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.Â That discussion contains a lot of uninformed naysaying, but there are also some good posts.Â 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.Â Â 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.Â 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?Â 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.Â 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.Â [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.Â 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.
“Wait, that makes them elitist, to give something to the poor but not to the rich?”
No Ed, if you re-read the quote you chose to use I think it’s fair to paraphrase suggestion as “to give something to the poor by selling to the rich”. No-one mentioned giving to the west (except you).
As a parent of a dirty first world kid I’d love to buy her an XO, and pay over the odds to give something back to an organisation that has spent so much time and effort on a great product – I feel they deserve some mileage out of that. What’s that? I have to pay over double the normal price for an XO? Oh. Oh no, you say I can’t even do that any more?
Well. Looks like we both lose out then.
I have heard you express this view of corporations many times. I respect your writing and your understanding of the world, but the idea that corporations cannot donate money to charities without generating value for their shareholders, or that this would be illegal anywhere, is paranoid.
Social and corporate responsibility funds and subsidiaries are the norm among the largest corporations in the world. You can say that they are doing these charitable works for tax breaks, or for publicity, or whatever you like. At some level this is true: at the very level that causes our society to provide such incentives for individuals and organizations to help define “charities” and to offer breaks for donating time and resources to them.
Personally, I am investing my own time and energy in the hopes of getting access to new insights, innovation, collaboration and ‘peace dividends’ from a world with fewer arbitrary cultural barriers. All to add value for my shareholders – my grandchildren and their families – who hold shares in the social texture and quality of life of future worlds. Devilishly selfish.
OLPC is an education project. Ok.
In that case as a stockholder of AMD, Brightstar, Chi Lin, eBay, Google, Marvell, NewsCorp, Nortel, Quanta, Red Hat or SES Astra I would be very, very mad for the management of these companies.
Why are they spending my money to provide education for children of developing countries when they should use it to raise the value of my shares?
Because, I know that these companies are run by some of the worldâ€™s best minds in business I do not believe that they would ever let their stockholders down like this. According to legislation of some countries it would even be illegal. So, why would they invest on an â€œeducationâ€ project?
I think they are not. They are waiting return of their investment in some timescale in a form of getting access to new markets. OLPC really is one kind of Trojan Horse.
I personally do not think that there is anything wrong with this – well except that I think that being transparent, truthful and fair are virtues.
The last cite says it all.