Friday, January 12, 2007

$100 laptop might be yours... for $200

You may have heard of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Project, which intends to provide a cheap ($100) laptop that would make a suitable learning tool for children, particularly those in less developed countries. It's been in the design stages for some years now, and is still not 100% complete. The cost has also not been brought down to the target of $100, but it's still due to be released this year, and will be purchased by various governments for distribution to children.

Features of the device include a sturdy build, low cost optimal components, very low power consumption, an LCD screen designed to be suitable for reading e-books (even in sunlight), a cut down Linux operating system, and an external 'crank' mechanism of some sort (although it seems to be a 'yo-yo' mechanism now - interestingly, there's talk of making this charging mechanism available separately as a consumer product, possible to charge devices like cell phones) that can be used to charge the battery manually. It also supports wireless networking that will allow the laptops to easily connect to each other. The OLPC association are also claiming a new type of software interface, which is available for anyone to try out. More details on the laptop can be found here.

There's been quite a bit of criticism of this project, although some of it has come from companies like Microsoft and Intel, who may feel threatened by the fact that rival products are being used in the laptop (think Linux and AMD), which may eventually be widely disseminated amongst the next generation of consumers. The main criticism has been that money shouldn't be spent on this sort of project when there are still people who are bereft of the bare essentials needed to survive.

I share the sentiment that has been expressed by many supporters of the project - the laptop is meant for people who have the essentials but who don't have the educational opportunities and the skills needed to improve their lives and break out of a cycle of poverty. The laptop for them would be a tool for education and skill acquisition. Not all poor people are living in absolute poverty, and not all schemes to alleviate poverty need focus on one particular group of people. My major doubt about this project is corruption - will these laptops actually get to the intended recipients?

Initially it was stated that the laptop would not be sold as a consumer device, but this article at the BBC would seem to indicate a possible change of heart. The OLPC association are considering selling it in a manner where you have to buy one for the price of two - the second laptop effectively being donated to charity. Personally, I'd rather see a scheme where it can somehow be made available at a price where there is a large profit margin that goes towards an OLPC fund, instead of having to pay twice for one product. Say, a 50% markup instead of 100%. I would definitely be interested in a hardy, low power laptop that sells for around 150$ and can be used for Open Office (perhaps) and email / web browsing. As long as they change the design for the consumer version so that it doesn't look like a kiddie toy (an intentional design choice intended to prevent unauthorized resale of the product).


sanity index said...

I'm with you there. Computers and the net have greatly improved my quality of life. You see more, learn more, and get everything at your fingertips.

Not only that, anything "manual-powered" is less likely to adversely impact the environment!

My question would be, even if the laptops get to individuals, would certain countries still censor the info available...

Antimatter said...

Yeah, plus grossly overweight nerds can put down their twinkies once in a while and get some exercise working that crank! :)

I imagine any censorship would remain, since it has little to do with the device used to access the net... but hey, one step at a time, right? :D