Why Rwanda May Microsoft Windows XO Laptops

   
   
   
   
   

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with participants in the OLPC Rwanda rollout, where President Paul Kagame has promised to create One Laptop Per Rwandan Child. While we spoke of the many challenges and opportunities around integrating XO laptops into their educational system, one discussion was quite fascinating: why Rwanda is considering Windows XO instead of Sugar.

XO in rwanda
Rwandans can learn Sugar

Microsoft Windows Training

The first reason Rwanda is thinking about Windows XO is the large installed user base for Microsoft Windows. After years of teacher training on MS Office, the educational system is familiar with Windows XP and happy to have Microsoft funding supporting continued teacher technology training.

At the same time, there is a perception that teachers and students would be "left behind" if they learned Linux, as its not seen as the business software of choice.

I countered this argument by reminding them that I learned BASIC on a TRS-80, many USA students learned on Apple IIe's and operating a computer is like driving a car. If you learn to drive in a Toyota, you don't need to go to driving school to drive a BMW. In fact, Rwandan drivers were an even better example.

Rwanda drives on the right side of the road, but the rest of East Africa drives on the left side, so there are many right and left drive cars on Rwandan roads. Yet, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in Africa to drive in.

Windows-based Content & Activities

The next reason put forth for Windows XO is the great amount of content and activities that already exist for Microsoft's operating system. Shown to me as an example were learning activities from India, interestingly enough subsidized by USAID. Microsoft is even offering a one-time grant to translate much of the Windows-based software into Kinyarwanda, the local language.

To this I could not offer much a rebuttal. While there is much open content available for the XO, and great XO activities, both with new items being added every day, there is a huge educational gap between Windows-based educational software and the XO's choices.

Regardless of the greater volume of Windows XP-based software, it has one distinct advantage over XO-based activities - Windows XP activities generally fit within Rwanda's educational pedagogy while XO activities do not.

Traditional educational software teaches towards disparate learning objectives - multiplication tables, compound sentences, or Rwandan history. How does Squeak, Speak, or even StarChart fit so nicely into the current curriculum?

XO in rwanda
An older Rwandan XO user

Older Primary School Age Targets

Last but not least, I learned that "primary school" in Rwanda is much different than elsewhere. Unlike the 5-10 year old children in most primary schools, in Rwanda, they are nominally 7-13 years old, but often much older as they leave school to work in the field for family income.

This older set of students are not seen to be as joyous with Sugar as with Windows XP, an impression that's somewhat true in the USA too. While the XO is a hit with American elementary school children, I've only seen geeky middle or high school kids take more than a passing interest in the XO.

Conclusion

While Rwanda has not made a decision for or against Windows XO, I was disappointed that they seemed to be leaning towards a Microsoft-infused solution. This is not so say that Windows XP in itself is not worthy, only that I do not believe that office automation software is the best way to educate young minds.

Learning and exploring are way more fun with Sugar, which is different than any other user interface. And that may be the real reason for Windows XO - Sugar is just too different for staid educational bureaucracies to accept.

No matter the operating system accepted, OLPC Rwanda may not live up to President Kagame's OLPRC dream as it would cost $2.5 billion, for XO laptops alone, and yet his entire government budget is only $800 million.

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10 Comments

Thanks for your post, Wayan. One thing that's missing from the cost/benefit analysis is the fact that Windows incurs tremendous overhead, both in hardware and support requirements, that the XO does not. We all know that Windows machines are inherently less secure and more vulnerable to viruses than any other operating systems. Furthermore, with its incredible bloat, the requirements on hardware to run Windows (particularly Vista and XP) are not light. The cost of providing technical support for Windows machines in developing countries can be positively prohibitive and/or unattainable (What will Zimi do when she gets a blue screen of death?). To say nothing about the ethics (or lack thereof) of inviting corporations into the classrooms to indoctrinate impressionable kids to brands and ways of thinking. This is akin to McDonalds teaching elementary school kids about nutrition. Sigh!

While the XO is a hit with American elementary school children, I've only seen geeky middle or high school kids take more than a passing interest in the XO.

What?!?! I LOVE the XO!! What can surpass the power of Free Software?!?!?
I think the non-geeky students are the ones who will take less interest in it.

Going back to your example of starting by driving a Japanese car and then a German one.

In Africa and speciffically in Rwanda, we are starting from scratch.

I do think that the way our government is handling it is the wisest one.

We may lack finances but wisdom was with us even before Africa was divided among colonial powers in Germany.

Unless MS changes it's base strategy, Windows on small computers seems to be a dead end. We are talking of an age of 7 years now for XP, while the competition created a new version yesterday.

I used to have an HP Jornada 820 circa 1999 which ran on Windows CE Professional, and it was awesome to say the least, especially in reliability and power consumption (battery lasted about 8-10 hours on a charge).

Bought in 1999 for $750; sold it in 2003 for $350 when I went to PDA's.

Where do you get your figures like 2.5$ billions? Just curious.

Rwanda estimates 2.5 million children in primary school. OLPC News estimates that the TCO for XO's is $1,000 each.

So 2.5 million x $1,000 = 2.5 billion.


i say "hip hip horray" for the windows XO.

i really that if the XO can become a for profit company, while there would be some major losses, there could also be some potentially incredible gains.

i do not know much about business..all that i do know is that money can be a great driving force in many different factors. it can can give a company real focus in its goals, which could help create the force needed to organize and create the efficiency that the XO needs to become really successful.

not to mention the fact that by gaining money, the xo project could have the resources it needs to increase its sales and develop the XO project in general at a much greater rate than it is going.

but this has all been said before...

while i dont think that there is some force behind the XO curtains trying to make the company for profit, at the same time, this can show the benefit of having a for profit company. you can make different XOs for different countries based on their different needs...and as a result, sell alot more. some countries may want 512mb flash drive and 128 ram..others may want 1 gig flash drive and 256 ram. some may want MS, and some want linux. it varies from country to country.

i mean, hell, the XO could become a huge hit in the USA by selling an XO with the capabilities of something along the lines of netbook.

the company could be a for profit in some way...with business representativies all over trying to make sales...advertisements for XOs on tv, different models, tech support line, etc, and at the same time a non profit...putting tons of its own money up in order to fund the purchase of XOs for other countries and keeping track of all the various little groups throughout the world and making sure that their XOs are working and have everything they need to give the childrena proper education

i guess i will get at what i've been trying to hint at all along. i hope that this rwanda is a huge success, and that the XO groups start branching out little by little and start testing the waters to see what does and does not work.

"i say "hip hip horray" for the windows XO.

i really that if the XO can become a for profit company, while there would be some major losses, there could also be some potentially incredible gains. "

Why do you think MS will allow the OLPC to make a profit?

Any profit from selling MS Windows depends on the price MS charges for XP. To be sure, every computer makers margin is less than the "marketing incentive", price reduction, they get on the Windows list price.

So if the XO is sold with XP, any profit will be offset by the rising price of the XP license.

Winter

I realize this is late in the thread, datewise, but I recently played with an EEE PC fully loaded with Linux + 50 apps; Open Office included.

If anything, why aren't other countries wanting to change the XO, wanting to go THERE?

I'm a little miffed, and confused, by the whole thing. But then, I'm no great fan of MS, just a pseudo user.


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