Is OLPC "Morally Bankrupt"?


Theo de Raadt

In late September, we noted that Theo de Raadt was not happy with the way One Laptop Per Child was interacting with Marvell, the suppliers of the OLPC wireless mesh hardware.

What started out as an angry comment on Christopher Blizzard's blog has spiraled into an all-out ideological debate on the Open Source credibility of One Laptop Per Child's 2B1 Children's Machine development process.

On one side you have Theo de Raadt's assertion that OLPC is not Open Source because the developers signed non-disclosure agreements (NDA's) to gain access to documentation required to write and maintain a kernel drivers for the proprietary firmware used in Marvell's wireless networking hardware. In fact, he goes so far as to call One Laptop Per Child "morally bankrupt".

Jim Gettys

On the other side, you have Jim Gettys' saying:

"So OLPC (and Marvell) are acting in good faith. There is no equivalent alternative hardware to meet the needs of extremely low power consumption available, and we’re working on open firmware for the Marvell chip. End of story."
In the middle you have , trying to sort out who says what and why. His interview of , , , and is the best navigation of the spat.

No matter if you are a Open Source hardliner or believe that OLPC is still following its Open Source Manifesto, you do have to wonder about the feel good defense raised every time there is criticism of the 2B1 Children's Machine development. Or as Theo de Raadt says best:

"Jim is obviously very clever at convincing people that children need proprietary laptops (OLPC has a greater percentage of undocumented hardware than a Thinkpad from 3 years ago).[..] Every posting from him mentions the children, as a way to encourage people to believe him. You can't say anything bad about the children, can you? But behind that mention of the children, look -- here is a Red Hat employee spouting the same proprietary baloney we hear all the time from vendors like Intel and Broadcom."
Yes, Theo, don't you know? says, "criticizing this project is like criticizing the church, or the Red Cross.

Related Entries


While no one enjoys an "open source" heavyweight fight more than me, especially one fought with such brainpower, I think it is important to echo Mr. Negroponte's words (if not his hyperbolic invocation of the church), this project is not about open source software; it virtues and supportability. Time spent on this topic, is time taken away from the real work of the OLPC.

In simple terms, it is about technology enabling kids to learn regardless of geo or money. I wish this site would spend more space on how the kids will use B21 to learn -applications and their proposed usage- and a lot less on the boards, OS and other distinctly non-learning topics. (Hint, hint: are you listening OLPC -your site is even worse!)

I agree, I wish we could spend more time on how kids will learn using the 2B1, how teachers will integrate in the classroom, and all the amazing benefits to the parents and extended families.

Unfortunately, One Laptop Per Child doesn't have much, if any, information on 2B1 use in-country besides a few parables: