Ed Cherlin is a volunteer and community member.
There is a fairly long and rambling thread on Slashdot starting from the recent announcement from OLPC. That discussion contains a lot of uninformed naysaying, but there are also some good posts. I just spent some time there answering questions and correcting misinformation. Since most of the naysaying on Slashdot (the polite parts, anyway) is pretty much the same as what you read in the respectable business press, I thought it worthwhile to review some of these opinions, correct confusions, and highlight the good parts.
Now you may wonder why we aren’t hearing any comments on the layoffs. Well, that’s Slashdot. I have to take the comments as they come. This is what people are talking about. OLPC is dead, according to the naysayers, killed by some combination of Intel, Microsoft, Asus, Arrogance & elitism, scale, or not selling to the first world.
Greatly exaggerated, as Mark Twain put it. Curiously, none of the commentators said, “All of the above.” Each has a favorite theory, and is sticking to it. This smacks of The Blind Men and The Elephant, except in this case without the elephant.
OLPC the organization has its share of problems. OLPC “It’s an education project” is in great shape, from my point of view, and OLPC XO the product has had a fantastic launch year, in spite of hardware and software issues, high expectations, and so on. How many new computer models get a million orders in the first year? How many non-profits have ever received a million orders for a computer? But let’s take these one at a time.
- Yes, Intel and Microsoft may have tried to sideline the XO, and real education for the poor, but
- They don’t see it that way, and what do they know about education or poverty? Not enough to succeed in sidelining them, anyway.
- Sugar Labs is porting Sugar to Linux for the Asus Eee; Asus doesn’t want to kill us.
- OLPC has surely made mistakes, but they don’t all come from arrogance and elitism. Who among us does understand all of our own limitations? Not me, for sure.
- We have not yet attained the highest economies of scale, but new product categories in computers typically double in size or better year over year for some time after the launch year. Focus on the third and not the first world may have slowed growth, but that is all.
There is a lot of talk claiming that letting Microsoft put XP on the XO was the defining mistake, and that that was the end of the program for some readers. For example,
This seems to assume that Microsoft is now going to have everything its own way, which I find laughable. [are there any published images of students really using Windows on XOs?]
This one fascinates me:
Um, so you can’t do problems on the XO in Sugar? That must mean that the Calculator doesn’t work, you can’t use Etoys for anything, you can’t build anything in Scratch…I guess you can’t even browse the Internet, right? And there weren’t any books in the digital library on each XO, right? http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Library And no way to read PDFs? Oh, never mind. It’s just nonsense.
Well, let’s try this one, then. “What makes them elitists is that they were not going to soil their exclusive clientele by allowing those dirty first world kids to buy one, even if that means the 3rd world kids cannot get the benefit of economies of scale.” Wait, that makes them elitist, to give something to the poor but not to the rich? I have to say that I don’t think there is any content left in the term elitist. It has become just a generic insult that anyone can apply to anyone else. That is to say, Newspeak.
Now here is a point I agree with 100%:
Which we are in fact doing. See, for example, the Game Jams that have been held all over the world, including Nepal, Peru, and Brazil, or the E-Paati software developed in Nepal.
And we will bring in the schoolchildren to develop more, as quickly as they develop the skills. So let’s leave that, and end with a common misperception.
…very few people seem to even understand Negroponte’s real idea. The OLPC had no competitors. It was an education project, not a product. It was never about selling a novel hardware device; that was just a means to an end. Unfortunately, there had never been a similar project to set a precedent, so the press and analysts could only view it in terms that they understood: the terms of the U.S. consumer technology industry. As such, it looked as if the OLPC would have to “compete” with cheapie laptops from Intel, Asus, or whomever, despite the fact that none of these later offerings really had the same goals as the OLPC.
There you go.