Walter Bender's departure has marked a new evolution of the One laptop Per Child program. The battle for the very soul of OLPC is now out in the open with two distinct groups forming:
- Walter Bender will be leading a one laptop per child global education movement focused on constructionism, as personified through Sugar, the Open Source user interface developed specifically for children.
- Nicholas Negroponte will be leading a One Laptop Per Child laptop project focused on expanding XO sales worldwide, using whatever means necessary to achieve that.
This requires consensus on what is customer success. More laptop orders? Children learning? If OLPC were a for-profit enterprise, one could argue that the customer is always right. Where does one draw the line? I thought the mission was learning, not selling laptops.At the time, these comments suggested that Walter was growing disillusioned with a shift to a laptop sales priority. But with his resignation letter's focus on Open Source fresh in my memory, I read Brian Bergstein's report on the situation and I see a larger departure:
[Walter] Bender already has new plans: to launch an independent effort to further the development of the XOs' homegrown software, known as Sugar, and get it to run on Linux computers other than XOs. "Sugar is in a narrow place and it is ripe to be unleashed," he wrote in an e-mail exchange.Unleashing Sugar onto the Classmate PC for example, so that soon, the entire 4P Computing space could utilize constructionist learning methodologies to expand education in the developing world. But that's not the focus of Nicholas Negroponte. In the very same article, he discredits the Open Source community's contributions to OLPC as a hindrance to his goal, XO laptop sales:
Negroponte said he was mainly concerned with putting as many laptops as possible in children's hands. He lamented that an overriding insistence on open-source had hampered the XOs, saying Sugar "grew amorphously" and "didn't have a software architect who did it in a crisp way." For instance, the laptops do not support Flash animation, widely used on the Web.
"There are several examples like that, that we have to address without worrying about the fundamentalism in some of the open-source community," he said. "One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist."
As a result, Negroponte said Tuesday that he expects XOs to soon have a "dual-boot" option, meaning users would be able to run Windows or Sugar. One current hang-up is whether the necessary hardware would add $7 to $12 to an XO's cost, taking the project even further away from its eventual goal of producing the machines for less than $100.And here you thought that Windows XO was only an April Fools joke. What is no joke is the real split that's happening right now inside the greater OLPC community.
Eventually, Negroponte added, Windows might be the sole operating system, and Sugar would be educational software running on top of it.
I believe that soon the vibrant FOSS developer community will be much smaller yet more focused on Sugar as an education tool for any computing platform, just optimized for the XO. OLPC, the formal organization, will still be relevant, just somewhere the level of Asus or Classmate OEM's - interesting as a targeted 4PC platform, but not worth the hype of a game-changing market maker.
Update: Check out the Developer List debate if you want to watch the split happen in real time.