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OLPC looks ahead with optimism

By Lisa Hoover on January 22, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has been in the news a lot in recent months. Reports last fall that Uruguay purchased 100,000 XO laptops and soon US consumers could do the same via a special campaign soon gave way to news items about a patent lawsuit and Intel's abrupt departure from OLPC's board. Walter Bender, OLPC's president of software/content and COO, says those developments are nothing more than a bump in the road.

As OLPC announced Uruguay's planned purchase of XO laptops, people in the open source community continued to hope for a chance to buy a unit as well. OLPC responded with the Give One Get One campaign, which let people purchase an XO for themselves and one for a child in a developing country. Although limited to US and Canadian customers, the program was such a success it was extended a month beyond its original deadline and ended December 31. Bender says the campaign raised a whopping $35 million dollars.

He reports that "more than 100,000 XO laptops are already in the process of being distributed to children in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mongolia, and Rwanda. This generous response was overwhelming, and significantly helps us move forward our mission of getting laptops into the hands of as many underprivileged children as possible."

Despite the success of the Give One Get One campaign, there are no plans in the works to offer it a second time, nor to make the units available to consumers outside the US and Canada.

According to Bender, the program succeeeded in putting XO laptops in the hands of the open source community, which has given the OLPC project extra traction in recent weeks. "In addition to making it possible to seed the launch of programs in a number of countries, the Give One Get One campaign greatly expanded community participation in the project. The community has already jumped in to help; the level of activity in OLPC forums, chat rooms, email lists and wiki entries has risen dramatically.

"Give One Get One participants have asked lots of questions -- and have uncovered some new bugs -- but they also have lots of answers and have submitted some new software patches. The community model is scaling."

That's good news for a project that had its fair share of challenges lately. In November, a Nigerean company (owned by a man convicted of bank fraud) filed a patent infringement lawsuit against OLPC. He is seeking $20 million in damages and an injunction designed to keep OLPC from distributing XO laptops in Nigeria. Experts watching the case have called the lawsuit "hopeless." Bender says simply, "There is no case," and points to the existence of prior art in the public domain.

The beginning of 2008 delivered a one-two punch as OLPC's founding CTO Mary Lou Jepsen announced she was leaving to start her own for-profit company using some of the technologies she developed for XO laptops. Scarcely a week later, news broke that Intel was ending its love / hate relationship with the project and withdrawing from the OLPC board. Then close on the heels of Intel's exit came a report that OLPC was working with Microsoft to develop a dual-boot XO laptop, however Microsoft swiftly denied the claim.

What impact will Intel's departure have on the project? "None," says Bender. He asserts that Intel "came late to the party" and joined a board full of partners already making progress in furthering the goals of the project. "It is unfortunate that Intel was not able to contribute to our mission," he says. "Intel is trying to brand OLPC as anti-competition [and] create a false dilemma by suggesting that the essence of OLPC's anti-competitiveness is its objection to the introduction of competitive products. In fact, OLPC's objection is to anti-competitive practices, not products. To object to unfair competitive practices is hardly a stance against competition."

For those involved in the project, none of the recent events have dampened the enthusiasm. In fact, Bender the team is thrilled that the children in Peru and Uruguay now have XO laptops and are learning how to use them. He says the project's pilot programs are thriving and the number of developers and volunteers continues to grow.

What's next on OLPC's horizon? "There is a long ways to go in terms of incremental improvements to the software platform, but the next big thing is to step up the level of energy around supporting learning in the field -- building a learning community that is analogous to the free and open source software community.

"We have set an ambitious goal and we need [the open source community's] participation. We are collectively responsible for bringing opportunity for learning to the world's children; learning is a fundamental part of the solution to the many problems we face."

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on OLPC looks ahead with optimism

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OLPC looks ahead with optimism

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 23, 2008 07:18 AM
The best thing OLPC could do is NOT to cooperate with Microsoft, and NOT sell the OLPC with any version of Windows installed! EVER!


OLPC looks ahead with optimism

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 23, 2008 03:03 PM
To anonymous: they aren't.


OLPOC will truly shine...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 23, 2008 05:27 PM
... when they are used, by children, in the environment for which they are made, areas where access to traditional computers is very limited (especially for children), where electric power is not taken for granted, where internet connections are existing, but not very common.

When this happens, the beauty of the OLPC, super battery life, mesh networking, intuitive interface, and fun factor, will shine through. You put this in the hands of a couple hundred school children in the same town or village, where there are maybe a half dozen connected to the internet, and they discover through mesh networking they are connected to each other and the internet, even though they are outside because it is too hot to stay inside (or their power is off or whatever) and they can work and play together easily, you won't pry that OLPC out of their hands for a free high powered laptop because it would be just as out of place for them as an OLPC is for much of the Western world.

Most of the reviews I have read focus on things like the keyboard is to small, or it doesn't use windows so it doesn't cut it for business, or the interface is confusing (ie it is not windows) or the screen is to small, or it looks like a toy, and it just doesn't have the features that a laptop costing little more. Well of course not, it wasn't designed for that market.

I think it was a good decision to severely limit OLPC sales in the US, because the OLPC really isn't made for an area with good internet access, reliable power and good access to to relatively powerful computers.


Article's dual-boot half-truth.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 23, 2008 06:22 PM
"OLPC was working with Microsoft to develop a dual-boot XO laptop, however Microsoft swiftly denied the claim."

This article conveniently left out the real meat of this situation. Which is, that OLPC is indeed working with Microsoft for the purpose of adding a Windows version option to the OLPC. The semantical point that it would be a dual-boot (both OS's installed together and selectable) was the only part that was denied.


Jepsen' inovations, possible work-for-hire?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 23, 2008 06:46 PM
"CTO Mary Lou Jepsen announced she was leaving to start her own for-profit company using some of the technologies she developed for XO laptops." Since hearing that Mary Lou Jepson was leaving OLPC to exploit (for-profit) the projects display innovations, I find myself wondering the technicalities of her CTO (employment) position with OLPC. Usually, when someone innovates/invents something while an employee, or on the company clock, those innovations are owned by that company. It would be interesting "Lisa" to know how that "given" was gotten around. Especially since the OLPC project was by and large seen as a community effort. If it is in-fact legitimate then fine, but the revenue generated from those patents could have done a lot for the OLPC project. Future contracts with individuals working on this project should take work-for-hire situations such as the display inovations of Jepson' team into consideration.


OLPC looks ahead with optimism

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 23, 2008 07:58 PM
The last commenter should inform himself (like, you know, reading on that thing called the web every interview with Mary Lou Jepsen where the question about who owns the patents for the screen she developed are answered).
The previous-to-last commenter would also be wise to inform himself of what kind of support OLPC is providing microsoft with their port (like, you know, reading on those things called blogs where the people talk about their pets, and sometimes about their work).


Re: OLPC looks ahead with optimism

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 24, 2008 04:51 AM
That wasn't very helpful now was it? Had you canned the know-it-all and caustic demeanor, you could have answered the question from the original poster with a lot less typing than your entirely content-free post, except of course for the advice that we should all wade through endless blogs about the subjects pets etc.. to maybe stumble upon something of substance. It was, after all, posed as a question, not an accusation or an indictment of M Jepsen. Nor was there even a hint of misogynistic intent within the content of the post except maybe for the fact that he had the unmitigated audacity to question her, a woman. Let's not let the facts get in the way of the discussion or of heaping great vitriol on anyone you've perceived as her detractors. If you indeed have the answers at hand, perhaps you could share it with the rest of the readers. Maybe too, Lisa could include this and future patent rights issues with respect to the OLPC projects patentable innovations in one of her future articles.


Not selling it globally is a mistake

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 23, 2008 08:48 PM
Not selling the OLPC globally, or offering the give-one-get-one deal again either, is a mistake. Doing those things could not only provide funding for the OLPC goal of getting them into the hands of children in developing nations, it would do something even more important: help the OLPC reach critical mass. Without the critical mass that would come from worldwide availability of OLPC, it will be far easier for Intel and Microsoft to crush it, something they are working hard to do. As someone mentioned in Groklaw, monopolies never say "enough." They are willing to crush even a charity to make a buck.


OLPC looks ahead with optimism

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 24, 2008 10:29 AM
Perhaps you are correct, just answering would be more productive than telling to STFI (Search the ... internet), but I also didn't want to reinforce speculating in a area where facts have been well reported, and are at the distance of a search engine.


OLPC mistakes

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 27, 2008 06:59 PM
A) "we need [the open source community's] participation"

How? If they don't sell OLPC to the community == people

B) OLPC can be selled now to developing country at 100$!

How? Sell OLPC to people at 400$ and have two laptop at obly 100$ for developing country

If OLPC is selled to people:

* more OLPC must be produced

* the OLPC production cost go down

* more OLPC can be buyed by developing country

* more people join the community

* more OLPC programs are build/update

* more developing country will be interested in buying OLPC laptop


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