OLPC America - XO Laptops in the USA


While we await Nicholas Negroponte's Industry Insider address, he apparently told Dan Nystedt of the IDG News Service a pre-speech shocker: OLPC is going to launch in America through US state governments, after ignoring them for the past year or so:

olpc Barney
Barney wants USA $100 laptop sales
OLPC America already has a director and a chairman, and will likely be based in Washington D.C., said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of OLPC, in an interview.

"The whole thing is merging right now. It will be state-centric. We're trying to do it through the 50 state governments," he said.

Now why would Negroponte suddenly change course form his previous dismissals of an OLPC USA? Before he said he wouldn't pursue One Laptop Per American Child in the near term because of the difference in need. The American government has the money to afford One Mac Book Per Child while developing country governments do not.

His three stated reasons for starting OLPC America now are:

  1. The need in poor areas of the USA (New Orleans anyone?), but that need has been there since the inception of OLPC. Why the change of heart now?
  2. The educational value of American children communicating with children in the developing world, is worthy, but neither OLPC nor anyone in the US educational establishment has noted this as an overriding need.
  3. The critical mass of developers that would grow from engaged parents from Florida to Alaska hacking the XO laptop for their children, which is odd since he just said that G1G1 was disappointing.
But let's revisit why he was disappointed for a clue to OLPC America's birth:
On the other hand it doesn't quite create an economic model which could run the whole thing. If we had done a million units with G1G1 you could then maybe say the $100 laptop becomes a zero dollar laptop. So it didn't do that well in terms of the economic model to go forward.
With that telling comment, I think Negroponte is interested in OLPC America for only one reason: to sell more XO laptops.

Sales are faltering in the developing world, the USA is rich and geeky. And for the exact reason he didn't engage an OLPC America before, he's willing to try it now: we have the resources to experiment with clock-stopping hot technology. So while I question his sincerity on the stated reasons, I has only one response to his actions: about damn time!

And good luck. OLPC USA will be a challenge too.

Other OLPC America links:


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"Sales are faltering in the developing world, the USA is rich and geeky. And for the exact reason he didn't engage an OLPC America before, he's willing to try it now: we have the resources to experiment with clock-stopping hot technology. So while I question his sincerity on the stated reasons, I has only one response to his actions: about damn time!"

USA states will NOT buy any computer equipment that doesn't run Windows. It would be unAmerican. Anyone who followed the ODF/OOXML saga in the states will know why.

Maybe that is also the angle for the "dual boot" Windows message floating around. Although a dual boot XO-1 is nonsense. But SD cards could help. And then wiping Linux from the XOs, of course. As happened with laptops in Nigeria.


Now that it is in the hands of thousands of G1G1 donors in the U.S., Negroponte in a stroke that may come to be thought of as included genius, has in effect many who have paid their money to be what turns out to be beta testers, and who will in turn make the XO more viable than it could have ever been under the original handful of developers. The XO platform apparently is endorsed by many folks now as groundbreaking, and as it goes forward, with new people recognizing its potential and aching to join the fray in marketing, promotion, support, indeed all the aspects of commerce, it is poised to overtake its original education focus and become the what? the new Apple?

NN should look at the projects in Maine and Alaska where Apple has distributed thousands of laptops to individuals in schools. So, school districts are buying more than Windows.

Hooray -- I'm GLAD that US schools will have the opportunity to get in on the OLPC project.

First of all, seeing XOs proliferate in the US will help other countries' school systems perceive it as a viable option, instead of feeling like theyh are the guinea pigs for a previously untested type of hardware and software. Also, the argument that the XO's Sugar is used nowhere but in developing countries, which will hold children back when they encounter "real" computer OSes, will be refuted.

Most of all, just because electricity and internet access aren't particularly scarce in the US, doesn't mean that some students here don't need the playing field leveled in order to get the most out of their education. Yes, I agree 100% that the kids in developing countries, the ones whose needs inspired the OLPC project in the first place, need and deserve to have their education augmented so they can break out of the cycle of poverty. But there are US kids who will benefit from the implementation of OLPC in THEIR schools, and it seems shortsighted IMO to deny them the opportunity just because they were born here instead of elsewhere. (Just the same as the kids in developing countries deserve the opportunity of education, and that opportunity shouldn't be denied to THEM because of where THEY were born.)

Go ahead, make OLPC worldwide. If it's available to kids in EVERY country, I'll be ecstatic.

To sell XOs in the US is not a radical change of strategy but simply a new survival tactics of Prof. Negroponte.

Due to OLPC's lack in implementation plans and the competition of Intel with their inferior hardware but superior implementation (and lobbying) efforts the XO sales in the development countries did not take off in numbers that could ensure the survival of OLPC. Neither did the G1G1 program up to now.

Therefore OLPC must be desperate to sell large volumes (millions) of XO's to no matter whom just to achieve the necessary economy of scale. This way the price can be reduced, the suppliers can be kept on board and finally Intel could be forced to give up because even Intel could not justify to their share holders to give >5 million Classmates away for $100 each with a loss in excess of >$100 per laptop. Moreover, OLPC has much better possibilities to influence the classroom integration of the XO's in the US than in any development country in order to prove the educational success of the XO's. And what is best about Negroponte's tactics: Intel cannot follow to also sell Classmates in the US because they would canibalize their own lucrative sales of CPU's in high price laptops and saw off the branch on which they sit. Ouch...! ;-)

2008 will be the decisive year about the success of OLPC. And Negroponte is right to do what ever it takes to get on top of the game. If only he would also progress with OLPC's implementation support.

It is interesting that not only OLPC has not sold large numbers of laptops to the developing countries but neither has Intel. Why not? If their lobbying and implementation is so superior then they probably had the chance to place large sales contracts. They did not either because they are technically not ready or they fear the losses of those low price sales and are temporarily satisfied with stopping OLPC sales.

Happy new year to the kids of the world, OLPC and all of you!

I think he'll have the same problem selling them to bureaucracies here as he had overseas. The school systems here don't have millions of dollars laying around either and he'll have to recalibrate this attitude towards training, teachers and support. Also, most of the laptop programs I've heard about focus on middle and high school students.

If he sold them to individuals, well that's another story....

Good luck to Dr. Negroponte but given the huge shortcomings of the XO from the point of view of public education officials, I don't think he'll move very many of the machines to US state education agencies.

The Birmingham, Alabama buy stands in contrast to that but that's an individual school district, not a state education agency and in any crowd you're liable to find a maverick, a nutbag or an irresponsible fool. Not always obvious which you're dealing with and, of course, they're not mutually exclusive.

I just wonder how much longer the XO will be viable? It has to cost a fair amount of money to keep the assembly plant tied up doing XOs and some minimum number to hit break-even. How much longer can XOs be produced at the current rate of production?

Bruce Nussbaum - BusinessWeek

What does disturb me--and has disturbed me for a long time about olpc is the underlying educational assumptions based on the work of Piaget behind it. It is these educational assumptions, I believe, that is the reason why China, India, Nigeria--the target nations for olpc from the very beginning--have rejected the olpc laptops.

The XO computer is a true marvel--a wonderful machine designed to be extremely collaborative. And it is designed to be collaborative because the underlying educational assumption is that the kids will learn on their own without help from teachers, coaches or parents. Yes, this is a bold statement but I believe it is bascially correct.
The olpc foundation has from the beginning followed the learning by doing educational philosophy. I used it to teach science to third graders in the Philippines in the late sixties. I remember the lesson plan--bring in lots of bottle caps, give a bunch to each kid, and ask the class to divide them in two. Then three. Then four. Then ask them how they made choices--color, shape, size. That's classification, a basic cornerstone of science.

I did that as part of a local program run by young Filipino teachers trying out a new curriculum developed by the educational department of the country.

The olpc philosophy strikes me as very different and very anti-teacher, anti-establishment. Which is why I think it is being rejected around the world by many countries, especially in Asia.
I think the educational establishments in India, China, Nigeria and other nations are rejecting the olpc approach because they feel insulted and misused. One Indian professor told me recently in Bangalore that sure, India has a rote educational system that is the anti-thesis of experiential learning but it has brought 200 million out of poverty in a decade so what's so wrong with that? And China has brought half a billion people out of poverty within a rote educational system.

In fact, as I think about it, if your economic advantage is efficiency--to do the same things again and again at lower costs-- a rote education system may be the right one for you at this time in history. ...

Say what you will about Intel's commercial actions, it's approach to education in poor villages has been to work with teachers on the ground, training them and creating local curricula. Yes, I know olpc is doing some of that in Brazil, but it's major thrust is to bypass teachers, not co-create with them. Intel's success, if it has much, may well turn out to be that it embraces the local educational establishment in both its pedagogy and its business model, while olpc does the opposite.

On the suitability of the XO for US schools: There's the XO hardware itself, and there's the educational philosophy behind it; in principle the two are separable. If the primary goal right now is to sell XOs and if the philosophy is an impediment to doing that in the US, then presumably the philosophy can be adapted as necessary.

Also, I'm not sure that this is a Windows vs. non-Windows issue; maybe it's more of an issue having known educational software be available on the device. Which raises the question for people like me who aren't familiar with the educational software market: If it were in fact technically possible to do so, would it actually make economic sense to deploy traditional proprietary education software on the XO, given the different pricing model vs. traditional classroom PCs?

Well, I always believed that tools are only useful when kids are in the right framework of mind to grasp and learn. Developing/poor world kids need trained teachers first, someone who can teach them how to use these tools. Does this mean the OLPC project was worthless, no..absolutely not. On the contrary it was a fantastic start but unfortunately never had any solid implementation plan. This is because the folks who are at the helm of the OLPC project neither lived in the developing/poor world nor understood how education is delivered there. The solution was merely a theoretical one. Introducing the laptops in the US schools is a FANTASTIC idea. No, don't change anything to the XO, no dual boot, no more memory, no extra things, introduce to the kids as it is. Let each school in the US develop a relationship with a school in the developing/poor world and then deliver the laptops there. This would ensure that kids in the US are taking a leadership role in teaching the kids in the developing/poor world and learning from their parents/teachers at the same time. This is self-serving and would be less taxing on the organization.

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