Newman Inc is a great company with great products and great goals, but I do not think that OLPC should replicate the Paul Newman Strategy of a "for-profit non-profit" business model. Let's see what One Laptop Per Child wants to do.
- Promote 1:1 computers as a learning and social development tool for the developing (and maybe developed) world. In order to achieve that it proposes
- Hardware that is affordable, durable, power consumption-lean, interconnected (mesh) and outdoors usable (when necessary).
- A UI/Application/content package appropriate for young kids.
So it should be 3 entities, related but not necessarily connected with organizational ties.
1) OLPC foundation.
Should be a mostly PR non-profit organization where Nicholas Negroponte and co will try to convince the world that this is the way to go in education, and come out of poverty, "and by the way these are your available options". Eg OLPC should try to generate and increase the interest and market for the "products"
2) XO Inc.
Thanks to OLPC the netbook era has arrived. The market already has machines of various capabilities costing from $100-$400+, improving with a fast pace every year. What XO Inc should do, is have the MIT wiz-kids push the envelope even further in the category and drive the market in the desirable direction according to aim 2 above. This should be a for profit organization Newman-type. If they offer to build the hardware locally, even better. If another company does it better, no big deal! Is the product that we are aiming for. Not the company.
3) Sugar Org
This is the most crucial part that needs the major attention and effort. It needs to define a minimum set of hardware requirements and then build the UI that can run on any hardware with these specs and over many if not any OS. Linux, Darwin and (yes!) Windows. In this way it can have the support of a big pool of companies and organizations and minimal enemies (OK... M$ will be always there...).
However, this would be the easy part of Sugar Org! The real challenge is to develop the educational package. Some of it, as math and sciences is universal, so it should provide 5-10 different activities for each of the math, programming, physics, logic etc subjects. Few of these are already there and some exist in other platforms (see a variety of "educational games"). However, many need to be developed. This should be done in co-operation with teachers from all over the world.
For some other disciplines as language, history, ethics/religion etc, the major part of the curriculum in many educational systems, one size does NOT fit all. In this case the EASY application development environment should be provided so the content can be customized locally to fit the needs.
This means that you provide a GUI application with boxes, action buttons, and menus where the local developer/teacher defines what material is placed and where (the more forms accepted the better), interconnects it in a suitable way (consecutive, reciprocal, indirect, opposite, random etc), defines the user responses (pick, move, navigate, introduce-remove element, type, etc), defines if they are going to be cooperative, student-to-student (competitive) or teacher-student (testing), and is done!
In short something like a GUI Python (or any other interpreter language)! Provide also some sample applications and scenarios as guides to trigger imagination and showcase possibilities. Finally provide truly-universal or region-appropriate content to populate applications.
So after all these, Mr Negreponte comes on his white horse and says: Computer education bla...bla... bla... will change your life for ever. We offer and support a FREE package that can do all these marvelous things (but for real this time). You can use any hardware you wish! Hardware from company A has these advantages and these limitation, from company B this and this, from C... etc.
We recommend the XO Inc hardware that is affordable, durable, requires minimal energy consumption, forms ad hoc networks, can be used outdoors and has minimal running cost. It also has these shortcomings but they way fewer than the shortcomings of other systems (if true). AND you can build it locally or negotiate which company is going to build it for you. Go for it!
Everybody is happy, for-profit and non-profit companies, the recipients/users feel that you offer them a fishing boat and not just a fishing pole that can only fish tuna, and the open-source community has its work cut-out for it... Importantly after all these you really increase the chances to achieve "one laptop per child" for the developing or the developed world.
As usually the devil is in the materialization details and the personalities that will undertake these endeavors but if the goal is common, the boundaries of each organization well defined and the approaches to be taken by each one defined internally but with consultation, it might have a hope
Mavrothal originally wrote this article for OLPC News Forum.