OLPC's New President & Negroponte: Its a Laptop Project Now

   
   
   
   
   

Nicholas Negroponte has finally found his new CEO for One laptop Per Child. After a year of fruitless searching, he's tapped Charles Kane, OLPC's CFO and a former software company executive, to lead the organization on a daily basis.

mako xo laptop
Charles Kane of OLPC

And what does Charles say about OLPC's mission, now that he's running the show? According to Technology Review, Charles is very clear: it's a laptop project.

"The OLPC mission is a great endeavor, but the mission is to get the technology in the hands of as many children as possible," he said. "Whether that technology is from one operating system or another, one piece of hardware or another, or supplied or supported by one consulting company or another doesn't matter."

"It's about getting it into kids' hands," he continued. "Anything that is contrary to that objective, and limits that objective, is against what the program stands for."

Now what might Charles be referring to when he talks about things limiting the program? Charles doesn't say explicitly, but we can always look to Nicholas Negroponte, still Chairman of OLPC, for an answer. And he's very clear on what he finds as a distraction to One Laptop Per Child's success:
"I think that means and ends, as often happens, got confused," he says. "The mission is learning and children. The means of achieving that were, amongst others, open source and constructionism.

In the process of doing that, open source in particular became an end in itself, and we made decisions along the way to remain very pure in open source that were not in the long-term interest of the project."

So kids, there you have it. The time, effort, energy, and passion of an entire global network of FOSS experts and supporters who have coded and promoted thousands of hours for OLPC, are actually a hindrance to success.

Now why is that? How could that be? Oh, let us have our Dear Leader tell us what he believes is the true roadblocks to XO laptop adoption:

negroponte
An empty OLPC soul
"When I went to Egypt for the first time, I met separately with the minister of communications, minister of education, minister of science and technology, and the prime minister, and each one of them, within the first three sentences, said, 'Can you run Windows?'" Negroponte says.

One future possibility is a "dual-boot" version of the OLPC machine, in which either Windows or Linux can be launched at start-up. If such a scheme were to materialize, Negroponte says, "I expect we will do a massive rollout in Egypt."

Yes, Nicholas, with Windows XO, you will have a massive roll out of low-cost laptops. It will be a great win for you, for Quanta, and maybe even for the OLPC organization.

Its only too bad you'll be celebrating alone.

The children, constructionist educators, and the entire FOSS community that brought you to this point, will not be cheering. In fact, I date this week as the beginning of the end for Open Source support of the OLPC organization. It sure marks the end for me.

Walter, you want a blog?

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36 Comments

I can see the tumble weeds already.

sigh.

I think the amazon.com ad at the bottom of this page says it all:

http://staticfree.info/oldshots/scap-1209742876.png

How many of those devices run Windows?

Two kids can't share the same sand box?

This sounds immature and possessive. Let them have their Win-XO, and let the Open Source Community support Sugar.

Why can't you get along with the existence of another system?
This is why humanity is doomed. This is Fundamentalist software rhetoric!

Can you look into the root causes of Egypt's decision? Maybe because the USA has propped up its "leader" for more than 26 years, and that somehow maybe, that had sway in their decision?

The world isn't just Us vs Them, it has major historical backgrounds and to make a flat out statement AGAINST everything people have worked hard to reach, is just insulting. :(

Hi Wayan,

why are you so strongly against Windows on the OLPC? I agree that OLPC is an education project, but the learning for the children should not happen in Sugar or the Terminal. OLPC is not aiming at producing an army of Linux admins, but providing children with a tool to support them in learning basic skills like reading, writing and math among many others. Right now there are just a few Activities running on a buggy and unintuitive OS. But, hey, the kids should be happy that they can share the source code, if they manage to open it in vim (without the man pages, of course)!
In order to reach many children the OS matters. That is a fact and Negroponte realized it. Another fact is that Windows is quasi a standard, if you like it or not.
The OS has to be stable and should not be the center of the project. The applications need to support education. And that should be the focus of OLPC and the developers that want to support the cause.
The only negative thing about windows might be the costs, I admit this, but the Sugar development is not free either.
Your black and white picture of Windows and Microsoft as the Tartarus and Linux and FOSS as the Elysium seems short sighted arrogant.

Bastian

ps. Please, save comments on the performance. Sugar takes 2:40 minutes to start up and the frame always leaves traces, it hardly can get worse.

I just hope that the Anti-Microsoft segment of the OLPC community allows things to take their natural course and don't do things to sabotage the effort. There's a lot of emotions invested and people being people there will be some who will take great satisfaction in having this shift in focus fail just to be able to say, "I told you so".

If it fails on its own, so be it.

Here is what I care about:

1) OLPC continues to support Sugar on Linux for the XO

2) OLPC continues to produce laptops so we can get them when Nepal expands it pilots.

3) The core developers at OLPC don't quit.

I don't really care if OLPC also ships Windows. As long OLPC continues on 1 and 2, we (OLE Nepal) can continue working on Nepal's pilots.

Currently, it is tremendously difficult to order XO's through OLPC. If shipping Windows makes it easier for us to get XO's in variable quantities (100 - 1000), this will make my life a lot easier, and for other NGO's that work w/ smaller quantities.

I am concerned that the key developers who work on OLPC, some of whom are volunteers and some employees, keep working on OLPC. We rely heavily on folks like John Watlington, C Scott Ananian, M Stone, Tomeu, Bernie, and many others.

Waitasec, you used to support the OLPC organization?

I've always supported the OLPC idea that technology can empower education, loved the clock-stopping hot technology (hardware and software) they were developing, yet feared they didn't have a realistic implementation strategy.

Adding the Windows OS is yet another strategic error. The "Does it run Windows?" question shows that OLPC's marketing is flawed in a very basic way - its allowing Ministries of Education to think of the XO as a "$100 laptop", not as educational empowerment for primary school kids.

As long as the XO (or any specialized solution) is compared to a business laptop, the whole idea of appropriate technology fails. Primary school aged children should not be learning with Microsoft Office, they should be learning with an educational experience suited for their developmental level. Or think of it another way - when was the last time you wondered if the Leapfrog came with Windows?

The Ministers are just using "Does it run Windows" as an excuse to say "No". Once they have Windows, the Ministers will then ask Negroponte for teacher training, local support and maintenance, and all the other aspects of implementation he's failed to support in the past. If he had these aspects of implementation, and better yet, offered to partner with the Ministry to deliver them with a well-staffed implementation team, there would be a much different reception.

Just ask the Nepali Government about OLPC adoption. I think OLE Nepal can give you a very clear answer.

IMHO, OLPC is on the verge of going bust. Getting windows on the XO for those who want it should have been done long ago. Instead, OLPC went for Open Source Imperialism. You get the box their way or not at all, but without a gun pointing at them, most of the world went for 'not at all'. If they can get Windows on the XO in the next few weeks, maybe they can pull it out, but I doubt it. I just hope they get Update 1 finished before then.

@bfayette
Um, Microsoft has been working with OLPC for at least 18 months porting a version of Windows to the XO.

@Bryan Berry
How perfectly rational and reasonable! As long as Sugar on Linux continues to improve and remains MORE optimised for the hardware than Windows, we needn't worry. So what if NickNeg officially "prefers" Windows? As long as he doesn't piss off the FOSS community any MORE we're good.

Also, hoping to hear from Walt Bender soon about his community EDUCATION project based on Sugar/Bitfrost.

The process of porting XP would have gone a lot faster if they used a standard BIOS like everyone else.

bfayette: By "standard BIOS", you mean "standard for x86". The whole point of using OFW was to achieve quick suspend/resume times. This will benefit XP as well, if MS is planning to support power management on the XO.

Andres Salomon, is that REALLY the whole point of using OFW or was it due to the commitment to use open source at all costs? Because I find it ironic that if it WAS because of suspend/resume that s/r continues to be the one area of the XO that is sorely lacking/missing.

Wayan,

"Primary school aged children should not be learning with Microsoft Office, they should be learning with an educational experience suited for their developmental level."

Well said - hopefully, Classmate PC, you were so impressed [1]{and not minding at all being Windows based) as a tool providing "educational experience", has much more than just Microsoft software. From my own experience I very much recommend Etoys-based Scratch [2] as an example of an excellent educational software. However, although it's being ported to XO and Linux in general, the only versions available till now are for Mac and Windows...

[1] Implementation Plan Challenge: OLPC XO vs. Classmate PC
( http://www.olpcnews.com/countries/brazil/olpc_xo_vs_classmate_pc.html )
[2] Scratch
( http://scratch.mit.edu/about )

Bryan,

Excelent post. Hopefully most developers share your postion rather than being distracted by the agitated voices from the sidelines...

All the best on your project in Nepal!

Delphi,

I was impressed not by the Classmate, but by Intel's ability to bring a holistic implementation plan to the table. Teacher training, local maintenance & support, a whole implementation methodology backed by a deep bench of experience. That makes the operating system almost irrelevant. If OLPC had the same level of engagement, Ministers would not care if it ran Windows or not.

The difference being that I would care. Many of OLPC's most ardent supporters would care. And for Negroponte to dismiss that support is shocking and sad.

My guess is that things will proceed on all paths at once. Sugar will continue to be developed, and likewise applications to run on it, but also Sugar on Windows os, and Windows gui on Windows os as in the classmate, and in the hardware realm the XO and also other low-cost laptops will continue to be produced, and OLPC deployments with all aspects such as teacher training being worked out, and so on. And my guess is that in the long term Sugar on the XO will be a big winner, because it is much better suited for the problem of bringing education to the developing world than any other combination.

To the Windows fans I must ask, what is going to happen a year or two from now when Microsoft stops supporting XP? Do you really think Vista could be stuffed into the XO?

@sracer

Yes, OFW was integral, for a number of reasons including power management and suspend/resume (which Andres cited). Why do you think differently? Why do you think OFW prevents the usage of XP? I don't think you know more than Andres aoout the technical realities behind the decision(s) in question.

@Bryan Berry

I hope you're right. I know you're right about the core developers being key.

OK, you guys need to get some perspective. It's a lousy job but somebody has to do it, so here goes:

Maybe you could try to reframe and see this as the best possible gift Nicholas could have ever given both the FOSS and Microsoft teams, and that his timing was just genius (think about it!)

It's a huge opportunity to let both FOSS and Microsoft show what they're worth and that they walk their talk.

Firefox also exists on Windows. Lots of FOSS software runs on Windows. Why couldn't Sugar run on top of Windows as well? We're *only* talking about the OS here people! OS software really doesn't matter here, it's what we put on top! It's what the kids will be *using* what matters, stupid!

I'm surprised nobody asked this question before: ARE YOU CHICKEN? What are you all so afraid of? Show them what you've got! Take this opportunity to show the world that you really are what you say you are and that booting up and running the XO in Fedora+Sugar is *way* superior to Windows+Sugar.

If you really care about FOSS, maybe the last thing you should do is quit now, and just do it and prove them you were right all along.

By quitting and demonizing Microsoft and Nicholas & Co. you're self-destructing everything you've ever done. Go on, call them on it! Think, regroup, and show them what you're effing worth goddamit!

perspective eh?

The problem, as it has ever been, is that when people contribute their time, for free, to a project like this, they don't then like to see someone else make money off of it.

OLPC/'100' dollar laptop has always been one more windmill in a 25 year quest to prove that technology can somehow change the world for the better in the absence of anything vaguely resembling a coherent plan that actually takes into account what things are actually like in that 'world' outside the US.

Yes, pilots can work when they are well supported. No. The scaling that this project would need to work was never going to work.

The financiers have taken over and will probably convince a few governments that the PR of being part of the project is worth taking a dive in... the teachers on the ground will be no better off as the limited funds that could have once gone to simpler and more needed classroom tools are spent on a one-time purchase of laptops that are going to be hard to keep and dangerous to own.

meh.

@ Chris Vertonghen: Thank you! That is exactly how I feel. I am shocked and STUNNED that others feel that this is more of "making a point" or "they have been waiting for this moment" instead of thinking about the children and lives this will effect and change for the better.

@ Dave Cormier: If "simpler and more needed classroom tools" are the answer, then why is Africa not as educated STILL? Why are MILLIONS of dollars sitting in "red-tape" for decades while nothing happens? You really think throwing basic school supplies is going to fix this mess? (you know they have tried that already) Where is the self-exploration and learning? The OLPC has proven to make a difference, just read the field reports!

And ponder this: For the price of the Iraq war, we could have brought all of Africa into modern standards of living, clean water and XO's for all. Go figure...

For those wondering, if OLPC is being offered with WinXP I would actively campaign against it.

You can't teach children using Windows as an operating system.
Its been proved so many times over the years by many first world schools.

At most the children become adults with a passing acquaintance with a 'Start' button.

People think 'Oh computers in schools are useless' when in fact its 'Computers with Windows in school are useless' and little more than an electronic textbook.

Sugar will prove to be a great breakthrough in early education regardless of the hardware it runs on. Of course low cost hardware with low power requirements is the other side of the Third World Education coin.

I was just at a meeting where an FBI employee spoke and showed a DVD that he played from a laptop and projected on a screen. I noticed that the laptop was running XP. And the funniest part was that he, a FBI employee discussing criminal records auditing, had to pause at the "Validate Your Copy of Windows Now" prompt in order to deal with Windows Media Player. How is this validation going to work if the kids don't have an active Internet connection or even a telephone?

I think Sugar and Linux are great companions for the XO laptop. I personally have learned a whole lot more with this laptop than I ever did with any other computer. I don't understand what's going on at OLPC or why. I remember that Mr Negroponte said this is an Education Project. On the laptop.org mission page (http://laptop.org/en/vision/mission/) there is a heading that says "Standing still is a reliable recipe for going backward." To me it seems putting XP on the XO is not moving forward because there doesn't seem to be a lot of experimentation to be done with a system that is afraid of its users.

"It's a laptop project now"

Wrong.

OLPC is now another pawn in Bill Gates battle to control global computing.

Charles Kane and Nicholas Negroponte should come clean and state the facts: "It's a Microsoft project now"

Ugh.

Yeah it seems like the entire perspective of the OLPC organization is off kilter at this point. They are just too obsessed with this "$100 Laptop" branding and concept (even if it's not $100 anymore). The reality is though that a laptop is a piece of plastic, a useless chunk of hardware, a door stop. What is interesting, revolutionary, and important is software. OLPC has failed to highlight the importance and quality of Sugar alongside their Laptop and as a result they have all these governments looking at a nice cheap Laptop and asking, "Can we ditch this Sugar thing and install Windows?"

Unfortunately OLPC seems to think that this is a good idea. I can sort of understand why they're willing to turn their back on Sugar. Sugar sucks. It doesn't work. I think the learning tools are great, but at it's core the operating system is horribly buggy and hell I can't even connect to wireless networks at home or at coffee shops.

My XO Laptop has been sitting on the floor of my apartment basically since its release, waiting for the software update that would make it useable. It hasn't shown up yet. I don't know if it's because of a lack of funds for internal Sugar development, or due to the fact that there aren't lots of Sugar developers (no easily buyable XO Laptops are the reason for this btw) but OLPC hasn't been able to iterate Sugar and improve on it in a normal fashion.

I wish OLPC would take the Apple approach and support their operating system and tie it in so that the hardware and software is intertwined in the same package, but it looks like they're giving up on Sugar. OLPC hasn't had the ability to do the software as well as they've done the hardware. They've been blinded by the Laptop concept I think and have neglected the power of community and amateur developers.

On the list OLPC NEWS Catagories on the right of the screen, MARKETING is not listed. How can we get that listed? I am interested only in getting the XO into the hands of the kids. ONE LAPTOP AT A TIME [100 at a time I hope]. The technologies is doing fine in you people's hands.

It is repetitive, but what can I say, Bryan has got it.

Hope all works out for Bolivia also, in God's good time

Just right now in passing looking at the Kentucky Derby on TV, and reflecting on how the obsession for something as stupid as betting has given us such advanced practical genetics and million dollar treatments for ailing horses. Tried to find a couple metaphors for our OLPC situation there, but I have to go back to my car fuel pump.

I'm sure there's a pony in there somewhere.

Wayan, I think you've won some kind of internet award for 'article that generated the most incoherent responses'.

Don't get me wrong dave cormier, I'm a big fan of run-on sentences, but for them to be effective you need to stick to a single topic per sentence otherwise you lose the attention of your audience or risk running the chance of someone creating a ridiculously long run-on sentence that mocks the cogitative confusion created by having read a post - in response to an online article - that can only be understood by one with an intimate knowledge of the poster's personal perspective on the topic the article's author wrote about as well as the poster's particular writing style, not to mention trying to comprehend what it means for it to be dangerous to own or hard to keep an educational tool considering those concerns were considered and addressed at the very early stages of development of said educational tool (I used considering/considered for length purposes only).

But seriously, the FOSS/OFW community has been 'battling' MS/random commercial enterprises since day one. OLPC gave FOSS a hefty head start and exclusive rights to the XO until a few months ago. Even if there was previous/hidden collusion for WindowsXO where is it?

According to sracer it shoud be easy to get XP running on an XO - it's apparently easy to get it running on an Eee. Just a few more educated tweaks and VOILA! WinXO. Right? ... Right?

OFW, sure, I see the need for that so the XO can't be effectively 'stolen' by commercial entities. But if saying 'It runs XP' gets 10,000 or 1,000 or 100 more little green machines in the hands of kids, I say have at it. Everything else will fall into place.

Or, in the immortal words of Chris Vertonghen

ARE YOU CHICKEN?

Late last year I enthusiastically bought into the G1G1 promotion, agreeing with the ideas promulgated about the OLPC project, with its mission and plans. That included the idea that the OLPC was not a laptop project, and certainly not a Windows project.

Looking at its current state, any lack of activity in growing a community of developers is likely because we don't yet have a sufficiently robust OS and development environment to create applications. I had hoped by May 2008 that we'd at least have a viable OS platform, with regular releases. That's not happened, and one might question the mismanagement that has caused this to be the case, but I've been so far willing to wait patiently and hope that things would get sorted out.

This recent news makes me now question whether my time, energy, and $400 may have instead been better invested elsewhere. The XO hardware and software is innovative and charming, and if the OS can be brought forward to a stable 1.0 release things might really take off in the developer community. But if the OLPC association embraces a Microsoft OS I will certainly abandon the software application project I was planning (with a major national library).

Upon the moment the XO becomes a Windows machine (even a dual-boot one) my interest in developing for the platform will end, as well as any future involvement with the OLPC organization -- and with some bitterness too.

This isn't due to any open source chauvinism, it's due to the belief (shared by many others in both the open source and nascent OLPC communities) that the OLPC project is best served -- socially, technically, ethically -- by providing a completely open, non-proprietary OS platform, open development environment and software applications, encouraging the growth of a community of people whose participation is based on that openness. I can only speak for myself, but regardless of whether that belief is right or wrong, my participation was *entirely* on that basis. That's the story we were told. I would not have gotten involved if the XO was a Windows laptop -- I would have had no interest whatsoever.

So if the XO becomes yet another Windows machine, the people who believed this was a worthy effort and got involved in the project on that basis will have been betrayed, both by Nicolas Negroponte and by his successor, Charles Kane. We saw where Mary Lou Jepsen's heart was: in making some cash for herself. I'm trying hard not to become cynical following what has been going on lately. Shame on you Mr. Negroponte, shame on you. I can only hope you come to your senses and rescue this project. If not, can I send my XO back to you and get a refund for my $400? I don't need another useless doorstop, no matter how cute.

Murray Altheim

@ Murray Altheim,

I'm going to stick up for Mary Lou Jepsen's honor when you accuse her of strictly mercenary motives. Mary Lou took on a very hard project (I know because I've taken on similar projects in the past and done less well than she did), and acquitted herself well. The hardware, which was her responsibility, is good enough for first release. How, pray tell, did she compromise herself for money?

If it's by licensing back her display design from OLPC for use by other manufacturers, she has the absolute right to do that by prior arrangement with OLPC. She is one of the few designers who could create such an innovative display and there is no moral principle that would compel her to let OLPC keep all of the economic benefit.

Engineers don't set the policy decisions in projects like this - certainly not with Nick looking down from above. If they have a different opinion and do not prevail in convincing management, their responsibility is to carry out the development as specified or leave. Mary Lou did the development work and then left when it was in production to try to do things the way she believes is right.

Note that Nick, when the results of his decisions raised their ugly heads, ran for the cover of the engineers. Somehow he had nothing to do with the Sugar development process - it was those geeks who did him in. That kind of weasling really makes me sick, and you should feel free to address it, Murray.

Thanks for this Wayan!

Very sad. I believe Negroponte’s heart was in the right place with the work he did in overseeing the development of OLPC so far. He is an amazing guy.

Last year I took an interest in his project. A representative actually visited our school in Wellington, New Zealand and demonstrated one of the prototype OLPC models. I felt that, as well as being a great idea to give every child in third world countries one of those (which I recall was the original aim) its use could be extended to the home ground.

What potential do you think OLPC may have had if the finished model was purchased by education authorities with a view to giving every child in every school one of those amazing machines?

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

My kids love the OS on the XO. It was an effortless learning curve. Now if I just get flash to run on the darn thing. I love the bbc educational interactive activities that all run flash. I don't need it to work in Webkinz just on the educational sites? Are there any replaemnt batteries that can be purchased yet?

Lee,

Fair enough regarding Ms. Jepsen. My comment was a reaction to the appearance of the OLPC project disintegrating as its core intellects leave because they can't accomplish what they had planned due to mismanagement at the top.

I don't know the details of the arrangement made between Ms. Jepsen and the OLPC project, i.e., who owns the intellectual property of the work done for OLPC. The core of that remark is a question as to whether the technology that was developed for the XO — essentially sponsored/funded by OLPC — is now being used by her for profit. Would she have had the opportunity to develop this technology apart from OLPC?

If OLPC was unpaid, volunteer work or she brought a finished technology to OLPC then no problem. But if all she brought was her previous experience and then used the environment of the XO project to develop a new technology, then the IP should be OLPC's. This is the arrangement (like it or not) that the vast majority of the world's universities now have with their research students, and certainly most corporations have with their employees. If she had a prior contractual arrangement that permits her to own the IP, then great for her, not so great for OLPC.

But if I may be seen as ranting it is really in watching the rats leaving the sinking ship. I've been one of those rats in the past, and yes, the anger is more correctly directed at the captain of the ship, not the rats. I don't know Negroponte personally nor do I know his motivations or rationale in making many of the decisions he has made regarding this project, but the results are not pretty. There's already the many mistakes made in planning, marketing, and particularly in public relations, now compounded by the damage of losing some extremely talented and valuable people (who seem if anything to have been driven out). This damage is starting to tip the balance of any accomplishments, particularly if the OLPC effort is in the end squandered. He would then have a lot to answer for, and as captain of the ship blaming engineers or any other members of the crew should rightly be seen as weasel behavior. I would hope at that point he never be given the helm of any other ship.

I'll try to be optimistic, but I now watch the OLPC news with trepidation, not anticipation.

Murray

On November 16, 2007 we paid for three laptops. As of May 9, 2008, we have not heard nor received any laptops. What should we do?

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