Give One, Get One: I Still Don't Get It


There can be few open source projects that offered so much promise, and yet which have so signally failed to deliver, as One Laptop Per Child. As I noted below, open source software seems made for education, and the idea of combining that with hardware specifically designed for children in developing countries, with all that implies in terms of ruggedness, power availability and access to infrastructure, seemed just inspired.

Although the project delivered on both the software and hardware, it lost its nerve at some point, and announced that it would be offering models running Windows XP.

The idea of making Windows the first experience of children, especially in countries where computing has hitherto not yet made much of a mark, was a betrayal of the highest order, and frankly, from that point on, I lost interest in OLPC entirely. And judging by the massive haemorrhaging of talented engineers from the project, so did many others.

And yet now we have this:

As it has been reported, One Laptop per Child will sell its XO Laptop on in late 2008 as part of a global 'Give One, Get One' (G1,G1) program. Although the first iteration of the 'G1,G1' program was extremely successful and sold more then 185,000 laptops, the delivery of the laptops in the USA did not run as smoothly as we anticipated. Selling the laptops on will provide us with the resources to process and ship the laptops globally in a timely fashion.

Well, yes, so what? Well, this is the so what:

In addition, contrary to some media reports, it will be a Linux-based XO Laptop that will be offered as part of the global initiative and not a dual-boot machine running both Windows and Linux.

That suggests that the people involved are turning back to the original vision of the laptop as an innovative machine that would liberate children's minds, rather than enslave them in the old-style proprietary shackles. So, I'm confused: are we seeing a return to those great ideas that powered the project initially, or is this just some quirk?

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