OLPC: We'll Distribute Others' Laptops

Ars Electronica's fish/leek/gun thing

Those of you who listened all the way to the end of Walter Bender's talk at Ars Electronica's "SIMPLICITY – the art of complexity" symposium may have have skipped over an intriguing snippet during the Q&A section. Apparently, OLPC are not tied to distributing the 2B1.

Whilst running through the spiel about how OLPC is not for profit and so laptops will be sold to governments "at cost" (26m10s), Walter continues:

"Since out mission is to get laptops to children, there's nothing in our mission statement that says it has to be our laptops"
Does this mean that OLPC may one day ship Dell, HP or Lenovo laptops to school children? Walter goes on;
"so if some other party comes along and can make a $50 laptop that actually has attributes that kids need, that's great and it means we don't have to be in the laptop business any more, we can just focus on learning."
So what does this mean? It's a good sound bite, but it seems a little trite. One of the major criticisms leveled at the OLPC project so far is that, from the outside at least, it seems focused on the product design and marketing. Rather less has been said about the logistics of getting any product to market. Walter also sets a rather narrow definition of what OLPC might constitute a "better" product.

To paraphrase something I said previously, once the words “One Laptop Per Child” were seized upon and the project named accordingly, OLPC backed themselves into a corner ideologically. With that name, they aren’t going to distribute something that isn’t a laptop or that isn’t on a per person basis, no matter what.

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Right now there isn't any product like OLPC. Only generic desktops, without monitor, come close to that price point. Partly because of the cost of parts and part becuase no laptop maker wants to lower its margins to this level.

OLPC can say it will use others for years without having to actually follow through on its promise.

To have coined a name that express a limited point of view for tackling the digital divide is one of the worst things that could happen to OLPC. The poor communities demands new solutions, not only technological but managerial. Of course that you should set some principles, or values, but after that, you should be flexible and experiment different paths. Recently I read a book about the transition in Spain, after Franco. Some people criticized one minister that wrote a book several years before he held the position, and later continue to follow his ideas just because he wrote them down, despite the reality was different.

Do you know if OLPC has set any policy for establish cooperative links with other initiatives (not only the UN) for bridging the digital divide?

Dear Stu T.,

Like OLPC....well perhaps only OLPC. But there are some other alternatives. Take a look at VIA PC-1(http://www.viapc-1.com/) and YellowSheepRiver (http://www.yellowsheepriver.org/index_e.htm). Of course, none of them are perfect, but I've found PC-1 ideas very complete.

I have not heard of them establishing links with any major initiatives that are currently working on ICT4Development programs.

In fact, their go-it-alone approach is a major criticism of the project in the ICT4Development community. In addition, I've not heard of any major collaboration with the UN, besides the marketing opportunity last year.

I would be greatly relieved to be educated otherwise.


Unfortunately I haven't hear anything about cooperation with other projects. Well not exactly, actually OLPC sent a couple of motherboards to Ututo Linux, an interesting GNU/Linux distribution from Argentina. Ututo's team have adapted their distribution to the motherboards, so it could be an alternative to RedHat, specially in Latin America countries. But this is more technological.

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