This morning I woke up to find an e-mail in my inbox which contained a link to an xeconomy.com interview with Nicholas Negroponte. While reading it over breakfast I managed to spill my tea because I couldn't believe I was really seeing the words I was looking at. XO-2 development canceled? An XO-1.75 to replace it? Talk about an XO-3? Going from OLPC to olpc? But let's take it step by step, shall we...
From XO-2 to XO-1.75 to XO-3
NN: 2.0 has been replaced by two things: 1) model 1.75, same industrial design but an ARM inside, 2) model 3.0, totally different industrial design, more like a sheet of paper.
Now there's something I didn't see coming! While I never believed that the XO-2 had gotten much beyond the concept stage I always considered it to be a strong vision of where OLPC was going in terms of device design. Sure, both the hardware and the software for an XO-2 are massive undertakings which would probably overstretch OLPC's limited resources but then again that's what everyone thought of the XO-1 design as well and arguably they did a great job there.
An ARM based XO-1.75 on the other hand is much more of an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary step into the future. So many people, especially a certain Charbax, had long expected OLPC to move from an x86 to an ARM design. I've been following the ongoing x86 vs. ARM race quite closely and it's my understanding that they're now closely matched when it comes to the all-important price / performance / power-consumption metrics. What I however cannot estimate is how much engineering by OLPC, Sugar Labs and Fedora it takes to make the current software run, and run well, on an ARM platform. It also remains to be seen when OLPC plans to release the XO-1.75 but I'd be very surprised if it happened within the next 12 months.
On the topic of the XO-3 xeconomy updated their original story with a quote from Negroponte:
Not much to say other than its aspirational aspects: 3.0 is a single sheet, completely plastic and unbreakable, waterproof, 1/4" thick, full color, reflective and transmissive, no bezel, no holes. 1W. $75, ready in 2012.
To me that sounds like a slightly souped up XO-2 vision and given the timeframe for such a device I can't help but simply not care about it at this point in time.
From OLPC to olpc
X: Are there any new goals, and if so, what are they?
NN: We have separated the Foundation and Association, making two non-profit entities, moving from OLPC to olpc. The Association, based in Miami, deals clearly and professionally with sales, support and deployment. The Foundation, by contrast, is more focused on advocacy, engineering and humanitarian missions.
It's interesting that Negroponte talks about olpc here since for many of us this term has been used to describe the global one laptop per child community for quite some time (as opposed to OLPC for the Cambridge, MA based organization). Seperating advocacy and engineering from sales and deployment generally strikes me as a good idea though from the outside it's hard to judge what effects this organizational difference has on day-to-day operations.
One of the most interesting quotes comes towards the end of the interview when Negroponte says:
NN: People no longer question olpc as a concept. It is accepted. There is only one question and everybody asks it. That is: how do we pay for it? Turns out that is not hard, because the total cost of ownership, including buying the laptop, maintaining it and connecting it, is $1 per week, per child. While that is high for the poorest nations, it is not outrageous. The issue is how to front the money.
Now I don't know where Negroponte hangs out but whenever I talk about OLPC I definitely hear this "why one laptop per child" question. A lot that is. While I personally also believe in the enormous potential of each child having it own device (else why would I be here;-) I think it's way too early in the game to confidently say that the whole notion really makes sense. Let alone that it's been widely accepted. On the topic of cost it's good to hear a more realistic view of things that goes beyond the $100 laptop term. However I think that the true cost will turn out to be higher once things like digital educational content development and extensive teacher training are included.
At the end of the day I have to say that the interview turned out to be a good and interesting read though as ever so often it leaves me with more questions than I had when I got up this morning...