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OLPC Downsizes Half of Its Staff, Cuts Sugar 379

Posted by timothy
from the austerity-a-side-effect-of-reality dept.
One Laptop Per Chewbacca writes "Nicholas Negroponte, the leader of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, has announced that the organization will be laying off half of its staff, cutting salaries of the remaining employees, and ending its involvement in Sugar development. The organization has had serious problems with production and deployment and has been fragmented by ideological debates as Negroponte shifts the agenda away from software freedom and towards Windows. Ars Technica concludes: 'The OLPC project's extreme dependence on economy of scale has proven to be a fatal error. The organization was not able to secure the large bulk orders that it had originally anticipated and fell short of meeting its target $100 per unit price. The worldwide economic slowdown has made it even more difficult for OLPC to find developing countries that have cash to spare on education technology.'"
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OLPC Downsizes Half of Its Staff, Cuts Sugar

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  • Be Warned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gringer (252588) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:47PM (#26364797)

    If you're changing your original goals (I'm thinking particularly about Sugar here) mid-way through, you'll crash faster.

    • Re:Be Warned (Score:5, Informative)

      by gringer (252588) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:49PM (#26364815)

      Then again, it looks like they're not dropping Sugar completely, just "Passing on the development of the Sugar Operating System to the community."

    • Re:Be Warned (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thedonger (1317951) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:02PM (#26365013)

      Maybe the problem is that their goals are wacky. Here is a blurb from the "Development of Generation 2.0" technology initiative page:

      Other detailed goals include:

      • Dual 16x9 proportioned sunlight-readable touch screens
      • Keyboard and touchpad both replaced by touch screens
      • Physically smaller than XO-1; size and weight more like a book
      • 1 watt power consumption
      • Price of US$75 to large educational buyers

      I get the feeling OLPC is a bunch of well-intentioned, high-level talking heads.

      • Re:Be Warned (Score:5, Insightful)

        by iocat (572367) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @08:12PM (#26365927) Homepage Journal
        The problem with OLPC is that is was designed by academics, who can never let "good enough" get in the way of "visionary perfection," so you end up with a lot of worthless spces, like a paperback book sized dual-16:9 touchscreen spec that consumes no power and producers potable water as a byproduct, instead of just outsourcing the entire production to Asus to make a cheaper version of the 10-inch EEEPC.

        I'm not saying academics don't produce anything worthwhile, but there's a reason they're in the thinking business, and not in the computer hardware production business.

        Good example -- OLPC has the worst keyboard in history (although it did make me long for the days of my Timex/Sinclair). I can see the academics thinking "oh those dirty, ignorant, third-world children need a keyboard that can never break," ignoring the fact that a clamshell device, even in the third world, will keep the keyboard pretty clean, that you can find off the shelf keyboards cheaper, and that even poor people in the third world can understand that they need to not rub dirty into a computer keyboard, since they may be poor, but you know, poor != stupid.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mattack2 (1165421)

          Good thing about the OLPC keyboard -- it has the control key in the right place. Also, while you mock the dirt issue, isn't it also intended to be water resistant and also deal with dirt in the air (i.e. less clean overall surroundings), not just actually rubbing dirt in it.

          Isn't the screen on the OLPC fairly revolutionary? I know I should read up on it some more, but I think it's basically "use color at some specific resolution, or B&W at a higher resolution with significant power savings".

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by iocat (572367)
            I see your point, for. But as a counter argument, I used to smoke, a lot. At my computer. For hours at a time. Ashing inadvertently into the keyboard. Blowing smoke into the air intakes. It must have been a horrifyingly bad environment for my computer. Today I spill stuff on my laptop with disturbing frequency. I've never had a keyboard go bad. Look at the Apple IIc -- real, full travel keys with a waterproof backing UNDER the keys (like on a Lenovo ThinkPad). To me, a chiclet keyboard just mocks the end-us
      • by grumbel (592662)

        I don't really see a problem with the XO-2 techspec, I mean thats the goal for the future, its not the device that should be out next month and the XO-1 already comes quite close to those goals anyway.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by poot_rootbeer (188613)

        I get the feeling OLPC is a bunch of well-intentioned, high-level talking heads.

        Of course it is; Nicholas Negroponte is at the helm. He's a man who has never let concerns of pragmatism color his ideas.

        The XO-1 project had some really brilliant people working on it, but by now it seems they've all left or been forced out. A shame.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Fred_A (10934)

        I get the feeling OLPC is a bunch of well-intentioned, high-level talking heads.

        Nonsense !
        Version 3.0 was supposed to be :
        - self-contained in a sub-dermal implant
        - powered by the Earth's magnetic field (or optionally, mild arm-waving)
        - driven by a wireless brain-link
        - able to project HD @ 60Hz through the eyes of the wearer at up to 8 metres in 3D

        They are visionaries man, visionaries !

    • by TheSpoom (715771) *

      If you're changing your original goals (I'm thinking particularly about Sugar here) mid-way through, you'll crash faster.

      Exactly right. The problem here is that OLPC has developed type 2 diabetes, so they have to be really careful about their Sugar intake.

      Thanks folks, I'll be here all night. Try the fish.

    • Re:Be Warned (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rekrutacja (647394) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @08:31PM (#26366193) Homepage

      The Sugar was problem since day one of the project. Laptop design was very innovative for that time. The idea of cheap educational laptop was brilliant. How this happened, that the hardware was finished quickly, while the software was in deep alfa? They should stick to what was proven "good enough" software solution. By scattering their small resources on building the whole new user interfaces OLPC lost its chance to master the price and marketing.

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:50PM (#26364839) Homepage Journal

    Congratulations, you crushed a competitor and, at the same time, destroyed hope for millions of needy people.

    Even if you disagree that third world governments buying these laptops would have done anything, at least it might have gotten them interested in greater investment in education.. it might have gotten them thinking that more of the first world actually gives a shit.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:54PM (#26364917)

      it might have gotten them thinking that more of the first world actually gives a shit.

      We don't.

    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:55PM (#26364931)

      Even though I thought it was a stupid idea, it did have one redeeming point. It would have turned a small segment of the population in those countries into producers instead of keeping them as consumers.

      When they decided to support Windows, that killed the only positive point I could see in it. They would be kept as consumers.

      • by jlarocco (851450) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:29PM (#26365393) Homepage

        That doesn't make sense. Unless the OLPC hardware and software were being made by the people in the countries buying them, they would be consumers no matter what OS was preinstalled. 99.99% of open source developers are in first world countries, so that wouldn't really tip the balance.

        If the OLPC project were really serious about using open source software to help the third world, it would start hiring some of the people there to work on open source projects.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          If the OLPC project were really serious about using open source software to help the third world, it would start hiring some of the people there to work on open source projects.

          That's simply absurd.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pembo13 (770295)

          That depends on if you think the people who would receive OLPC would all be incapable of modifying the code.

      • by westlake (615356) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @09:41PM (#26366925)
        When they decided to support Windows, that killed the only positive point I could see in it. They would be kept as consumers.

        This is the geek way of thinking and it is fundamentally flawed.

        The Linux OLPC never sold in the numbers that were predicted - never even approached the numbers that were predicted.

        The third world education minister shops for the PC that promises nothing more than a smooth transition for kids who will go on the higher grades or vocational education.

        That is the best chance he can give them.

        OLPC could have chosen to work with Apple or Microsoft from the start. There is nothing inherently absurd about working with a strong financial partner and one which has close on to thirty years practical experience in the market you are about to enter.

        OLPC tied itself to a constructivist philosophy of education that is some light years removed from the realities of a third world classroom ---

        and it never missed an opportunity to re-invent the wheel.

    • by apoc.famine (621563) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (enimaf.copa)> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:58PM (#26364969) Homepage Journal
      It wasn't just them. The captain of this ship is the one with his hands on the wheel. The original plan did not include a great deal of what ended up in the final project. While outside forces were at work, blame there lies squarely on the leadership of the project.
      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:08PM (#26365101) Homepage Journal

        Was a time when I would happily defend Nicholas Negroponte.. that time has passed. His ego and incompetence had a lot to do with the failure of this project.. but that's to be expected.. he's an academic.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          but that's to be expected.. he's an academic.

          Wow, you have a massive chip on your shoulder.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            No kidding. Academics started Sun and Cisco, to name just the first two successful tech companies that spring to mind.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by QuantumG (50515) *

              On February 12, 1982 Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolsheim, and Scott McNealy, all Stanford graduate students, founded Sun Microsystems.

              Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner, a married couple that worked in computer operations staff at Stanford University, later joined by Richard Troiano, founded cisco Systems in 1984.

              Neither Graduate students, nor "computer operations staff" are not academics.

              Get a clue.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by QuantumG (50515) *

            Yeah, cause it's rude to expect an academic to not understand the realities of business.

            • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:35PM (#26365467) Journal

              Normally I'd complain that you haven't read the grand parent post, I find your reply astounding. You make only reference to his ego and incompetence and then explain that ayaw as him being an academic. You made no mention of business at all. In other words, you have a hugh chip just sitting there...

              • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:43PM (#26365573) Homepage Journal

                Sorry, I was obviously assuming that my audience was already aware of how NN fucked up. He assumed Microsoft, Intel and all the politicians wouldn't play dirty. Then he whined about how dirty they were playing. They just ignored him, so he had a little hissy fit, then started making concessions. Game over. All of which could have been avoided if he had shown a little restraint and gotten buy-in from the big players.

                • Sorry, I was obviously assuming that my audience was already aware of how NN fucked up. He assumed Microsoft, Intel and all the politicians wouldn't play dirty. Then he whined about how dirty they were playing. They just ignored him, so he had a little hissy fit, then started making concessions. Game over. All of which could have been avoided if he had shown a little restraint and gotten buy-in from the big players.

                  I agree. But that has nothing to do with him being an academic. Incompetent egomaniacs (still

    • by timholman (71886) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:15PM (#26365181)

      Congratulations, you crushed a competitor and, at the same time, destroyed hope for millions of needy people.

      You're giving Intel and Microsoft way too much credit. It was ASUS that destroyed the OLPC, by creating the netbook market when it released the first Eee PC. ASUS is already on its third generation of the Eee, not to mention the tooth-and-nail competition from Dell and HP, and the OLPC has barely gotten out of the starting gate. The OLPC couldn't possibly compete, even if the world economy hadn't tanked.

      I firmly believe you're going to see plenty of sub-$100 Linux laptops being sold in the Third World within the next 3 years, but they're going to be coming from a half-dozen Chinese manufacturers fighting like mad to outsell each other, not the OLPC project. Microsoft and Intel won't be able to do much to stop that trend. The OLPC was a visionary idea, but like so many other visionary ideas it has been swept aside by its successors.

      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:22PM (#26365295) Homepage Journal

        No. Laptops that work well in full sunlight and are rugged and low power are not being built by anyone, and won't be. All these requirements require compromises that won't sell well in the first world.. and that's always the target audience. This is why trickle down economics doesn't work.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by timholman (71886)

          No. Laptops that work well in full sunlight and are rugged and low power are not being built by anyone, and won't be.

          Sure they will, but only if it's economical to do so. Those are all desirable qualities in any laptop computer - why would anyone not want them? But buyers choose price over features most of the time.

          The problem is this - any manufacturing process that could create an OLPC for $100 could just as easily create a bare-bones Linux laptop without the OLPC's bells and whistles for $50 or less.

      • by multisync (218450) * on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:33PM (#26365449) Journal

        You're giving Intel and Microsoft way too much credit. It was ASUS that destroyed the OLPC, by creating the netbook market when it released the first Eee PC ... Microsoft and Intel won't be able to do much to stop that trend

        The eee pcs use an Intel Atom processor, and most models can be purchased with XP for an operating system. So I doubt either Microsoft or Intel would care to stop the trend.

        By the way, they're sweet little machines. I purchased one for our CFO to take with him while he travels (they fit nicely on the little trays on the back of the seats in airplanes) and we were so impressed I bought a couple more to use for training/loaner purposes. (They only come with XP home, so their usefulness is somewhat limited in an Active Directory environment).

        I also picked up one for my girlfriend for Christmas, which allowed me to retire an old iBook that's been nothing but trouble. The keyboard is quite usable (you even get a left and right ctrl key!) but it takes some getting used to the position of the right shift key.

        I think Asus has hit the nail square on the head with the eee pc. It's no replacement for a full-blown laptop if that's what you need, but if you have a family member who just wants a small, light, esthetically-pleasing computer to surf the web and play a little Solitaire they're perfect.

      • by grcumb (781340) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @08:08PM (#26365893) Homepage Journal

        You're giving Intel and Microsoft way too much credit. It was ASUS that destroyed the OLPC, by creating the netbook market when it released the first Eee PC.

        I'm not so sure about that. I think the OLPC failed for political, not economic reasons. The lobbying efforts of both Microsoft and Intel did have some influence on the outcome, but more and more these days I get the feeling that the biggest reason was sheer ineptitude among the project's organisers.

        Let's break these points out a little:

        The OLPC pricing model was contingent on economies of scale, and the only parties with enough money to bring to the table were national governments. That logic is sound, as far as it goes. But Negroponte and co. completely ignored just how hard it is to build political will, especially where new, iconoclastic ideas are concerned.

        Politicians, especially in developing countries, live from one day to the next. In many cases, their only mandate is to accumulate as much wealth as they can before their government falls, or they fall out of favour. OLPC holds no benefit for them whatsoever.

        Those politicians who are competent (and who consider that governing is actually part of the job description) need to have some degree of confidence that what they're proposing isn't going to blow up in their face and leave them looking like fools. As far as I can tell, Negroponte's negotiators relied only on their own stature and authority within the geek world to reassure them. That was - how shall I say? - a little presumptuous.

        One example: I have been working in the developing world for a while. In the course of it, I've developed a few very valuable contacts in certain countries in the region where I work. When I was informed that OLPC wanted to roll out in one of them, I was very enthusiastic. This particular country was perfectly suited for such a project: The population isn't too big, the current government is genuinely committed to development, and they've just come into a sizeable chunk of money from newly developed petroleum deposits.

        I happened to have contacts at the very core of this particular government. It's not inconceivable that I could have arranged a few very useful conversations. So I wrote to the envoy OLPC had sent, and offered to help.

        No reply.

        I waited a few weeks more, and tried again. No reply.

        After three separate tries, I worked the back channel and was informed by a rather embarrassed individual that the OLPC envoy thought I might cramp his style, so without even checking whether his fears were justified, he cut me cold.

        In contrast to this amateurish approach, Microsoft and Intel spend a good deal of time and money building alliances within various governments. They come across as reasonable and fair, often negotiating steeply discounted licensing schemes, and bestowing a good deal of largesse while they're at it.

        They're ruthless competitors, that's true, but they don't walk around with blood dripping from their fangs. When you meet with them, they're attentive, caring and sympathetic to your situation. Their job, after all, is to sell more product, and to ensure that nobody else's products look like a reasonable alternative.

        Contrast that with some guy appearing from nowhere, expecting to be treated like someone important simply because the letters M-I-T follow their name, and who haven't really a clue about how to effectively navigate the corridors of power. Guess who wins?

        Last point: Asus isn't competing with the OLPC. They're building a consumer device and using retail channels to deliver it. They'll sell them in numbers, I don't doubt, but the plain fact is that the devices are not nearly as appropriate for use in rural areas as the OLPC is.

        In fairness to OLPC, they're victims as much of being original as anything else. But their strategy is failing because of implementation, not design.

        • by Rich0 (548339) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @08:59PM (#26366513) Homepage

          I think their holier-than-thou attitude is made particularly obvious from their whole "give-one-get-one" campaign. People who might have been willing to buy an XO for $200 were probably put off by the $400 price tag. If their goal was to increase volume to drive down cost then they should have pursued sales ANYWHERE they could get them. They could even charge a small markup in the first world and use that money towards 3rd-world effots. However, the 100% markup just priced them out of the first world market.

          Their attitude seemed to be that we ought to be grateful for the opportunity to donate. My issue with that is that they chose to dicate the amount of contribution. That combined with the attitudes they seemed to come across with made me very hesitant to donate a dime to them.

          Well, we see how well that worked out for them. They should have just sold them to anybody who would buy them. Then there would emerge a library of software and buzz that would have helped make the proejct more successful.

      • by rm999 (775449)

        "they're going to be coming from a half-dozen Chinese manufacturers fighting like mad to outsell each other"

        I think this hits an important point. We all forgot how important competition is simply because this project embraced OSS, which overwhelmed everyone with excitement.

        When you depend on a single company, no matter how well-intentioned and hard-working they are, you are putting too many of your eggs in one basket. The new generation of cheap, small laptops will use OSS too. If the market exists for educ

  • I know! (Score:5, Funny)

    by eclectro (227083) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:55PM (#26364935)

    They can save money by switching from Windows to Linux!

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:58PM (#26364963)

    schools. Particularly grade schools and middle schools. A laptop that doesn't need maintenance. They launched that initiative 1 year back, but it was too little too late. They were actually quite hostile toward selling it in America or developed world.

    Now, I don't believe computers are all that great in the classroom, but if they wanted economies of scale, it would make more sense to sell to the rich, gadget-happy country first to build up production and also legitimacy in the eyes of 3rd worlders. I imagine if MIT pushed it, some Massachusetts area schools might have adopted. Then the OLPC project could have put that on their resume as well.

    No one got fired for buying Microsoft/IBM is true, and if the competitor is a relatively unknown, untested entity, doubly so. I think the move to Windows just killed it though, since it didn't differentiate OLPC laptop from any other to the casual observer.

    • by SoCalChris (573049) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:16PM (#26365195) Journal

      Now, I don't believe computers are all that great in the classroom, but if they wanted economies of scale, it would make more sense to sell to the rich, gadget-happy country first to build up production and also legitimacy in the eyes of 3rd worlders.

      That's something that I never understood. Their business plan depended on economies of scale, yet they refused to sell it to people who wanted to buy them, and had the cash.

      I understand that they wanted to save the units for the needy, but the needy were never able to afford them because they never got the economy of scale working for them.

    • by garett_spencley (193892) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:43PM (#26365559) Journal

      "No one got fired for buying Microsoft/IBM"

      One of the happiest moments of my life was when I was given the opportunity to fire an NT admin, you insensitive clod! :p

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      They were actually quite hostile toward selling it in America or developed world.

      No, they were hostile to changing the design for the developed world (since they are a nonprofit with a specific mission that that would contradict), and they were hostile to selling to any agency other than national ministries of education or something similar, because dealing with smaller lots and smaller entities drives up per-unit costs.

  • by Tom (822) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:00PM (#26364997) Homepage Journal

    I'm certain that the submitter is correct: Allowing windos in killed the project.

    Why? Because projects like this rely on the goodwill of volunteers. That comes from ideology, in a neutral sense, i.e. from people believing in something. Very few people believe in windos. It has millions of users, but few "believers". On the other hand, Linux has a very high percentage of believers among its users, it's easy to find volunteers who will contribute for free, or support the distribution channels, convince their local leaders, and so on.

    There are things that money can not buy. You can build a religion on money (see Scientology), but not a crusade.

    • by byolinux (535260) *

      From what I heard... Microsoft purchased some laptops from the project, and then put Windows on them themselves, just like you or I could... and then distributed those to see how it worked out. In total around 250 machines.

      • by HiThere (15173)

        That's what they told me when I complained, but that's not what this news story indicates:

        as Negroponte shifts the agenda away from software freedom and towards Windows.

        Also that's not what other reports that I've seen have indicated. Possibly MS is just managing all the news...or possibly OLPC spokesmen are lying to people who complain.

    • Spare me the (often incompetent) enthusiasm of youth.

      You shouldn't 'believe' in an OS or license like a God. Nobody should.

      I believe Windows based computers make up a large market of potential customers.

      I believe knowing and using multiple operating systems is a valuable thing. I believe you can't be master of all things. Find a balance.

      In the end computers are just tools.

      Do you 'believe' in SnapOn, Mac or Matco?

      I believe in Haas! Death to Jet tools.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tom (822)

        Spare me the (often incompetent) enthusiasm of youth.

        You shouldn't 'believe' in an OS or license like a God. Nobody should.

        I'm probably older than you are, and my opinion is the exact opposite: You should believe in an OS or license or other things that can make a real difference to human life. There's a lot of reasons to be enthusiastic about things that have the potential to move humanity forward. On the other hand, believing in a god, any god, is just plain silly.

        In the end computers are just tools.

        In the end, emotions and beliefs are what make us human and different from machines.

  • ...never really turns out well in the end.

  • by nighty5 (615965) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:12PM (#26365139)

    The OLPC is a noble idea, but I think Negroponte has underestimed the the will of its competitors to ensure OLPC doesn't take hold to give them a clear advantage.

    When Intel "stole" the contract for the government of Venezuela, Negroponte was outraged, but what his missing is, its just business.

    I congratulate Negroponte for his incredible effort to have a vision to give the poor the tools needed to escape dispair and to build a device, but in the end, if Intel can do it, and do it better - than it really doesn't matter.

    I'd like to see the poor using free software, but in the end i'd prefer them to have food in their bellies and using commercial software than having free software and going hungry with a bankrupt OLPC.

    Its a shame, because I personally love the look of the OLPC, the Classmate looks terrible purely from an aesthetic perspective.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149)

      I'd like to see the poor using free software, but in the end i'd prefer them to have food in their bellies

      Feeding a man for a day, vs teaching him how to fish... as they saying goes.

      • by MooUK (905450)

        But teaching him how to fish and giving him a little bread to go with the first few fish probably works even better.

        Not that I'm sure how that analogy applies to the real world...

    • Competitors (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PCM2 (4486) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:51PM (#26365671) Homepage

      The OLPC is a noble idea, but I think Negroponte has underestimed the the will of its competitors to ensure OLPC doesn't take hold to give them a clear advantage.

      Actually, 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. I think far more damning to the OLPC was the fact that when it shipped it couldn't actually deliver on the project's goals. When you're asking a government to spend a few million dollars on mass orders of a piece of technology, "someday this will set you free" doesn't sound half as good as "turn it on and it runs Windows."

  • I have an XO (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bugs2squash (1132591) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:21PM (#26365287)
    It's pretty cool. My son loves it but it's slow and there are a few other problems, no need to relive them.

    The annoying thing is that it was pretty difficult to get one. I was only able to get one if I bought another for someone else, I don;t mind, but really - if you want to drive volume...

    And even then I was only able to get one for a limited special offer period.

    I can't help but think that so many things would have been different if they had spent an extra $2 on a faster ARM processor and sold them more openly. More XOs in more hands would have yielded more involvement.
  • In other news ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlad_petric (94134) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:24PM (#26365331) Homepage

    A 200$ netbook [zdnet.com] is coming soon and it will run Ubuntu.

    And yeah, 200$ not 400$ via "buy two donate one".

    • by pembo13 (770295)

      Ok. I can understand if you just concerned with price. But the OLPC wasn't designed to just "be cheap" it was designed to be hardy. Most cheap computers aren't exactly hardy, and not really a comparison to the (idea of) the OLPC.

      That's kind of like comparing a $400 notebook to a hardbook that the military might use.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by anothy (83176)
        you're right overall, but this particular comparison brings up the one technical point about the XO i never really understood: why x86? in terms of watt/performance, ARM does much better, it's cheap, and is a common enough architecture that anything learned on it would be transferable to lots of other places.

        i hate to say it, but it makes me wonder if Negroponte had windows in mind all along.
  • by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:29PM (#26365385)
    So, they had a problem with half of the staff being too big? Sheesh, I'd hate to be a 6ft+ OLPC employee right now. Do they amputate at the knees, or what?
  • by Ohio Calvinist (895750) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @07:47PM (#26365613)
    I've always thought the problem with the OLPC project was that it developed a product for very young children, when computer literacy is a afterthought for early primary students in the developed world (at least in the US) and in contries where classrooms may not have books or basic utilities, having computers for these kids is simply not worth the cost, and for older children the platform is severely lacking what a "normal" computer is capable of.

    From spending time with teachers in early primary ed, non-computer alternatives such as the Leap Pad is specifically designed to teach children to read or do math and are very easy to "plug" into the state cirriculm. When students do go to the computer lab, they either need to buy specialized software, which is expensive to teach them the cirriculm, or just have the kids goof off in MS paint or playing web-games (which is not entirely bad, but less important and effective than other teaching methods). When you can't read and can't do subtraction, being able to draw pictures on a computer is very low on the list of priorities. Because of this, it makes me think the OLPC product out of the box isn't going to be sufficent for real learning, in particular where web access is non-existent or slow/hap-hazard or not in the native language; particularly for young children whom the project seems to be aimed at.

    I think the project would have done much more good by producting computers with a standard Linux desktop, OO.org, Firefox, etc... (maybe toned-down versions to run on less RAM/HD space) and marketed them to middle-and-high school age students, particularly those academic performance would make them able to potentially go to university or have a "office job". When I see employees and students (when I am teaching) who can barely use OO.org because they "learned on Word" or can't find their files "on a PC because I have a Mac", it leads me to believe having the Sugar UI, as neat as it is, makes it so different from a computer they'll use in higher-ed or in the workplace that what they are learning isn't going to be nearly as effective. If Windows is the only way to turn an OLPC into a "normal" computer then it seems worth it, even though I'd rather see it loaded with OSS to save the schools money and give them exposure to Linux which is becoming a very popular desktop OS in the developing world in particular. I know some will say "keep it Sugar and let them dump Linux on it", but can you imagine what it would take to re-configure thousands of these machines, let alone creating an install that meets its hardware available? It would be cheaper to buy the machines preloaded with Windows versus all that effort, particularly if MS is practically giving it away. Sometimes ideology is only worth so much when you're strapped to make it happen.

    $100 for a machine that is a glorified chat client when the participants are in the same room or an electronic coloring book seems very wasteful when you think of how many crayons, texts, papers and pens that machine is worth to the poorest of poor students. $100 for a real computer to teach college bound students how to be successful and familar with the workplaces requirements, seems like a deal, so long as it is implemented wisely and at a time in the students development where it is going to be worth it. It feels like giving an OLPC to a kid before 4th grade is like giving a violin to a baby.
  • Like it or not, a lot of people donated their time and energy with the idea of bringing the benefit of software without the dependence of non FOSS.
  • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @08:23PM (#26366095)
    My reaction is the same as the first time I heard about this "PC." Why would these impoverished nations spend $100 per machine, when what the kids need are books, pencils and a roof on their school so classes aren't cancelled - Or shoes, so they can walk to school in the first place. If we in the west want to make a difference, instead of buying a $250 PC-toy at Wal-Mart we should give our $100 to a charity that can help with some of the above issues and stop worrying about whether they ran Windows or Linux or used the wrong flavour of WiFi.
    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @09:08PM (#26366599)

      Why would these impoverished nations spend $100 per machine, when what the kids need are books, pencils and a roof

      Because, for one reason, a $100 (or even $175) machine designed to work as an e-book reader, backed by a project that was also developing free educational content, and which also was supplying low-cost satellite downlink stations supported by donated satellite time to provide internet access to remote locations, provides a less expensive way to distribute the same kind of material that would otherwise be distributed in the form of books in remote areas that often don't have decent road systems. You can replace a lot of books with one e-book reader with even occasional net access for delivery.

      Books aren't cheap, even when you are just dealing with the printing costs.

  • So the org will now be renamed to Half A Laptop Per Child? Sort of a King Solomon approach, eh?

  • I can't believe the number of posts here from people claiming how "obvious" it was that the OLPC would never work, and if Negroponte would just fix this or that aspect of the development strategy, the hardware, the software, the pricing, or the partner program, then everything would turn up roses.

    There was nothing obvious about the adventures of the OLPC. They were defining an entirely new class of machine that, even now, has no true competitor (and no, none of the current netbook offerings have it right yet: they cost too much, they draw too much power, they can't be used in full daylight, and they aren't nearly rugged enough.)

    When you are charting something this new, it attracts the best and brightest. These kind of people have huge egos, that's part of the package. So the fact that there have been lots of sparks flying is no surprise.

    When you are trying to change the status quo this completely, it attracts intense opposition from the entrenched competition. I doubt any of us would enjoy putting up with the hammering, back-stabbing, broken promises and endless fight for oxygen that is probably a daily experience for the OLPC executives.

    So, I say, cut these people some slack. Go buy a OLPC, and see what all the talk is about. I've been using an OLPC for a year now, and am daily impressed with how very different it is from any other device out there.

    When you find yourself reading an ebook, and pass from the deep gloom of a subway station into the direct sunlight without even thinking about the fact that a normal PC can't do that, then you're graduated to the new OLPC world.

    When you find yourself grabbing your XO without a case, walking in the rain to your car and throwing it on the back seat without a second thought, then you've graduated to the new OLPC world.

    When you find yourself propping your XO up on a bowl in the kitchen so you can browse recipies on the web while you cook, and don't worry for a second about what might happen if you spill something all over it (been there, done that), then you've graduated.

    This thing is really different. Give it a chance.

  • by WoollyMittens (1065278) on Thursday January 08, 2009 @11:19AM (#26372147)
    Microsoft and Intel promised cheap laptops with Windows to all countries interested in the OLPC project. Now those countries have neither and will never get anything of course, but at least Microsoft got rid of some more competition.
  • by Douglas Goodall (992917) on Thursday January 08, 2009 @11:54AM (#26372627) Homepage
    I participated in the G1G1 program on the dual basis that I could write software for the platform, and I could do something nice for a third world child. It seems that Microsoft has outsmarted me again. The OLPC is a lousy Windows machine and not worthy of my time to develop software for. My idealistic hope to do something nice for a child has come to unknown results. I can only hope that some child used it to access the Internet for a while, and that in and of itself would have been valuable IMHO. Otherwise I guess I am the owner of an orphan green notebook computer that never was able to access my Apple Airport wifi router because of WPA problems that were never fixed. Keeping a WEP setup just for the OLPC is not worthwhile because of the security implications. As the french would say, se la merde. I am a switcher and no longer write software for Windows, other than accidental compatibility based on Python. I am disappointed I guess that things didn't work out better overall for OLPC, but at least I tried.

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