Open Source OLPC Software and Hardware


Congratulations to Realtek Semiconductor! It's the sole clock generator IC supplier for One Laptop Per Child, and due to Quanta Computer's 10 million unit production goals, Digitimes reports:

Realtek Semiconductor is expected to see its clock generator shipments grow by 40% on year to 40 million units in 2007
While this is an amazing windfall for Realtek, it makes you wonder about the other side of the equation, the local suppliers OLPC will destroy.

Imagine that you are a local PC supplier to local school systems. You assemble computers, load software, and provide maintenance with some parts imported, some parts, both hardware and software, made locally. You have a small but growing business. You have employees and suppliers with employees. You are constantly looking to expand your very homegrown business.

Then one million OLPC Children's Machine XO's hit your market, and like a neutron bomb, your hardware sales are wiped out. Laptops, built by Quanta, servers, made in Brazil, mesh, a Green Wifi design. You might be hired to install hardware or code software, but hardware production? Gone.

Open Source this too!

Now imagine a different scenario, one where OLPC does not give exclusive production rights to Quanta, does not anoint Brazil as sole server source suppliers, does not boost only Realtek's clock shipments, but opens up all the designs, software and hardware, to local producers.

In this scenario, millions $30 Billion dollars does not flow every year from developing world coffers to Quanta or OLPC, but stays in the country - each country - and nurtures a hundred new Silicon Valleys, Silicon Huts if you will.

And from there springs forth each laptop, less than $140, less than $100, maybe even less than $50, with the profits, the wages, the skills embedded in each country, developing businesses, jobs, minds that not only "learn learning" but earn livings.

How does that, alternate, scenario sound?

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What the...? Is your thesis that buying ICs from Realtek is going to put local "mom and pop" semiconductor fab plants out of business? Do developing countries even have VLSI fab plants?

The idea of 'open source' manufacturing is an interesting topic.
A design that is totally available in all aspects for anyone to build and provide to others. Not out of the question in terms of Printed Circuit Board artwork, component Bill Of Materials etc.
Component sourcing might be a problem unless alternative suppliers are available for most parts. Could they buy direct from AMD for instance?
I know in my industry, when we design and build electronic products the main thing is to secure multiple suppliers for parts. While we build products in the thousands rather than in the millions its just a factor of scale.
Many countries could not contemplate production of the OLPC laptop at anywhere near $130 per unit. The infrastructure needed to produce quality units would be in the order of maybe 20 Million US dollars. PCB fabrication for anything more than a two layer circuit board is expensive. Plastic injection moulding is a high throughput excercise and would only work in very large quantities. LCD displays are most likely single sourced (but the technology should ripple through the industry later).

I personally think the XO laptop is in good hands with Quanta as the manufacturer but would the quality be as good if made anywhere else?
Would any country benefit from home grown manufacturing?

This is completely unrealistic. None of the countries participating in OLPC, w/ the possible exception of Thailand, currently produce any of the electronic components you speak of. Go to the Panthip computer market in Bangkok and you will find everything there is made in China. The same is true virtually everywhere. OLPC is not displacing local industries. On the other hand, food aid does a great job of destroying local agriculture.

OLPC can't wait for factories to be built in these nations that could build the XO's. Also, even if Brazil builds IC real-time clocks, it would be cost prohibitive to ship them to Quanta's factories outside Shanghai.

It's awesome that Quanta makes $ off this project. That guarantees that Quanta won't lose interest in this project and it guarantees that other companies will try to get into the market.

I find it ironic that you are incredibly critical of OLPC but your own ideas for the OLPC appear to have been hatched in fantasy land.

My country, Brazil can do this. We build computers now. We will build OLPC servers. We can do more than Quanta. We can do it.

Anil & Robert,

If Brazil is already tapped as the OLPC Server Per School producer, at 100,000 units in the first year, I do think they could manufacture other parts of the OLPC. As could other countries.

There is a vibrant hardware assembly market in most developing world countries, one that could be utilized to transfer skills and knowledge of production as well as education and/or consumption.

Go Brazil. Maybe Brazil can do make clock ICs if they currently do, but can Cambodia, or Libya, Guatemala? Wayan, your ideas sound alot more like Cold War-era centralized planning than open-source technology. Or what did they call it "Import Substitution?" That sure was a big success.

Wayan, what you say is true in the long run, but if a government does indeed start distributing XO machines to the poorest children first you will have the situation for a few years where the families who would like to buy them for their own children for $100, $200 or even more won't be able to do so.

People have often cited this as an leading to a black market, but an alternative would be for local entrepreneurs to fill this gap while it lasts.

We introduce the mentioned company above that we are
dealers in Electronics Like GENERATORS, ,HARD DRIVES,LAP-TOPS,LCD Monitor, TFT MONITORS etc.
As soon as we got your contact adress we decided to
send e-mail to you so that you quote us the price
list of lcd monitors and laptop MODELS you have in stock at the moment but the price should be CIF kampala.
We shall be greetful if you accept to co-operate
with us in business.
Best Regards

One thing you are ignoring is the economies of scale. If you have 50 pieces of laundry to wash is it going to be cheaper to get 5 people to do 10 pieces each, or one person to do them all. It is obvious.

Also regarding the poor local hardware vendors, do you think that they would be more busy caring for 10 aging Dells, or repairing some fraction of the 100 local olpcs that are bound to be damaged occasionally.

Negroponte gives his answer to the Open Hardware Question on

Negroponte, for his part, says the jobs that local PC manufacturing can provide are somewhat illusory, particularly if the cost of hardware goes up.

"Every country I visit, bar none, even the small ones, ask if they can build the XO in their country. My reply is in two parts. One, yes, if you will accept the price going up. Two, if you understand that this is really assembly and that assembly jobs are both few and not great jobs," he wrote.

"The only justification to build the XO in each country is national pride--which is certainly important. Otherwise, local manufacturing does not affect economics as all the parts are (imported) anyway."

Dear Sir,

Realtek ICs RTL8366,RTL8369,RTL8212 and RTL8211 are matched our project application.
So please tell me these all four ICs are availabe or not.

Wating for your prompt reply.

Thanking You,

Rupal Patel

I have to wonder what the impediments are to some country, for reasons of national pride or some more substantive reason, assembling and/or partially manufacturing an XO?

Some parts of the machine require major technical expertise. The microprocessor obviously and the display to name two. But the case certainly doesn't require the same degree of expertise and the same capital investment to manufacture as does the microprocessor. How about the motherboard? Not exactly bleeding edge tech. Could it be manufactured locally albeit at higher cost or is there some intellectual property impediment?