A Few Observations on One Laptop Per Child from Nepal


As I agree with Bibek Paudel, I've re-posted his email from Sugar Listserv

Hi all. While I personally think it is bad for OLPC to switch to Windows XP, here a few observations that I have made:

1. Any development/education project meant for third world countries is best when it is natively grown. A top down approach where some guy in Boston teaches us how to change things in our neighbourhood is never likely to understand and respect our situation and problems. He has other priorities.

A bottom-up approach should be devised where grassroot organizations from different parts of the world collaborate to form a mother organization that works in their benefit. Compare this to Nepal's political situation where every other politician/media claims to represent the people and be working for them. Things won't that way in technology too.

olpc negroponte
Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC

2. Nicholas Negroponte is a man hungry of some position in history of business and humanity, both. He thinks increasing the sales of laptops is more important than the growing impact it is creating. Selling a quarter of a million of laptops is a success by any means for any profit-organization. I don't understand how it is not sufficient in case of a first-of-its-kind project by a non-profit organization.

3. Nicholas Negroponte doesn't care. Using Windows in XOs has many implications. Besides cost and the performance of the laptops, it means you are forcing a company's products on all children. Compare that to a government policy whereby it makes every school going children mandatory to wear dresses from a certain dress-designing company or study books from a certain publisher (eg. Ekta publishers).

That's why we have a government book publisher and curriculum designer in Nepal and government can't recommend any other books. I don't understand how someone can impose the monopoly of using a vendor-specific software on all kids. And why governments all over the world should abide by that.

4. The issue of "amorphic" development of XO as said by Negroponte is at best ridiculous. Having the best of the world's technology, engineers and money at MIT, it shocks me how he allowed a project of OLPC's scale fall at the hands of people who neither could have a good architect for the software or the capacity to develop them "morphically". Had he never heard of the term "software engineering" before? Why was the decision taken in first place?

5. What are all the people spread all over supposed to make of the recent developments? At the behest of a single man or a group of such men, should they be forced to change their working style, philosophy and way of seeing things?

6. I wish someone starts a fork of Sugar and everything OLPC. Why not Walter Bender? Start a fork. Or else the people at OLPC, if you have all the democracy and its powers, why don't you remove such people who are moving away from the OLPC's original principles? I just hope something of similar nature happens.

If you agree with me, please forward this message to other mailing lists of OLPC where people are likely to respond to this issue.

As I agree with Bibek Paudel, I've re-posted his email from Sugar Listserv

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re number 3
doesn't the hardware work that way? what's the difference between the hardware and software?

Does your company/school makes it mandatory for you to create your documents on a computer with "512 MB RAM, 2.3 GHz AMD Sempron processor, ASUS motherboard, NVDIA graphics card, LG LCD monitor, Microsoft Multimedia keyboard and mouse, BOSS speakers"? Or do they tell you to do mathematics on a certain "Casio" calculator?

"Using Windows in XOs has many implications. ...it means you are forcing a company's products on all children....I don't understand how someone can impose the monopoly of using a vendor-specific software on all kids. "

Regardless what you might have read in the popular press/blogs, what OLPC and MS agreed on is having an option of a 'dual-boot' XOs - ie. increasing the customers' choice rather than the other way around (and, as a result, having XO in places where only MS-based PCs would have been purchased otherwise...) Surely you're not advocating 'banning' XP on XO ? Not only you can't stop MS working on porting XP to XO from a technical point of view but, more importantly, is also opposite to what OLPC stands for: not just open-source but also open-platform. I guess Ivan Krstić put it the best [1]:

" To claim we should prohibit XO customers from running XP in the interest of freedom is to claim everyone should be free to make a choice — as long as it’s a choice we agree with."

[1] Ivan Krstić -The paradox of choice
( http://radian.org/notebook/page/8 )

I think calling for fork is too early. Sugar will stay GPL whatever Microsoft will do or plans to do. And unless Bill has mircle coder boy, XP has very long road to be delivered with new XO.

So maybe let's not call the shots, let's work on Sugar, and try to improve XO.

In response to many of the questions regarding the changes in the
OLPC project, and specifically the decision to base the project at
this juncture to a Microsoft Operating System, proponents of this
change have come out swinging against Free Software developers who
have worked for the current Free Interface, code named Sugar. A
large segment of the critique of the against Free Software developers
like Bender is that they have put their "Open Source" agenda above the
welfare of the project. Others claim that the "Open Source" advocates
should be pleased with the what has already been done and that the
project as it stands can either be relaunched or has already met

The problem, though, is that in many ways, the marketing and financial
positioning of the OLPC program is harder to develop then the hardware
and software. And the goals that have been met are small in light of
the original mission of the OLPC project.

An operating system is more than a commodity. It becomes the looking
glass that develops how the user thinks and it literally shapes
the mind of it's users. A system which is at it's core designed to
disenfranchise users from the learning experience, especially in how
the user views the software itself through learned expectations, and
forces information access through monopolistic channels and filters,
undermines the development of critical thinking skills. In geek terms,
the operating system reprograms the end user. The Microsoft operating
system is designed to do so from the ground up. It is in fact the only
intended use of the Microsoft Windows Operating System franchise.

The interaction between technology on human and societal development
dates to the beginning of civilization, if not even before that.
One interesting scholarly article on the topic which is archived at
by Robin Wilson explores how the Gutenberg printing printing press causes
an explosion of mathematical usage and development, and how a large part
of that was developed by the standardization of mathematical symbols
for universal communication and expression.

" Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press (around 1440)
revolutionised mathematics, enabling classic mathematical works to be
widely available for the first time. Previously, scholarly works, such
as the classical texts of Euclid, Archimedes and Apollonius had been
available only in manuscript form, but the printed versions made these
works much more widely available.

At first the new books were printed in Latin or Greek for the scholar,
and many scholarly editions appeared. The earliest printed version
of Euclid's Elements, published in Venice in 1482, and there is an
attractive 1492 edition of Ptolemy's Almagest. Apollonius's Conics
appeared in 1537, and seven years later the works of Archimedes were
published in both Latin and Greek, and there was a celebrated edition
of Diophantus's Arithmetic in 1621, reissued in 1670, with the Greek
text, a Latin translation by Bachet, and comments by Fermat, including
his famous marginal comment on the 'last theorem'. ....

The invention of printing also led to the gradual standardisation of
mathematical notation. In particular, the arithmetical symbols + and -“
first appeared in a 1489 arithmetic text by Johann Widmann. Surprisingly,
the symbols x and (division sign) were not in general use until the seventeenth
century “ we'll see how — developed shortly; the division sign·
was introduced by John Pell.

Needless to say, the quality of the mathematical printing in those days
was very variable. Here we see two version of Pascal's arithmetical
triangle from the same year, 1545: Stifel's publisher was having a
good day, while Scheubelius was less fortunate."

The most important point Wilson makes as relating to the OLPC project
is in these paragraphs:

"Record was such a fine lecturer that his audience regularly applauded
his lectures. We don't know what he looked like. For a long time, there
was only one known picture of him, but recently severe doubts have been
raised as to its authenticity. One might well ask: ‘Is this a Record?'

Record's books were written in English, and ran to many editions. The
ground of artes of 1543 was an arithmetic book explaining the various
rules so simply that "everie child can do it". As with all his books,
it was written in the form of a Socratic dialogue between a scholar and
his master."

Prior to this era of copyright and DRM encumbered communications,
the printing press caused a prodigious discovery of the potential
of the human intellect and from it's most early uses western masters
used it to communicate with the masses, specifically targeting children
for education. The art of printing explodedr. It's teaching as a trade,
science and technology every bit as vital to the democratization and
economic development that the West would experience as any other cultural
influence. From that very day in around 1440 when the press was invented
it became the essential tool of Western advancement, more important that
gunpowder or navigational tools.

In the short 600 years since technology has revolutionized communications,
through the printing era, into the wireless and wired analog era, through the
broadcast media era and on until to today's digital media
humanity has evolved directly in response to the use, development,
deployment and education of state of the art communications media,
while diverse (classically defined) liberal education became the cornerstone
of worldwide civilization as it has spread from the West to every corner
of the globe.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in her ground breaking book, "Infidel", repeatedly
describes how her interaction with libraries and booksi influenced her
thinking and growth. Why surrounded by a world of Islamic Brotherhood
lectures and learnings with the repeated mantra of "TOTAL OBEDIENCE" repeated
by local figures in her life such as Boqol Sawm and Sister Aziza, Hirsi-Ali
found comfort in cheap romantic novels. This unlikely wellspring of Western
learning deeply impressed upon her what possiblities she could inspire towards.
She writes, " But the allure of romance called to us from the pages
of books. In school we read good books, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen,
and Daphne du Maurier; out of school Halwaa's sisters kept us supplied
with cheap Harlequins. These were trashy soap opera-like novels, but
they were exciting — sexually exciting."

Hirsi-Ali has the advantage of literacy and the support of a free press.
The purpose of the OLPC project is also literacy. Not just the literacy
of the pen, and the literacy of mathematics, politics and arts,
but computer literacy, the new medium which will be required for the
development of children worldwide to fully share in our emerging enriched
worldwide culture. There are too many stumbling blocks even for Westerner
to overcome as there is. The quoted material above was far too arduous
from me gather into this message. The text, instead of being able to be be
quickly cut and pasted into this window had to be typed by hand because online
resources like Google-Books have been legally prevented from making it
available as text. It was only because of my 20 years of steep education
in this topic, and my ability to reverse engineer the protections that have
been enforced in this media that I was able even locate the appropriate material to
present on this point to an interested public.

The Microsoft Operating system is designed to restrict digital
access to information in order to optimize a monopolistic,
non-competitive agenda, the most essential restriction being the discovery
of the basic tools and carnal knowledge of the computer systems internals, both
hardware and softwar. The modern printing press, itself has been shrouded in secrecy.
This directly conflicts with the core OLPC charter and goal. While that can be
ridiculed as an "Open Source" agenda, an irrational hangup, I'd argue based on the
historical evidence that the accusatory tone of such statements make are fundamentally
flawed and very much more in line with the kind of rationality which one might
expect from a despot philosophy such as which might come from controlling
Communist Party in today's Red China.

The agenda, design and functionality of the Sugar interface, and it's
origins in GNU software and and the technologic secifications Linux kernels,
not to exclude arguments about the merits of it's politics is specious and spurious.
Oxymoronic as that may sound, it is not the devotion to "Open Source"
which makes the move from Sugar to Microsoft Software untenable to
the goals of the One Laptop Per Child program. It is the change from a
classically Liberal based education program, a cornerstone and application
of Western and world progress, to a regressive monopolistic platform which inhibits
by design those Western values most critical to transmit and the knowledge that
humanity has aquired so that it can be adapted to other native cultures and thereby
help assure the survival all of mankind as a free, informed and tolerant civilization.

What, may I ask, is it intended that we teach these children in the
third world with a billion laptops? That is the only relevant question.
Sugar is designed from the ground up to answer this question. Obviously
the Microsoft product have no such agenda.

Ruben Safir
President NYLXS

Just want to say :

Work with others, in peace and open, even to closed sourced counterparties.

Do not try to run away, it will never pay off.

If you care about the child, give your best, work against the counnterparties, not run away.

If you provide better software, people will choose you.

However, do not limited other's selection and win.

Ruben Safir wrote:

"...It is the change from a classically Liberal based education program, a cornerstone and application of Western and world progress, to a regressive monopolistic platform which inhibits by design..."

Pure nonsense.

The problem is that the "open source" XO is an UNWANTED product. Get it?

UNWANTED, as in "nobody is rushing to order the hundreds of thousands that are necessary to keep OLPC in business".

Open source advocates created the buggy, dysfunctional laptop-wannabe named "XO".

To this day, Microsoft has not been part of debacle. All the credit goes to the inept people surrounding the Nutty Professor. If anything, Negroponte is just using Microsoft as a carrot, as a quick attempt to confuse people into thinking they are getting a decent laptop. He uses Microsoft as a desperate attempt at "sweetening" his meager offer.

For once, I agree with the Nutty Professor: if all the "deep thinkers" at OLPC overlooked the need to allow basic printing from the XO and its applications, we have to conclude they are pretty terrible at what they do.

I'm in favor of open source initiatives, but they should be subjected to the same rigorous examination given to Microsoft. Everyone would benefit from a little more intellectual and moral integrity.

Enough of the Negroponte bashing? The 'news' is starting to look like a chat room about how the CEO isn't doing a good enough job, is unwise, and, most importantly, isn't paying enough attention to the chat room.

@ Bibek Paudel,
The company I work for provides the hardware and the software I use so I don't understand the question. I do know in high school you specifically needed a TI-83/84 graphing calculator for algebra. I don't understand why it's so critical to OLPC that the software be open-source when evidently it's not critical to the customer, who wants Windows. I don't think the problem is with Linux, per se, because that's not stopping sales of EEEs.
Sure, free software is better from a cost standpoint but if you can't sell the XO with free Sugar and you can with 7-12 dollars of Microsoft dust sprinkled on it I think it's better for kids to have the laptops. Anyway, can't you replace windows with linux/sugar later if you want to?

Increasing sales is not the problem. Increasing availability is. There is enough of a market already that there is not that much of a need to do anything at all, except of course provide content that parents and teachers need, and make those machines available over the counter. I agree wholeheartedly that a Boston model is NOT what the world needs. Constructivist Sugar is/was a nice concept to get things going, but it has proven itself already as not being what is requested by the clients. It can be forked, reborn, re-engineered, or simply re-purposed, as apparently the new version lets you pick and choose what activities you load, so then let's please not worry about XP, but about helping clients worldwide achieve their needs and goals.

Constructivist Sugar is/was a nice concept to get things going, but it has proven itself already as not being what is requested by the clients.

I guess that is why OLPC had so many MOU's just before the XO hardware was ready. Oh and I guess it is also why they failed to come through with those MOUs after Microsoft and Intel contacted those same governments.

The problem has now become this: Can OLPC get enough XO/Sugar systems out there to gain momentum and still be effective now that Microsoft and Intel are willing to spend billions providing enticing support deals with alternate hardware/software with many of the same countries? Mr Negroponte seems to think a deal with Microsoft will allow the XO hardware to still get out there while also keeping open source and Sugar going. What he does not realize is that Microsoft will never allow this, never. Gates and Balmer have not changed from attacking the project and instead promoting it.

So the XO with the the every improving Sugar is still the best course of action. Let the customers pick the activity packages they want on the device and if that includes any proprietary activities then it is their choice. But XO/Sugar is the best platform for this project.

As a total outsider to the project, I always thought of OLPC's decision to use open source products as an ethical obligation to future technology users.

It's rare for any project to have potential towards balancing a monopoly, but OLPC has a shot at preparing developing nations to be open to a variety of software, rather than using a single company because it's required for interoperability.

It's not about whether anyone likes Microsoft or not, it's about the fact that a monopoly is very probably hurting the world's technology growth. The question is whether the goals of OLPC are simply "get laptops to kids" or "get laptops to kids as part of giving the whole world an equal technological footing".

'do they tell you to do mathematics on a certain "Casio" calculator?'

In my school experiences, this actually happened. The trigonometry curriculum and SAT prep courses required all students to use a specific model of scientific calculator -- TI-85, if I remember correctly.

Not coincidentally, because of this monopoly granted to Texas Instruments by the school system, there has been no motivation for them to improve the product. The TI-85 has no more functionality today than it did 15 years ago, and the price has held steady at $100 while the cost of similar electronic devices has dropped by orders of magnitude.

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