How about OLPC XO and Classmate PC?

olpc luis Ramirez
Luis Ramirez all OLPC green
I am Luis Ramirez, a member of the committee in charge of the citizen-led campaign One Computer Per Child (Chile), and we have been working hard to make the a strong claim in favour of increasing radically the use of computer technologies in our country.

Currently we have a ratio of 30 school students per machine. The government has proposed improving it up to 10 students per computer by the bicentenary (2010). However, we are proposing a target of 4 kids per machine, which means adding about 1 million computers to the public educational system by that year.

That number is relevant because we have about the same number of kids living under poverty. The revolutionary invention behind the OLPC initiative can make that dream possible. Yet, the arrival of Classmate has changed the scenario in the South American region, and is becoming a solution that deserves to be seriously considered as well.

Here I would like to argue why is that the case and why we should not be embarrassed to considered a possible mixed strategy.

Having tested both machines, and after interviewed Intel's executives, including the person in charge of the Classmate for the whole Latin American region, I have to say that I'm honestly impressed by the new contender. Let's see some highlights:

Price: Intel is already selling Classmates in Chile, directly to the Schools. It is a clever strategy because gives every single local authority (not the central government) the possibility to buy even one laptop per school. Unit price: 425 dollars. BUT: they are also challenging OLPC with the 1 million number.

In Argentina, Intel offered a selling price of 200 dollars per million Classmate plus the possibility to get the machines manufactured in that country. That price is not far away from the $150-170 for the OLPC. Besides, the Intel executives also confirmed that the price is most likely to fall in the next months.

Selling Strategy: Interestingly, and although it may sound contradictory for developing countries, price is not the only consideration. I have spoken with people from the educational sector and they seem to be willing to pay a bit more if they get proper ‘peace of mind' (technical support).

The fact that they are able to take small risks that is, buying a few units instead of a million makes a huge difference in terms of the decision makers. I totally understand Negroponte's view about scale (no great changes unless no great numbers), but the risks for developing nations are just enormous.

It take a lot of courage and vision (such as in the case of Brazil's President Lula), to take the ‘1 million decision'. Intel strategy may not be the most disruptive but believe me: it fits better the average mind of the average politician. We have millions of those in Latin America. Professor Negroponte: please take note.

Ruggedness: The Classmate machine has been seriously beaten in front of my eyes and keeps working without any has a 'bad-boy behaviour' in mind. You can see a live demo at the final 30 secs of this video. I know the B2 prototype still does not have the final materials, so it should not be compared with Intel's laptop right now, but I am a bit concerned about the resistance of the two green antennas. Not sure if they would resist the worst case scenario.

Linux: Yes, you can order (if you are a school owner, such as the municipality) all your Classmates with Linux. However and here is the surprising news: The selling price is not very different to the windows version, because Microsoft sold the Windows licenses at a very low price, - at least we were told so by the Intel executives we interviewed.

Not sure what they meant by that, but apparently it's around ten dollars (I'm trying to get this info). The key issue here is the ‘popularity contest' (already won by Windows) behind adopting a Linux based system if such a decision will be in the hand of local authorities or even the national Ministry of Education. With all its obvious strengths, Linux is a geek mantra, not a politician or Ministry of Education mantra.

Only extremely visionary politicians have understood that in this part of the word. Thus, after the arrival of Classmate, those advocating for a ‘Linux Generation' produced as a consequence of a massive implementation of OLPC in schools are feeling fairly skeptical, again.

Hardware: This is an unfair comparison at the moment because I have with me the B2 test (not the more robust forthcoming B3). Plus, in the B2 many features run really slow simply because, well, it's a prototype! However, the performance of the Classmate running Win XP we tried in Santiago de Chile some weeks ago is frankly impressive, particularly when we run things like YouTube videos.

Now, you may be tempted to ask: Do poor kids need more powerful machines? Well, the question should be a different one: Do your son or nephew living in New York or Boston needs one? Of course they do. And in fact, that's why OLPC is making this huge hardware upgrading, making both machines almost identical in terms of performance.

Software: With the new upgrading, the XO can run the Microsoft software for Classmate, which is also truth the other way around. Yet, (and see below), the educational models differ: Classmate's gives more control to teachers, while OLPC´s gives more freedom to students. This last point is particularly important from the point of view of more discipline-oriented schools.

olpc classmate linux
Two models of learning

Educational Model: I'm super fan of the student centric OLPC model. Actually, that is in my view the most revolutionary contribution of the project. However, the Intel guys have been working for years (about a decade in Chile) with the school teachers. Their educational model called Intel Educa has been delivered to over ten thousand teachers here and now it's even part of the curriculum in many universities.

And of course, people in the Ministry of Education are familiar with the Intel approach, and they seem to love it, so there's already a huge advantage for Intel in terms of the proximity to the decision makers. This is also truth for most of the Southern Cone region. Here we find the real David and Goliath battle! (not in the machines themselves)

Bottom line: I truly believe that there is room for both machines. For example: the OLPC seems to me more powerful in the hands of younger children (6 to 12 years), particularly in rural schools. Its key strength is that it can produce enormous transformations under extreme conditions. OLPC is also more ‘value for money' if governments and local authorities are able to buy smaller quantities (not 1 million).

On the other hand, the Classmate seems a bit more Ok for middle size or big cities, (yes, we do have cities in Latin America ;) with more stable electric supply and better infrastructure. I also tend to think that the Classmate machine is more suitable for more grown-up kids (12 to 16), but this is something more subjective based on the external look of both machines and their current software environments.

However, in an ideal world, I'd be rather happy if, by next year, any Latin American country can have most of their public (underprivileged) schools with 'mobile laptop labs' (at least 20 or 30 machines per school) with OLPC and CLASSMATES.

The dream of ONE COMPUTER PER CHILD can still take some 5 to 10 years in most of our countries, but we need to start moving in that direction right now. Here we have two good alternatives we should seriously consider.

This article is also published on Audentes Fortuna Iuvat

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I'm surprised to hear that 'Linux' is a geek mantra since many Latin American governments are moving toward using operating systems like Ubuntu. I'd expect that schools would move towards more 'Linux' education platforms as well because of this.

What you seem to have missed with your comparison is the obvious advantage of Open Source against the Microsoft closed source. Where the XO shines is the ability to give the student a tool for learning programming. Students can investigate how their computer works. Read through source code. Marvel at the ingenuity of the thousands of contributors to the XO software.

Of course I'm sure that the Classmate with its structured Teacher Centric education model would plug right in to Municipal School Systems in countries like Chile. If a school can order 500 Classmates and give every student a PC for only $425 (I guess thats US dollars) each then students are still stuck in the same tried-and-failed 'feed them answers - dont teach them how to question' method of education that teachers are trained with. Maybe teachers need education, not training (like you train a dog to do tricks?).

Unfortunately I think the power of the Microsoft+Intel giant will prevail and we'll still have stupid people graduating from colleges.


you can get the Classmate with Mandriva preinstalled. So the OS is not the issue here. I see instead the scope of the laptop as the main difference (student-centric as the OLPC vs teacher-centric as the Classmate).

If the OS is not the issue then the hardware is not the issue either.
I agree the only issue is the way children learn. Nothing has changed since I went to school 40+ years ago. I was lucky and taught myself to learn since the school system was inadequate...and still is.
I taught myself electronics (now over 30 years in the industry). I taught myself to program in assembly language (10 years engineering embedded controller products).
I gave up on the school system long ago. 'Learn by doing' has always been my mantra!

I think the real issue here is a choice between hierarchical society and grassroots. It's not technical but philosophical one.

I believe, at the end, the democratic approach win the game like the short history of South Korea, which was one of the poorest nations of the world and is one of the most developed nations from both economical and democratic aspects.

OLPC is not a machine but a philosophy, but Classmate is a machine, not philosophy.


I follow Nick's view here. Now that you are able to run both software suites in both machines, the issue has moved towards the key Negropontean idea, that is: education. Everything returns to the very beginning.

So the question is now: Are you going to give the kids the tools for self-development or are you going to expect that teachers do their job?

With all due respect to the teachers of the world (and many in Chile): we do have a problem with a teacher-centric approach. Unfortunately, an important number of teachers don't feel comfortable enough with technologies, regardless how much they try to use them. Besides, we all know that there's nothing you can do to stop the curiosity of the children. Give them one of these machines and they will learn anything faster and better than we do as adults.

So, after the arrival of Classmate PC, the OLPC project is becoming something by far more important than a machine. It is becoming a philosophy of learning and revolutionary idea about children empowerment.

Why is that? Three months ago I termed the forthcoming competition as the 'Battle of the Laptops'. Now, after a deeper understanding of both projects I feel that the real dispute is emerging as a 'Battle of Educational Models'.

The two sides are aligned with opposite actors.

On the one hand, the OLPC followers believe the power should be delivered directly to the kids. They should become the 'Chief Software Architects' of their digital lifes. The XO machine is the empowering tool of this revolution. Yes, it would be a revolution. If OLPC triumph, never before in history this group (the children)would have so much power in their hands. It will be a historical turning point, for example similar to the moment when women gain the right to vote.

On the other hand the Classmate followers believe in teachers. The concept behind the design is focused on the capacity of the educators to embrace the technology as part of the curricula and -above all- their ability to control how kids are going to learn with them.

The outcomes can be completely different. Which way are we going to follow? It depends on the audacity of our leaders and the virtue of our citizens. We, in the campaing are well aware of that.

Greetings from Chile,

Great discussion here. I think, regardless of the plafrom and the philosophy, content is what is needed. I am not talking about prepackaged lectures, maybe wrapped up in Powerpoint. I am talking about educational activities (note the word: activity as in OLPC), where the kids are active players. I am a physicist, and I'd love to work on some hands on activity using either platform. I'd love to throw some open question with some guidelines and have the kids to work out a solution, an approach that I experienced with my students to be very effective in their learning process.

This is critical, and I think this is where the main problem is. Kids in the developed world stopped to be taught how to think. As a consequence, young people are scoring poorly in Math and Science and the interest in these disciplines is decreasing. What kids need is to be able to learn how to think, both creatively and indipendently. The platform is irrelevant, but the approach is critical. We need the right tools, so this is why I am working on the content part of the project, because, let's face it, that is where the real challenge is. Creating creative and stimulating content is difficult, because us, as "grown ups" usually think that we can lecture others, and "they will learn".

So the OLPC seems more suited. However a lesson from the Classmate can be learnt. Teachers need to be trained, not for the use of the machine per se, but for the use that they are going to adopt. In other words, less lecturing, more inquiry.

So I hope we will see more stories, comments, suggestions for the content side of both platform, than posts on the hardware/software, which, again is totally irrelevant.


I have two problems with the classmate laptop:

1 Intel (and MS) started this project as a response to the OLPC. Will they continue if they have driven out the OLPC XO?

Both have done whatever they could to discourage (in MS' case, even maybe bribing) the uptake of the OLPC. Why should we believe that the classmate won't be dropped the moment they killed the OLPC project? MS has raised license fees to a bankrupting level for every hardware vendor that adverticed pre-installs Linux. Why should we trust them NOT to drive out Mandriva the moment they can?

2 The OLPC XO computer is in the posession of the children. It is THEIR OWN computer. It cannot be shared by design. The classmate is school property. It will NOT run the kind of collaborative and educational software of the OLPC. I can see why schools might prefer to keep the computers their own property (even for all the wrong reasons).


Luis, saludos desde Lima.

Although I understand this may not be the perfect place to discuss this at length, I do have a problem with observations like this:

"If OLPC triumph, never before in history this group (the children)would have so much power in their hands. It will be a historical turning point, for example similar to the moment when women gain the right to vote."

Just two quick points:

1. Children are not a group. They exist as parts of communities, in families, with cultural, social and political contexts. Children receiving the XO in Libya will not act like those in Brazil. So the idea of "children" having power demands at least qualification.

2. Power is not a commodity. It is drawn from, created by, or may be stolen from, specific agents by specific agents, and tools are just a medium to exercise the influence of the group into other agents, for specific purposes. So, children would require to have such an agenda (they don't have it, as per my first point), and there should be other agents against whom to exercise such power.

Just in case anyone considers this pedantic / irrelevant / plain loony: most of the discussion about the XO and OLPC project states the revolutionary aspect of giving computers to the kids. Social categories demand social analysis, and that's what I've tried to propose, albeit in a short and most probably inadequate way.

Nada personal, Luis.

Hi Eduardo

You highlight some really important aspects of the 'social' side of technology implementation. I'm sure the readers (even the most techies) are well aware of the serious problems raised when the social environment is not properly understood.

So, going back to all your pedantic / irrelevant / plain loony arguments...(just kidding)

1. Children become a group when they are empowered as such. I'm not saying they can be considered as a sort of 'transnational class' (in the Marxist way of thinking), and of course I understand that Brazilean kids are not like de Libians. But, you have to agree with me that they have the potential to become locally relevant if they are given the right tools.For example, last year in Chile we had a strong movement of school kids protesting against the government. Some of then were really young (10, 12 years) and theie actions led to a change in the cabinet and a new law on public education. One key feature of this 'school revolt'was the way they used all sort of technological tools (cell phones, blogs, fotologs, etc) as a way of articulate their movement. It just happened in front of the adults eyes and nobody saw it coming.

You have to think in similar terms of ethinic or sexual minorities. They are not 'a group' until they gain the necessary strength and a 'sense of self-consciousness'. Most of the historical turning points in the civil liberties began just like that.

For that reason, the underlying logic in the educational model of the OLPC is revolutionary.

2. The agenda can emerge. It can easily emerge. The children live in a whole hidden world that escape our knowledge as adults. In Chile nobody expected the whole country to stop because of K-12 children, but it already happened.

Anyway, thanks and if you want we can have a discussion on that in Spanish (easier). In my blog I've written quite a lot about this!


Luis, without trying to turn this into a grudge match, may I point a couple of things about your response to my comments?

1. "Children become a group when they are empowered as such." I cannot agree with this. a bunch of people become a group when exercising common agency inside a well-defined organization, or when there are specific circumstances that allow them to act collectively, like an election (all become electing citizens, and the aggregation of individual acts, an election) or a series of experiences lived collectively, like being neighbors, or suffering an specific disease. Children are socialized as part of families and as schoolchildren, and as such, they are included as members of society. Their agency is set inside the structures of socialization. Remove those, and you have individuals that may or may not go beyond their immediate circumstances in search of commonality. And since we're talking about under-10 kids, their level of autonomy is heavily limited by their parents and by that huge, humongous socialization mechanism called schools. Which brings me to my second point:

2. "you have to agree with me that they have the potential to become locally relevant if they are given the right tools." I agree, but this is completely different to the point you made before. Relevance is one thing, while the existence of a group as such is another; schoolchildren are a group as they exist in terms of an institutionalized frame in society as well as a group defined around the agenda of education as a social institution. They have grievances, indeed, and the tools allow them to coalesce into a social movement and protest. But that is different to the idea expressed in the first paragraph.

3. Ethnic or sexual minorities are defined by common shared characteristics and a rising level of identity. Empowering them is perfectly plausible since they are already a group, even if their size and strength (and agenda) is not yet clear. The tools are great to do that, precisely.

4. When you remove the structural trappings of schooling from schoolchildren, what's left? Familiar and immediate reference groups (el barrio); some identity in construction, of different strength (the team you're a fan of, for instance). They are also consumers, indeed. Mostly, you have individuals. There's little actual "social glue" left. Lest not forget: School exists, among other reasons, to create the "imagined community" we call a nation.

I'll get to your blog and continue the conversation there, in a couple of days.


Hi Folks

For those of you that want to continue the fantastic converation between Eduardo Villanueva and myself in Spanish, please visit or my personal blog

Also have a look of the answer to this debate by Alejandro Piscitelli, the guru behind the outstanding Argentine educational web portal

For Thalita: I'm sorry, but I don't speak portuguese :(

Intel and Microsoft use the drug dealer's business model: the first taste is free. If you look at Intel's Classmate web site they consistently (even in the first sentence) call this product a solution for "an emerging market." Not an education machine - just a way to get their foot in the door. What happens when these machines are in the class rooms and Microsoft decides it is necessary to upgrade the software and it is no longer $3.00 per machine, but $30.00 each? Oh, and the old software is no longer sold or supported. Not a possibility with the open source software on the XO.

Negroponte was tricked into signing a non-disparaging agreement with Intel. He legally can't fight back the way he should. Intel and Microsoft are donating Classmates to areas that Nick had hand-shake agreements just to sour those deals - something that the OLPC can't afford to do.

Don't fall for it. I just donated an XO. It only costs $200. Please join me in doing so.

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