs to be open with source code so that people can build on it even if they can't afford to by further software.

BillyG; How about we include a nice shiny "Microsoft" sticker with each embeded closed winCE?

Negroponte; Thanks, we'll go with a custom Linux build that'll run on lesser than last week's hardware and which can actually be open with all source available.

I believe this was the time BillyG lost his shit at not getting his way and suddenly M$ had a one Cell Phone Per Child idea; we build a cell phone running winCE providing the apps we think they might need. Everyone needs a cell phone right? Now, we make it plug into a TV because everyone has a TV right? Oh, and make sure it attaches to a keyboard too. it's like a little computer you plug into a big screen, keyboard and mouse (if you've baught the accessories). Hey, and think of the benifits of branding early in a whole new market for protrietaryTM systems. Now that's the Microsoft way.

Eeesh.. Intel and M$ are pissed because they don't get in on the ground floor of a new market to abuse and control.

Hehehe.. 12,000$ laptop per child.. yeah, that'd be the Microsoft solution. Oh that's good squishy.

I wish the OLPC the best of luck. For the nei-sayers, the idea is to try and help not find reasons why not to help.

#

If I had a hammer

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 10:19 PM
Kumbya my Lord, kumbya. Kumbya my Lord, kumbya. Kumbya my Lord, kumbya.
Oh Lord, kumbya.

#

vested interests

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 11:09 PM
Intel's hardware wasn't chosen.

Microsoft's Operating System wasn't chosen - with dire future ramifications for Microsoft, if the OLPC becomes widespread.

Future workers will learn on the Internet that they are being exploited via wage scale and working conditions. They might even organize. The exploiters are large corporations and perhaps the governments of the future workers, by way of collusion.

Better to nip this in the bud, or at least keep it from becoming a landslide. Self education and intercommunication are always dangerous to the vested interests.

#

fud

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 09, 2006 11:37 PM
Pure fud, funded by someone with a vested interest.

You will lose on the merits. These machines are going to prove themselves first in areas that can't afford the $1000 laptops you want them to buy instead.

#

Oh please...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 10, 2006 01:44 AM
A $100 laptop costs $100 + $870 in associated costs.


A $1000 laptop costs $1,000 + $870 in associated costs.


A tool, if it is indeed intuitive enough, in the hands of a young child, will multiply their ability.

#

Oh please...The wreck of the RMS Good Intentions.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 10, 2006 11:00 AM
Well setting aside the TCO argument. The OLPC program has yet to prove that it's not just another well-meaning western society program. The wreckage already litters the third-world of good intentions gone bad.

#

Such negativity!

Posted by: alandd on December 10, 2006 02:28 PM
Man, oh man. If you are the same person that has been posting in other threads of this discussion, you have a big problem with "well-meaning western society program"s!

What do you propose? What should we realtively very wealthy "well-meaning western societ[ies]" do to help the third world? What will work?

We send money, the government corruption takes most of it. We send food, war lords and vandals horde it for the black market. We send books, people complain that the books "indoctrinate" to "western thinking." We send inexpensive computers, people complain that it isn't clean water.

Should we just walk away a leave them to fend for themselves and ignore the misery? Because lots of projects have failed we shouldn't try anymore?

I'm sorry, but your attitude is just so annoying to me right now. It's like you watch someone give a thirsty person a glass of water and you jump all over them because there is no ice in the glass!

If OLPC and all the other well-meaing programs are the wrong answer, what is the right answer?

#

Such negativity!-Agree with me next time.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 11, 2006 04:42 AM
Paranoid much? Relax no ones trying to steal your dreams away from you. Try reading "People First: A guide to self-reliant, participatory rural development by Stan Burkey" A book writen by someone who was there.

#

What is YOUR answer?

Posted by: alandd on December 11, 2006 01:35 PM
OK. I am off to google this "People First..." book. However, I will probably not get one in my hands within the next week, at best. How about an answer from you?

What do YOU say the wealthy should do to help the impoverished? If your answer is just a description of your understanding of Mr. Burkey's book, that would be fine. I'd like to understand the best way to help and why OLPC is not part of that best way.

#

Stir up the FUD, stall for Intel/MS laptop

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 11, 2006 01:40 PM
Hmmm...George Washington University...rings a bell...nesting ground and think tank of future Gartner/Didio wannabees, the anti Free Software, anti Open Source Software, pro closed source, pro dinosaur, pro software patent re-education institution.



The FUD flowing from this report regurgitates the same FUD that MS paid for reports put out about TCO on MS software being cheaper than software for desktops and servers that costs absolutely zero dollars. Imagine if OLPC gave away their laptops? The cost per unit would be astronomical!



There's quite a bit being overlooked by the masses on the OLPC project. There may very well be benefits to providing Internet access to the children of the Congo, to the children of Somalia, to the children of Burma. The benefit factor will even have a multiplying effect in areas of Africa and elsewhere where organizations are providing micro-loans for individuals to start their own small businesses for their benefit and/or the benefit of their communities.



But the bigger benefit, at least initially, will be the cost savings and other benefits for the ability to replace school books, research material, and other documentation with the laptop. With this laptop and Internet access, teachers virtually anywhere can access MIT coursework being placed online for free. Can access any other university's course work currently being placed, or in the planning stages of being placed online for free access. With this laptop and Internet access, the massive documentation projects now underway by Google and others in digitizing books and other documentation for Internet access are accessible. With this laptop, even without Internet access, localities far from Internet access can still set up Intranets where quite a bit of learning material and research material can be set up archived at the intranet central locations.



With this laptop, even without internet access, individual nations can hire researchers to publish e-books for their schools, distributing the e-books electronically to learning institutions throughout their nations, doing away with dead-tree school books, along with the associated costs of purchasing individual copies, distributing them, replacing them when pages tear or they get lost or stolen, and everything else that goes wrong with supplying multiple school texts to school children. All these costs will disappear, especially the costs associated with buying additional copies. By paying researchers a fixed fee for producing a text, then being able to distribute an unlimited number of copies nationwide (or EU wide, or whatever international group-wide), costs savings include royalty payments to authors and unit payments to publishers.



Additional benefits include being able to replace e-books and school text books with updated information on-the-fly instead of providing school texts to rural school children which can be decades upon decades old (even in the US, I recall school texts 20-25 years ago that were 20, 30 and more years old when distributed to us). Also, each child gets a copy of all texts in each laptop, instead of having to share some texts. Also, each child carries just the laptop, instead of carrying multiple text books daily, like happens in some nations.



The access to information is by far the most important benefit for each child and family. This benefits not only the child and family, but both in the short run and long run, is a huge benefit to the individual nations that adopt this project and ensures that the project is seen through to the end to ensure its success.



Let's not forget Mexico's attempt at Linux. The belief was if you supply the population with Linux, they will adopt it instead of staying with the default. So Mexico supplied CDs of Linux to one or a few cities, and the project failed miserably. There was no infrastructure set up to ensure the success of the project.



Contrast Mexico's experience with Linux, with France & Germany's and other nations' support of GNU/Linux. Europe has a far higher adoption rate of GNU/Linux than the US and other nations because the support for the alternate is there. Munich is migrating with proper support. Individuals in Germany and elsewhere, on their own, on their private computers, have a higher adoption rate of GNU/Linux than in the US also. While one can say that Munich includes funding for testing and pilot projects and other expenses which would confirm the George Washington University report on TCO. But in the case of the OLPC, I'd say the opposite would be true. Cash savings on fewer texts being distributed would be an immediate tangible savings and benefit. Another immediate benefit would be replacing aging texts with the newest editions of the e-texts. An intangible but obvious benefit would be the immediate access to a huge additional amount of learning and teaching material.



Keep in mind the MS/Linux wars. As MS is precluded from increasing market share because of migrations of Unix to Linux instead of migrations of Unix to Windows, they ratcheted up the rhetoric to an unprecented level. Just as Google stock was going to be offered to the public, immediately after entering the "quiet period" where Google couldn't respond to attacks, the financial community went into overdrive attacking Google on everything from unit price per share being too high to whether they were worth anything at all, to the possible demise of classified advertising, to the threat that Yahoo posed to the company. They succeeded in lowballing the opening price on the stock for their initial offering. Look where Google stock is now.



As reality hits MS (and Intel) and it becomes more and more likely that OLPC is winning contracts and manufacturing units for shipment in the millions, the louder the rhetoric will get, the more we will see reports such as this that attempt to dispell the OLPC unit in favor of their own, the more we will see reports that somehow attempt to show that the Intel/MS solution is the better and more economical choice.

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What a skewed analysis....

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 12, 2006 06:24 PM
Support costs? What support costs? The OLPC is meant to be a tool for exploration and self-learning.

This is almost like costing in parents time to teach their children at home.

How much time does this author spend with his children? Has he tried costing that?

Maybe he should stop spending time with his children - it is after all too expensive isn't it?

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Re:What a skewed analysis....

Posted by: Joseph Cooper on December 13, 2006 07:05 AM
They're talking about the training costs and hardware replacement costs, shipping, cost of support from the developers, etc. etc. etc.

I know it doesn't sound "touchy feely" enough but you have to take these things into account. Somebody is going to have to pay the bills, period, or the project will collapse. You can't pretend money doesn't exist.

No child or education program was ever helped by poor planning.

Turning a blind eye to planning because you might not like the implications of a closer look is even worse - The person who does that does so because he believes the project is doomed - even if he doesn't know that's what he believes.

So is the project doomed, or can it stand the cold hard numbers?

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