What's OLPC Biggest Mistake? Negroponte Says Sugar


I am always surprised by Nicholas Negroponte, he really keeps me on my toes with his pronouncements, and today is no exception. In an interview with Vivian Yeo, where he proudly trumpets his success in selling XO laptops, he also says that the Sugar Learning Platform was OLPC's biggest mistake.

Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC

Let's start off with the good news. Negroponte tells us that over 900,000 laptops are in the hands of children from 31 nationalities. He claims another 230,000 are being shipped, with a backlog of 600,000 XO's. OLPC Peru is the bulk of the laptop sales, with 350,000 deployed and a commitment for 2.2 million total XO laptops.

For any normal four year old nonprofit that is supposed to be an education project, not a laptop project, that would be top-of-the-world crazy success numbers. Almost a million children "learning learning" in 19 different languages? In addition, a 4P Computing revolution that's changed the IT industry as a whole? Negroponte, you da man!

But for Negroponte, this is failure. This is a rounding error to his original ambitions of millions of units to India and China. And one of his scapegoats to that failure: the Sugar Learning Platform:

[T]he biggest mistake was not having Sugar run as an application "on a vanilla Linux laptop", said OLPC founder and chairman Nicholas Negroponte. "Sugar should have been an application [residing] on a normal operating system," he told ZDNet Asia in an interview.

"But what we did...was we had Sugar do the power management, we had Sugar do the wireless management--it became sort of an omelet. The Bios talked directly with Sugar, so Sugar became a bit of a mess."

Negroponte added: "It should have been much cleaner, like the way they offer [it] on a stick now." The availability of the Sugar interface via a USB could possibly herald a "naked" XO laptop in future, said Negroponte

As I've said before, I disagree with Negroponte. Sugar was not a mistake, it is one of the defining aspects of the XO laptop, and saved it from even more unfavorable comparisons to traditional laptops and accusations of being underpowered.

For me, the biggest mistake for OLPC was not Sugar - that was genius - it was the "$100 laptop" moniker. With the use of the word "laptop" Negroponte doomed the XO to be compared with traditional laptops and Sugar with Windows XP.

The "$100 laptop" term was the OLPC marketing failure. If the XO was again called the "Children's Machine", or better yet "the best educational tool for primary school children in the developing world", which isn't as catchy as "$100 laptop" but much more accurate, he would be crowing about multiples of millions of childrens, not just about one.

But enough of my opinion - what do you think was OLPC's biggest mistake?

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I cannot comment on the technical merits or lack thereof, but it sounds as if he's not so much saying that Sugar was a mistake, but rather the choice of how it was implemented and what it was tasked to do. He may be right about that. I don't know.

That said, I do not think that was the biggest mistake. IMHO, there may not have been a single "biggest mistake". However, the lack of coordinated outreach to the army of willing volunteers who were not part of the "inner circle" left many feeling out in the cold, unsure how to help, or unappreciated for the contributions they did make. From the outside, some of the decisions made appear to ignore the input of that community, in favor of ego. Finding the best way to marshal that pool of human resources, isn't an easy task, but other projects have done it successfully, and OLPC HQ would probably do well to look to those as models.

You're right, OLPC squandered what was a massive outpouring of willingness to volunteer long hours and much resources to see the XO succeed.

I think of how OLPC pretty much dismissed the G1G1 community as a prime example. We were just a way to jump start Quanta and outside of a few valiant efforts, still pretty much ignored.

I couldn't agree more, Wayan... the G1G1 community had/has a ton of potential for grass roots development and marketing for laptop.org, and could have been leveraged much better.

I think that having the OS pieces separate from the sugar interface might have been a good idea for engineering reasons, but allowing ANY exposure to the OS below the system in a way beyond what sugar allows would have doomed the custrutivist aspects that the XO embodies.

The reason that I learned so much about computers when I was young is that I had a TRS-80 coco 1 with basic in rom. I could discover and build anything I wanted but I couldn't "break" the system. A reboot and I was back in business to write my next master program.

Constrast that with today where even though my son has a windows box that only has his stuff on it, he still can't explore because its far to easy for him to make the whole system stop until I fix it. Only a few button presses and the system is in an irreprable state.

Sugar is awesome, you can do nearly anything the interface allows and rarely does it take more than a reboot to put the system back in working order. That gives the kids who have it the power to not be afraid of thier device. With that power they can learn to use the pieces and expand the power. I think that something like sugar that can't be worked around is vital to a childs pc.

Wayan you are a "sensacionist"... ;->
What NN says is that developing Sugar _as an OS_ for the XO was a mistake (remember that only after 8.2 things started looking acceptable).
It also says that what is now done with Sugar, should have been done from the beginning (confirming SugarLab's approach).
It Does NOT say that Sugar (in general or as an educational platform) was a mistake.
When we think about Sugar we do not think of an OS, at least not anymore, right? It is Fedoa's job to boot and manage the computer, Sugar is just a UI layer and application/activity foundation.

Your reading Negroponte's anti-Sugar comments too geekily.

He's said several times that Sugar should be an application running on a traditional OS. And that making it the default and only way people could interact with the XO was a mistake. The biggest mistake.

I take that to mean that he regrets making education the laser-focus of the XO, and Sugar the means to facilitate that education. That he really wanted a "$100 laptop" that one could use for education, or not. And education as MS Office, or not.

Which to me would've been an even bigger mistake. By having Sugar, and only Sugar, he kept the OLPC program in the primary school arena - its sweet spot. Any other OS option would have people wanting a $100 Macbook,a nd even more annoyed that it is "underpowered" or unable to run Windows.

I like to use the Leapfrog example. When was the last time you wondered if the Leapfrog came with a windowing environment? Or was NOT designed to facilitate education in young children?

"Your reading Negroponte's anti-Sugar comments too geekily."

No... I take them exactly as they are written here and in the original post.
Everything else (that he regrets making education the laser-focus of the XO, and Sugar the means to facilitate that education. That he really wanted a "$100 laptop" that one could use for education, or not. And education as MS Office, or not)as you say is your "take".
It may be true but not reported anywhere I know of

I agree with mavrothal. Negroponte is clearly saying that Sugar's focus should have been on creating a learning environment, not redefining how a PC works from step to stern.

Given how poorly the XO worked upon release, and how frustrating it was to try to hack on something so idiosyncratic and poorly documented, I find it hard to deny NN's analysis.

Sugar was a failure in execution, not design.

I love that OLPC did not allow for a windowing environment, or an OS experience that developers were expecting. It made everyone realize that the XO laptop, was not computing as they knew it, but educational computing for children.

Now I do think that OLPC committed to more than it could deliver - power, mesh, view source, etc - in addition to its educational aims, but I see Red Hat at fault there as well.

Sugar was supposed to be a way for Red Hat to clean up and optimize their own code (I recall a hunt for useless PS/2 code) with advances pulled back into Fedora and other OS'es. What ever became of that?

In software development you don't get bonus points for having cool ideas that you can't implement on schedule. Defining the scope of the project in a way that it is feasible is pivotal.

I'd argue that if they had, for example, shipped the first versions of the XO with software that didn't try to do advanced power management, mesh networking, etc., but worked, it would have been much better received, and there would be plenty of time to work on those later. As it was, they just shipped broken versions of novel features. That's worse than a simpler system that works.

Frankly speaking I'm not quite sure what to make of Negroponte's statement regarding Sugar in that article.

While (closer) collaboration with up- and downstream software projects would have obviously been desirable having "Sugar run as an application" in itself wouldn't have made a difference. The hard challenges that OLPC faced in terms of software development were mostly non-Sugar (as in the UI and collaboration) issues such as suspend/resume and Mesh connectivity anyway. Unless OLPC had decided to not implement these features they would have still had to work on them, regardless of whether Sugar was closely coupled within a customized distribution or run "as an application" on any distribution.

Rather what I think is that Negroponte simply had no clue how to address the software related challenges that he would face when he started OLPC. Looking at things from this angle some of his previous comments and actions (Microsoft deal anyone?;-) are starting to make some kind of sense (well, to me at least). Subsequently I also understand Wayan's comments with regard to thinking that Negroponte might strongly regret getting in the software business to begin with.

In a "what if" scenario it would be interesting to find out how things had developed if OLPC had been software-agnostic and just focused on hardware and educational content?!

Just my 2 Nepali Rupees.

Completely out of the main focus of the post, but where can we actually check real data about those 350,000 laptops deployed in Peru?

As far as I did know last, there were only 80,000 with a commitment to buy 260,000 more, but I never heard of the deployment (nor the commitment to buy 2,000,000 (Peru has a 30M population in total).

Uruguay also has a lot of them (I thought there were 400,000 but maybe that was an erroneous piece of info as well). Anyway, I'd like to know where to check that.

The "deployments" page on wiki.laptop.org (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Deployments) used to be the best source of information but I believe it's not quite up-to-date these days. So honestly, I don't think it's possible to really verify those figures.

However based on a rumoured number of 50,000 XOs being produced per month that I heard in mid-2008 and considering that production started roughly 20 months ago the 900,000 XO figure Negronponte is mentioning sounds relatively reasonable.

Wrt the 2 million Peru order I'm admittedly skeptical since such a larger investment would normally trigger quite a discussion within a country and to the best of my knowledge that hasn't been the case in Peru so far.

Plus if a definite order from Peru had increased the total number of ordered XOs by 200% I'm sure Negroponte would find better places to spread the news than an interview for ZDNet.

On the same (tangential) topic:

In the ZDNet article, it says that "According to Negroponte, 50 percent of Peruvian children who have XO laptops teach their parents how to read and write."

Anyone have any sense of where this figure might have been pulled out of?

(i.e. is there any study that actually documents this, or is this datapoint just conjured out of thin air?)

Oh I can tell you where he pulled that 50% of Peruvian children out of... but I would not want to set off Mark Lawler's parental control filters.

But I think its quite offensive to all Peruvians as it implies that 50% of Peruvian XO parents can't read or write. The CIA Fact Book says otherwise:

Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write)of total population: 92.9%

OLPC has so far been deployed in the least developed regions of Peru where literacy rates are lower.

And once you can read, you still have everything to learn.

I suppose it all comes down to what you mean by literacy. The literacy of the average American isn't anything to phone home about:

"Research tells us that to communicate effectively with a general
audience in the U.S., we need to write at a 6th-8th grade reading

My completely unscientifically opinion is that materials written for general consumption in Peru would need to be written to about the 3rd grade level. And that the literacy rate claimed in the CIA Fact book is overstated.

The disparity between wealthy and poor in Peru is even more pronounced than in the U.S. The wealthy are extremely well educated. And the poor who manage to get a good education often have a hard time finding a job in their chosen profession.

No idea, but this is the same kind of message the "official" OLPC group here tries to spread on TV. This is *very* difficult to prove (right or wrong) as most of them are spread far away in provinces.

It is very likely that this would be the case already *without* the laptops, too...

Check videos on youtube about olpc peru (maybe look for "hernan pachas" as well, the official contact here).

Another interesting point to be mentioned for outsiders is that Hernan Pachas works at a University of which the manager is currently Minister of Education. This can be seen as a good or a bad point, depending on who is actually taking the benefit (which in itself is difficult to measure as well).

One aspect of Sugar was a huge mistake: the lack if internet / porn filters that parents could control. In that regard I agree with Negroponte. This issue was raised by several parents and for the most part was ignored by OLPC and the Sugar developers. The attitude behind responses on their support and wiki sites to this concern was purely academic: the XO device was supposed to drive a child's curiosity and that exploration was a natural state of mind.

That didn't bode well with many parents here in the US nor did it help OLPC as children in third world countries used their XO devices to surf porn. There were a number of articles about schools in some countries refusing to obtain more XO systems or even taking away the systems they had already deployed.

Eventually there were complex instructions on how to set up and configure your own firewall server on your home network, but that assumed that all of the parents who purchased this system for their kids were computer network technicians. It assumed that folks in these other countries were as well.

When given a choice between purchasing this system or a cheap used laptop where I could install parental control software I screwed up: I bought the XO system from OLPC. Here it is just over a year later and I've had to take the XO system away from my child. My child doesn't use it because I cannot install parental control software on it. My child now has a real computer with a real OS where I can install and set up parental controls directly on the device without being a rocket scientist.

I agree with Negroponte. Sugar should have been an app, not an OS...


So for you a "real computer" is one with parental controls? And any computer without one should not be given to a child? Shows a lot of trust you have them.

No, if you actually read my post you'd see it is one where I as a parent can install software such as parental controls.

You can disagree with me, but perform a simple Google search and you'll see all of the posts and articles that point out this gap as well as the negative impact not being able to install parental control software has had to the OLPC program both here in the US and in other countries.

Had Sugar been an app vs. being the OS as Nicholas Negroponte reflects he wish he'd done we would have had the opportunity to install such software and the OLPC would have had even broader adoption.

Isn't broader adoption all that anyone interested in the OLPC program should care about?


Are you going to follow your child around for the rest of his life, "taking away" everything that you deem harmful to him?

Or perhaps you are trying to encourage your child to find ways to circumvent your authority? Children can learn about "proxy servers" just as well as grown-ups.

Wow. I have to agree with Wayan. Teach your kid to be a good person and they will look at porn for the same reason everyone looks at porn, entertainment. Bar your kids from looking at certain things and they will only learn to disobey you. On the other hand, sounds like that maybe a good thing.

On the flip side, I can see how federal governments might freak out when giving unhindered access to the internet to the children under their palm...

Unless you have kids... you shouldn't give parenting advice. Pretty much all the advice I gave before having kids myself was naive and idealistic.

Parents are between a rock and a hard place. You want to help them develop a core foundation of morals and ethics which will serve them well through their life. There are trade-offs between over-sheltering and over-exposure. Either extreme is idealistic nonsense.

Parental control needs to be put in DNS servers, not in the computers. All computers needs to log-in to access the Internet. Open WiFi hotspots are ok, as long as each user still has to log-in (login does not have to require a password, could just be a hardware based unique identifier). This way any attempt at circumventing the main DNS server is detected and parents can be alerted.

Use something like OpenDNS.com. Blocking web sites can be done upstream of your OS. On the other hand, given they probably have an iPhone or whatever, and AT&T doesn't block anything....

If they had done things as Negroponte suggests, the software would be in the same state today as the Hurd: not done yet.

For such a brilliant man, he doesn't seem to have a very good grasp of the realities of software development. Sometimes you need to take the expedient route if you want to get your product out the door.

He also implies from his statements that Sugar's design is Cast In Stone, and cannot be changed.

If he really feels this way, why doesn't he hire a developer or two to fix things up to his liking? It's not like Sugar was something that was foisted on him, and he had no control over it.

You may be right. The hardware and software development which got the OLPC out the door was pretty amazing. If he were second guessing someone else with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I'd say he was being presumptuous. But as it is, he's second guessing himself.

I'm not a huge fan of Negroponte. His commitment to open source appears to have been one of practical necessity. He certainly doesn't seem to be open and transparent himself. It seems like many of his public pronouncements come as a complete surprise to the developers working for him.

However, I agree with him about Sugar. We have 5 XO's at our house. And every one of them now has a 4GB SDHC card with teapot's ubuntu 8.10 distro for the XO running on them. Now all of my children can use flash, java, open office, etc and have a full OS on hand. If they break it, it takes 10 minutes to reinstall.

Sugar reinvented too many wheels and took too much upon itself... It is a great idea and promising. But not quite ready when it was shipped. Forcing it on people as the "one true way" was also a mistake.

On the upside, as I understand it, the current development work is about getting a full fedora distro running on the XO. To which I can only say, "Pretty please? ...with sugar on top :)"

I don't keep up with it much anymore, but it seems like there is a lot more effort going on to push developments upstream. Which should decrease the number of balls the OLPC has to juggle and maintain.

Hopefully with the XO 1.5 production capacity issues will be resolved, the XO will provide a complete (if lightweight) linux distro, and OLPC will get its second wind.

But OLPC should have reached much further to millions more children, if it weren't for Intel's disgraceful and anti-competitive tactics.

Anyways, we wouldn't have 50 million netbooks on the market if it weren't for Nicholas Negroponte's vision at OLPC, which basically forced Intel into changing its whole plan to keep only high power, high cost processors in high cost bulky computers.

Now the development of XO-2 based on ARM processors and Google Chrome OS, cannot wait any further, it needs to be sped up. XO-1.5 as well.

OLPC needs to help bring competition in the laptop market, need to make sure Chrome OS works for Children's education worldwide, needs to bring competition to the X86 market as well.

The children are growing older each day that pass by without them having a decent chance in life, without them having better opportunities through the computer and the Internet.

OLPC needs to encourage better access to educational information in the video format, encourage educational applications built as web apps for Chrome OS (web apps that will work offline as well according to HTML5).

OLPC's biggest mistake is to not have done XO1 in ARM11, even though ARM back then was not powerful enough for lots of stuff on a laptop. ARM is powerful and optimized enough now.

Sugar and AMD Geode could have been really great. But obviously, AMD did not care about supporting Geode any further than only to make a good impression with OLPC, if there were dozens OEMs making Geode based laptops, OLPC would have been cheaper to make, Sugar would have better more stable base to work on as making an optimized OS is not a piece of cake.

So now, OLPC needs to make sure they destroy Intel. Whipe Intel out of the market should be the main focus forward. When Steve Jobs started Apple Inc, when Bill Gates started Microsoft, they both intended to whipe out the huge giant that is IBM. It was their sole goal when waking up in the morning. So there is nothing wrong with that kind of goal, on the contrary. OLPC needs to be more vocal about hating Intel and wanting to disrupt and canibalize everything Intel and Microsoft stands for.

IBM was not whiped out by Microsoft and Apple, yet M$ and App£e are considered huge successes, at least commercially and in terms of influence on the 1980-2007 era of computing.

XO hardware is genius
Sugar is genius
Neglecting implementation was the biggest mistake!

The name "100$ Laptop" together with a picture of the cranked laptop was a marketing master stroke! Without it OLPC would not have found that amount of pubicity and access to Kofi Anan and the WEF. That publicity gained funding. The fact that it costs 200$ is only so damageing because OLPC could not benefit from economy of scale mostly due to neglecting implementation.
But OLPC is not yet completely lost if they catch up on the implementation side and keep the pressure on the market with "clock stopping hot" hardware like XO-1.5 and 2.0.

Neglecting implementation was the biggest mistake!


How could Sugar NOT be considered a mistake when it didn't provide support for the onboard hardware at the time of launch? Power management. Stylus area. "Show source" key.

Instead of developing an entirely new UI paradigm from the ground up, preciously scarce development resources should've been focused on a slimmed down Linux distro, a simplified but traditional UI and device drivers.

Without naming it "$100 laptop", Asus possibly wouldn't get the idea for eeePC. And what he said was perfectly reasonable: he didn't blame Sugar as an UI, he didn't blame Sugar as a learning platform. He blamed it as a full desktop environment on par with Gnome, doing power management, doing wireless connectivity, etc. His opinion is it should have been more of an application, like Firefox. Firefox is a platform for running custom applications, too, but it doesn't mess with low level stuff ("should we turn on screensaver now or not?"). And that's where I agree with Negroponte completely.

The biggest mistake is the same mistake that Negroponte makes in this interview; the same mistake he made with mediaLab Europe; the same mistake he will continue to make until the OLPC project is officially dead: thinking that people can't see through his transparent - sometimes childish - lies.

The man is a pathetic liar with good political connections. That's the only reason he has been able to take his charade this far.

The OLPC Project is not good for education; it is not good for poor countries; it is awfully expensive and has no academic background or reliable research data to justify implementation. It's all based on a bunch of empty promises that never materialized. As is the case with every project Negroponte has touched, the whole thing will eventually collapse. leaving behind a trail of hurt and disappointment.

Look at Negroponte's history:


If you had been to rural areas with little access to technology, you wouldn't say that. In Uruguay (I'm preparing a little article about that), where the buying of XO's has been followed by a real governmental effort of integration, the OLPC project has generated a tremendous improvement in children's learning, and I'm sure it does so in Peru as well.

With whichever bad ways the project has been planned and promoted, and whatever bad press it has generated, it still had a very positive effect globally, with poor governments spending considerably *less* on these than on other type of computer hardware (which every government does anyway), thus reaching a larger public.

irv, thanks a lot for the link, that's certainly a very interesting article! :-)


Not long ago, Negroponte seldom thought about where the Media Lab's next million dollars might come from. Throughout the '90s, the Lab was awash in funding from corporate sugar daddies eager to be associated with the vague and not exactly grammatical mission statement: "Enabling technologies for learning and expression by people and machines." This was the place, 16 years ago, that Stewart Brand immortalized in The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT, a 250-page valentine to half-mad geniuses who would reinvent music, movies, even voicemail. As the researchers gave birth to the MPEG digital compression standard, Lego's "programmable bricks," chip-studded vests, and smart refrigerators, the organization swelled into a behemoth with a $40 million annual budget and nearly 280 researchers and professors. It also expanded into more hard-science disciplines: The multimedia jocks were joined by specialists in quantum computing, MEMS, and biomolecular machines.

The Lab's deft touch with the press certainly didn't hurt. Its professors had a knack for distilling complex notions into easy-to-digest sound bites. Negroponte himself was always ready with a frank prediction on the obsolescence of fax machines or the end of prime-time TV. Many of the Lab's niftiest gizmos and ideas were featured in the early days of this magazine, which Negroponte had a hand in founding. Whenever Details or Esquire needed a mediagenic geek for a Leaders of Tomorrow spread, their photographers made a beeline for 20 Ames Street. The net effect: Negroponte's Media Lab transcended geekdom and wormed its way into corporate boardrooms and popular culture. "People always come up to me and say, 'You don't know how talking to you changed the way we think about digital satellites!'" boasts Negroponte.

Today, those groupies might follow up their accolades with a gloomy query: "So, is the Media Lab going to make it?"

The house that Negroponte built is dealing with a nasty postboom hangover. Corporate donations once accounted for 95 percent of the Lab's budget, with much of the booty coming from thriving sectors like telecom. Now the struggling companies of the world are, needless to say, no longer as liberal with their loot. The Lab's techno-optimism and demo-centric approach to R&D has fallen out of favor. Like many private-sector startups, it has responded with belt-tightening, layoffs, and lots of rhetoric about alternative funding. One look at the vacant lot next door, though, and it's obvious the crisis isn't over.

Even worse, the financial shortfall is dredging up long-festering issues. When times were flush, no one rocked the boat. Now the hard-science groups are bucking for independence, claiming that the Lab's art-meets-technology focus is pass�. Students complain that egocentric professors are undermining the Lab's interdisciplinary spirit. And the Lab's reputation as a scientific lightweight - "all icing and no cake," as Negroponte sums up the rap - never seems to die. Designing props for the wacky Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling troupe isn't exactly what the Nobel committee is looking for.


Sounds familiar?

Just replace "MediaLab" with "OLPC" and it is the exact same story.

I think the biggest mistake was mandatory large-scale purchasing. Even if it was more expensive, they should have solid it on an individual basis to facilitate small trial programs. Good big things come from good small things. When you eliminate the possibility of organizing good small things, you make it harder for good big things to eventually happen.

Yes, they had give one, get one. But that was only occasionally as a special program. That's quite different than letting anybody who wants to simply buy as many as they want at a set price.

Requiring large purchases is still OLPC's ongoing mistake. They say 100 laptops is the minimum order, but I've heard that's only if you're connected to them or have a high-profile pilot that might get a government sale.

Just 100 laptops is still hard, and foolish. We should be able to just buy the damn things - and not only on eBay.

Large-sales-only is not just OLPC's biggest mistake, it remains their biggest promise. It causes all their implementation headaches to evaporate and get solved by implementation and education experts working on specific projects. Not that I've griped about this exact failing for the past... what, four years now?

very interesting comments,many were half right,a few grasped the whole enchelada(sic).The trick is to learn from your mistakes,which is easy to say but can bee hard to do.I still hope to re-boot my crashed G1G1 and install Ubuntu.

What issues exactly are you having with your XO?

IMHO the biggest mistake of the OLPC-projects is, that it isn't really international - it is centered on

1) Negroponte
2) the US-point of view that life is nothing but business

There is the proverb "Don't sing it - bring it" and in this respect the OLPC-project has miserably failed. I have long ago lost orientation with all the delays, alterations and excuses.

The enthusiastic Creative Commons where told to f**k off while NN whored the big corporations only to become royally screwed and messing up a good thing for his ego boost.

Has NN been interdicted by the hardware producer cartel to sell the OLPC to 1st-world people?

Now the 1st-world markets are flooded with mini-laptops which are what the corporations want us to buy, but not what we really want (screen, not rugged, ..).

The OLPC must become "Open Source Hardware" asap and given into the hand of the helpful people or it will fail. The International Community doesn't need a global elite of benevolent dictators to direct what is supposed to become a grassroot movement.

Out of curiosity: What do you think that making the XO-1 "open source hardware" would achieve?

what do you think was OLPC's biggest mistake?

letting Nicholas Negroponte get in the way of his original vision.

The best comment yet.

Nicholas Negroponte single handedly created the hype that made possible the whole Netbook market segment.

Turning a 2006-era 100 Billion dollars Laptop industry into a 2008-era 80 Billion dollar industry, for about 20% more laptops shipped during the year.

In fact, Nicholas Negroponte made consumers of the world save $20 Billion dollars on laptop purchases and we got to purchase 20 Million extra cheaper laptops in the process.

Nicholas Negroponte should be even more aggressive for the next two years. Make it so the industry will crank out 2x more laptops that consume and cost another 2x less. Cause the rates of production need to go up, and the costs per laptop and energy consumption per laptop needs to go down, fast enough so we don't have to see another generation of Children grow up with wasted opportunities.

It was the "$100 laptop" claim that first got my attention. Even though the product never lived up to that claim, it was that claim that created the buzz. I cannot accept that this claim was a mistake.

Greg, the "$100 laptop" claim is a mistake. What did you think when you heard "$100 laptop":

(a) an amazing breakthrough in educational technology for primary-school children in the developing world


(b) a breakthrough in price for laptops used by first world consumers

I am willing to wager that you got excited because you expected (b) which is great - if OLPC was a laptop project. But as an education project, it confused its intended market (dev world governments) and hyped up the wrong market (US consumers), leading to dissatisfaction by both groups.

OLPC made it possible to have Netbooks. Netbooks are cheaper. OLPC will soon with XO-2 cost $100.

OLPC needs to change how the developed world consumes laptops to make them more affordable for the developing world.

1. Negroponte thought the first computer in poor regions of the world needed to be a computer designed for children. It should have been a computer designed
for families. If he had thought in terms of families Sugar would have been better as a desktop designed for children, kept the Linux paradigm and added
other desktops for older children and adults. This would have it more
much more configurable and frankly useful.

2. Not a mistake but for the future. The computer was a OLPC was a small project. Educational
software for ages 3 to 18 is a magnitude more complicated and really
should be the next project. Not Negroponte's but the worlds...
This project really hasn't even started!

3. He lost me while not being clear about the OS of choice. Is it Linux or Microsoft? Its kind of immoral to give poor people Microsoft OS. Remember the fractured aphorism that says its better to teach a person to fish then give them TV dinners. Well Microsoft is the TV dinner.

Interesting comment. Would you be interested in exploring your thoughts on "a computer designed for families" in a guest article? If so then please e-mail editors AT olpcnews DOT com. Thanks.

Now, that's a post worth reading that puts to rest all the crap about OLPC, NN and Microsoft

Just a small quote from there: "I spent several months last year making it
possible to boot Windows from Open Firmware. The reason I did that was
to prevent Microsoft from "taking over" the XO machine. ... That one-way road was unacceptable to Nicholas. He insisted that, if
any machines were to be able to run Windows, they must be able to dual-boot"

"That work paid off in another way for XO-1.5. The ACPI infrastructure
necessary to run Windows on XO-1 let us to use a more "standard" Linux
kernel for XO-1.5. That's good in that it helps our chances of meeting
our tight schedule with our modest system software resources, and
reduces the amount of upstream merging that we must do."

Oh god the horrors! Being able to use a more "standard" Linux kernel! Now they can't reinvent the wheel and sit in a circle, exciting each other over the fact that they blocked out Microsoft by reinventing the wheel and creating unnecessary work for themselves.

"exciting each other over the fact that they blocked out Microsoft" FROM TAKING OVER THE PROJECT.

Yes that's exciting!
Even for the simple fact that not many had managed it so far.
And of course there is nothing wrong if you gain something more in the process. Is there?...

Not particularly tactful. But you've hit the nail on the head...

My problems with Sugar?

-It's released as a finished solution when it's alpha quality code.

-Initially it was only available on XO-1 hardware, which isn't widely available, and on poorly done half assed VM solutions. Eventually it got to kind of working on other mainstream distros and then SoaS which kind of works on some machines, if you can figure out how to properly build it. How the heck can you excite people in developing for it if they can't access it?

-Apps break between minor revs. Again how do you expect people to develop for it if app support is breaking all the time?

-There's a ton of crappy abandoned "activities". A lot of them are half finished, useless games. Where's the leadership to try and create learning activities?

If Sugar was an "app" that better integrated with a standard Linux environment, there'd be more options for adoption (both apps for users, and platform accessibility to devs).

-Performance is terrible. A good part of this is because there's a LOT of interpreted code. Look at the XO-1.5 demo video. The developers are laughing at how much better the performance of the XO-1.5 is. Oops, so much for Sugar being "ultra lean"

-A lot of OLPC supporters (generally "geeky" in nature) fail to understand that most children (and adults) in existence really don't give a shit how the OS & computer environment works (eg: accessibility to the code, so they can mod it, etc). To most people a computer is a tool. Sugar seems to be designed for "Accessibility to the code at all costs so they can mod the background colour" is a poor philosophy. Especially because view source button doesn't work, and most of the code is illegible gibberish. While I agree with the ideas of having an open system, and accessibility to children friendly programming environment for children so interested, it shouldn't be the central focus when the system is in shambles.

Some issues that I think killed OLPC:

1. A failure to properly market and demonstrate self-education through a laptop -- Where, for example, were the demonstrations to OLPC's potential? They could have advertised innumerable examples of children using laptops to learn which would have piqued the interests of parents alike. Why were more pragmatic examples excluded? Such as Children using Merriam-Webster's Talking Dictionary Software to learn and pronounce new words? Or a child using computer software to solve the Rubik's Cube? Or children learning how to type using a typing tutor? How about children learning to speak English through Rosetta Stone or Fluenz? Children attending class electronically through web conferencing? Etc. Or a team of students using a laptop to assist in measuring, designing, and building a mud hut? Where were the video DEMOs of children learning about computers, about new technologies, about how to use laptops, etc. -- through a laptop? And then using this same laptop to enjoy watching Sesame Street or to play videogames? Where were the demonstrations of children watching episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy or equivalent? Or demonstrations of software encyclopedias such as DK Science Encyclopedia 2.0, Microsoft Encarta, or the HowStuffWorks CD? Or childing learning to cook through TV shows such as Alton Brown's Good Eats? Why weren't there examples of children reading the Bible in pdf or of parents reading it to them? It didn't make sense. It would have had a broader appeal! Why was it that the only real-world use of the XO that I remember reading about was that of kids watching porn? We all know that laptops can do much more than this! It was probably a massive failure for OLPC not to unequivocally demonstrate it. Why weren't we shown shining examples of education through a laptop? I think this was there biggest mistake! On another note, Pixel Qi is allowed to get away with demoing merely Slumdog Millionaire and ice-hockey -- but maybe this is because they're not purporting to be educational. OLPC shoud have done much better!

2. Making a serious educational investment out to be a toy. -- Very few kids want to use a tricycle, a plastic hammer, or an EasyBake Oven for long and most parents wouldn't want them using one for long either. The XO's design would probably only be attractive to children up to the age of 8. In this case, a middle-class family purchasing cute, expensive toys for their youngest children is one thing but in a much, much poorer developing country? It could only be considered an investment in that case, I think. OLPC should have foreseen this. It's not sensible to ask someone (or any government) to make a relatively hefty investment in a product that is much akin to a toy! So it's NO surprise that very few people made it!

3. Forced Charity -- Negroponte had a lot of nerve! The best way to get a person to do something is to tell them not to do it. And the best way to get a person NOT to buy an XO Laptop was to TELL them to buy one for someone else. Whatever happened to 'donating a portion of the proceeds' ? The XO could easily have been sold for $239.99 but John Negroponte clearly did not want to do this! How suspicious? How ironic was it that, the only way you could purchase this supposed "One-hundred Dollar Laptop", was to pay $400 and give one away to an unknown stranger of an unspecified location? You could not, for example, choose to give the free laptop away to your neighbor's child, to a family member, to the local school, or any other various children of concern where you might actually see the gift arrive. Only "You have to Give One, to Get One", as if you were privileged just to be able to purchase. Then, of course, you would never even see where this 'given' laptop went! And what if you had six children? Should you have purchased six XO laptops for $2400.00 [before shipping and tax]? Or should you have purchased only one XO laptop for your entire family and have all of the children share a single OLPC? Why not just share a single desktop PC instead? That would make more sense! OLPC did not have reality in mind! Maybe it is just me but I would rather spend $299 at Best Buy and give a child a fully-fledged 15.6-inch laptop (DVD-burner, 2GB Ram, Vista, etc.) than to spend $400 on two toys that are woefully incapable. At least I could add whatever educational software, videos, etc. (such as all 100 episodes of Bill Nye) that I wanted the child to have! In fact, it's incredible that OLPC is still selling their laptop(s) for $400. It's an insult!

4. The focus on children and nothing but. -- Oh yeah, the children! What about the children? Shouldn't we help the kids above all? Don't the kids need so much help... We absolutely must help the children, right? ...not so fast. People are waking up! Have we not learned from Michael Jackson that you can't successfully feign concern for a child without first showing concern for it's mother (and, eventually, the father)? You can't educate a child without educating the parents! And to think otherwise is foolish. A disregard for a child's parents is, in and of itself, a disregard for the child. Most people know this! The XO laptop seemed to fall into this common political trap by directly catering to mostly very young children -- which was unfortunate considering how many adults wanted one! As was the case with suspicious Michael Jackson, adults seemed to have been all but shunned in OLPC's initiative! Was it not with exceptional reason, that an adult would have wanted a netbook as much as, if not, more than a child? Haven't netbooks sold millions at $400+ to a majority of professionals, college students, travelers, teachers, etc. (i.e. -- NOT children)? How did OLPC forget the people who were, at one time, children? Was it as if they were convinced that people with actual purchasing power would have no interest in an inexpensive laptop?

5. Bait-and-Switch -- the unexplained removal of the XO's most important feature -- hand-cranked power -- was precisely what prevented me from purchasing it! The manual electric-generating feature faded and morphed then eventually disappeared altogether from the list! What gave? The last I heard was that the hand-crank generator was to be replaced by a pull-cord and then released separately -- that was several years ago! Why on Earth they would pull out such an awesome feature with little explanation, is beyond me?

6. "Give One then Get One" -- how arrogant! I'll pass! I don't want one. ...any more! But we have to help the kids, right? Sure.

7. A failure to show that they were "listening" to those interested -- From I was able to follow on OLPC, it was apparent that reasonable requests were made all over the board. And that OLPC either ignored all of them and was deaf/blind or both! There was a resounding demand, for example, to open the laptop to the market which has been, to this day, baulked at by John Negroponte. Eventually the "Forced Charity" program was created (perhaps, in truth, out of necessity to the organization) as a way to show that they were listening to the group of followers whom likely would have given anyway!

Firstly, OLPC is alive and well, 1.2 Million laptops in developing nations and counting. Which is like the whole 6-12 year olds population of any of more than 50% of the countries of the world. All this RIDICULOUS.

OLPC might not has sold as many as ALL Intel based netbooks combined. But OLPC has certainly sold more than MSI, Samsung and Dell have sold netbooks! Why aren't you morons saying that MSI, Samsung and Dell have failed in the Netbook market?

And THEN, OLPC has shipped all those 1.2 Million laptops in the hands of Children often in POOR areas of the world. If they haven't ever seen a computer before, at least most of them would never have been able to own a computer if it weren't for this project.

Second, OLPC's job is not to sell you laptops. You can go buy some at Asus and Acer if you think YOU should be the market for this thing. OLPC is solving the education problem towards the 2 Billion Children.

What is Intel doing? Not shipping netbooks to kids, not even rich kids. In fact, most Intel based netbooks are bought and used by RICH ADULTS.

Thirdly, OLPC is open, AMD, Google or anyone could have taken the XO1 design and sold it $239 on the open market. Fact is, they didn't, cause those manufacturers simply saw more profits in taking Intel processor and sell the netbooks at $399.

Surely, with XO-2 and XO-1.5, OLPC should focus more on enabling better competition in the worldwide Laptop market, and that should also mean that OLPC's goal should be to enable more competition to the Intel monopoly on Netbooks processors. The Intel netbooks are not bad, but they are NOT suitable for Children, especially not in the third world. And Intel netbooks will not be cheaper and better unless there is a Competiting architechture in ARM pushing it towards cheaper, lower power and simpler.

Charbax, tone it down please, there's absolutely no need for name calling here!

1. “A failure to properly market and demonstrate self-education through a laptop”
Self-educate a kid? That’s the biggest oxyMORON I heard in a long time…
2. “Making a serious educational investment out to be a toy”.
When was the last time that you trusted your Acer/Dell Mini etc to a kid? The XO looks like that (besides the well documented durability and functionality issues) so adults will not steel it or “steel” it from the kids.
3. “Forced Charity”
Worked wonders when the XO was the big game in town. So the facts show that certainly this is NOT the issue
4. “The focus on children and nothing but”
This really tells something about some adults more than it tells about OLPC… Actually the whole post looks like about “the netbook that _I_ would like to have and show it to the kids”.
5. “Bait-and-Switch -- hand-cranked power --”. Physics. To generate even the modest power required for the XO you should have to crank for hours at a time. Clearly overstated. I’ll grant you that.
6. You are repeating your self. That’s number 4 all over again…
7. “A failure to show that they were "listening" to those interested”
I’ll grant you that too but with the notion that “those interested” for me is not the same as yours eg is not the adults looking for a netbook that kids might use.

And just to add my view on the NN’s biggest mistake/failure. The laptop did NOT cost $100.
If the XO was an $100 laptop ALL the shortcomings would have been overlooked and excused.

"People are waking up! Have we not learned from Michael Jackson that you can't successfully feign concern for a child without first showing concern for it's mother (and, eventually, the father)?"

Ever heard of Plan International (formerly "Foster Parents")?

They work from children to parents and are doing not too bad.


I will believe that the XO-2 (or whatever) will cost $100 when I see my credit card billing statement reflect that, and not one second before.

Hey, wasn't the XO-1 supposed to be falling towards $50 by now? http://www.olpcnews.com/sales_talk/price/50_dollar_olpc_xo_laptop_lesson.html

---Firstly, OLPC is alive and well, 1.2 Million laptops in developing nations and counting. Which is like the whole 6-12 year olds population of any of more than 50% of the countries of the world. All this RIDICULOUS.---

If anything is RIDICULOUS, Charbax, then it is to expect sweeping societal changes to be made by focusing SOLELY on the rudimentary education of a six-year old. This is a freakish expectation that should be called as such! Was it not ridiculous for Michael Jackson to believe that he could improve the life of an eight-year old by having sleepovers with them? Or by singing Peter Pan lullabies whilst they sleep and recreating the NeverLand Ranch? Giving a child a plastic keyboard made by Mattel would never reach the level of honesty to that of giving said child a capable digital piano, a digital organ, or a harpsichord, etc. The former is nothing more than a toy while the latter could be considered an 'educational investment' into the child's musical future. The XO laptop positioned itself as an expensive toy and has been treated as such.

---OLPC might not has sold as many as ALL Intel based netbooks combined. But OLPC has certainly sold more than MSI, Samsung and Dell have sold netbooks! Why aren't you morons saying that MSI, Samsung and Dell have failed in the Netbook market?

And THEN, OLPC has shipped all those 1.2 Million laptops in the hands of Children often in POOR areas of the world. If they haven't ever seen a computer before, at least most of them would never have been able to own a computer if it weren't for this project.---

OLPC might have slightly fudged the "1.2 Million laptops" number! The last time I checked, less than 900,000 of these laptops have actually shipped and the rest of the numbers have been dishonestly inflated. It has been a failure on OLPC's part not to live up to it's potential.

And I would also contest that MSI, Samsung, and Dell have failed in the netbook market -- at least not on the consumer end! If anything, their missteps have only helped to DRIVE DOWN the costs of laptops and netbooks in general -- just as OLPC 'helped' to do but also just as OLPC wanted! MSI and Samsung have done a superb job, if indirectly, of advancing the development of netbooks! The market nearly exploded! You need not be reminded that both MSI and Samsung have held the highest ranked netbooks at one point -- as we could all be thanking them for hybrid storage, 10-inch screens, properly placed shift keys, 13-hour battery life, repeated price drops, continued innovation, etc.! The consumer has and will continue to benefit greatly from this!

---Second, OLPC's job is not to sell you laptops. You can go buy some at Asus and Acer if you think YOU should be the market for this thing. OLPC is solving the education problem towards the 2 Billion Children.---

At this point, I'm not sure what OLPC's job is at the moment and to what extent they may or may not be achieving it! You can NOT solve the education problems towards 2 Billion Children by focusing simply on the children alone -- this narrow-mindedness is far-reaching in it's ignorance and incredibly insulting to the parents! Children have caretakers that are called adults. And the adults, who may also be lacking in education as well, have to be brought into the equation. I would even argue that the parents should be the first element to address if there is an honest attempt to reach the kids! You might not agree, Charbax : ) But it is not unreasonable for an adult to conclude that OLPC cares very little about the parents of these children -- and, therefore, the families in general!

Their upcoming XO-2 design is further proof of this. Why have they unconsciously chosen a design that is reminiscent of a glorified Nintendo DS (...an expensive toy!)? Two screens-in-one for a child was Nintendo's idea as we all know -- and they are a videogame company. A serious, if functional, 15-inch touchtablet could have been created using the same LCD screen real estate that OLPC seems fit to butcher into a halved storybook -- ALL so that they can ensure that the XO-2 is in line with that of a toy! Why not go for a more serious product? People, afterall, have shown their willingness to shell tens of thousands of dollars down for their education. Why cut them short?

It's clear that OLPC may have never had it in mind to foster a community of the technologically capable. Especially, since their designs and intentions have said NOTHING to that of a 'higher education'. Whereas college students are NOT CHILDREN and NEITHER are teenage students -- and who would be so willing to argue that the education of said adults is not of equal importance to that of a child's? OLPC might be the only group to do so!

They really want to help the kids.... don't they? Yeah.

---What is Intel doing? Not shipping netbooks to kids, not even rich kids. In fact, most Intel based netbooks are bought and used by RICH ADULTS.---

Intel is doing it's job (even if underhanded!). There's are millions upon millions of relatively poor children (hundreds of millions, at least) around the world enjoying access to fully capable computers thanks to Intel's chips. Intel's job has been to sell their microchips and they have done so. It is NOT their job to make the focus of their technology to be that of education!

My hope was that OLPC would come in to help fill the void but, in the end, their actions don't seem to be that much different from Intel. OLPC isn't even close to focusing on education! This is unfortunate!

And should we not forget that "netbooks" came after the fact? The purpose of the XO was to make a cheap laptop that was affordable -- not to make a netbook. The massive sales of Intel-based laptops do not seem to be purchased by mostly RICH ADULTS -- unless you are referring to Macs : ) But since you are talking about netbooks, of course they are selling -- because netbooks were not designed with JUST children in mind! So it is no surprise that adults are purchasing them! Because netbooks are not toys! Charbax, I'm sure YOU have one, for example : )

The XO is a toy. You don't seem to understand why I believe this was a SERIOUS, defining mistake on the part of OLPC? Are we next to award OLPC with a "Class Clown" award?

---Thirdly, OLPC is open, AMD, Google or anyone could have taken the XO1 design and sold it $239 on the open market. Fact is, they didn't, cause those manufacturers simply saw more profits in taking Intel processor and sell the netbooks at $399.---

I understand your point! : ) But I couldn't have imagined that AMD would have seen more profits in the manufacture of netbooks loaded with Intel's Atom processor! To be serious though, AMD does not make decisions for OLPC and nor does Google. Google has YouTube, etc. and AMD has more affordable CPUs...

OLPC has the XO and OLPC alone has chosen NOT to sell their laptop up to this very day. IBM didn't make this foolish decision for them! Surely, the XO must not be worth anything if OLPC is unwilling to sell a product which they've already have tucked away in a warehouse rusting into antiquity?

----The Intel netbooks are not bad, but they are NOT suitable for Children, especially not in the third world.---

Let's not be spoiled here! The Intel netbooks are AWESOME in every sense -- whether in the third, fourth, or first world! I strongly disagree with this deranged focus on Children. Children need love, guidance, and attention from their parents, NOT more toys. The communities AS A WHOLE need to have greater access to technology -- access to real technology! It's almost criminal that laptops, computers, etc. cost more in countries that are least likely to be able to afford them! Why has OLPC shown no interest in selling cheaper laptops directly to them? Because of the kids, right? Sure.

---And Intel netbooks will not be cheaper and better unless there is a Competiting architechture in ARM pushing it towards cheaper, lower power and simpler.---

Judging from OLPC's failure, I'm not sure that a $100 toy is the most cost-effective solution to the problem in any case -- best scenario or whatnot! The XO is listed at $200 and is not even for sell while most Intel netbooks "were" listed at $400 (many are at $299 now -- most $350). The point is that you can actually order Intel's netbooks if you are willing to pay $350 for them. .....Meanwhile, full-fledged, fully equipped, and full-sized laptops are now selling at $299 (DVD-burner, 6-cell battery, etc. included). So it's clear that both the XO as well as Intel's netbooks are overpriced! They both are guilty! You probably don't want to hear that the OLPC's XO may be the most overpriced of the two! At least the Intel netbooks have gone down steadily in price while increasing in features!

It would probably make more sense to shoot for a fully capable laptop at $250 or, perhaps, $350 alongside a 1.5 TB hard drive! Or a 'nettop'. Since that sort of real 'technological' solution would certainly withstand the test of time for all basic applications! Or to build free computer labs in the poorest regions centered around education first? If the power is lacking, bring generators. If done right, they'll be shared!

I strongly disagree with John Negroponte's fantasy belief that children will value toy laptops more or, somehow, be more inclined to make better use of them if they own them! Has he ever actually bought anything for a child and witnessed what a child will often do after a short period of time? Wouldn't it make more sense to share technology that is 100% capable so that it actually gets used? Isn't a laptop per child more an unnecessary luxury than anything? And let's be honest... Does any one know of a civilized nation where all of the children own their own laptop? What will be next? A Nintendo 64 per child? $99 iPhone per child? A refrigerator per child? A trash compactor per child? A private video collection per child? As many laptops as possible per child?

Shouldn't children be taught to share instead? And to go over the values espoused in Sesame Street instead? Finally, will a child really hold much value in ownership to his Nintendo 64 [Per Child] when we all know that he wants a Nintendo Wii or a PS3?


On another note.....

Gian Pablo Villamil wrote and posted a link to an article that does a MUCH BETTER job of critiquing OLPC's decision to go with the Sugar operating system -- than Mr. Negroponte himself -- which is regretful.... Does it really have to be this way? For the leaders that are so willing to help to be so removed and detached from the people who which they have, in fact, set out to support?

The link to his article is below:


XO is not a toy. It's the most innovative computer ever made. Runs on 10x lower power than even the latest Intel netbooks. Thus can be solar powered with $10 solar panels, or recharged off car batteries. It meshes WiFi, has sunlight readability and durability. This is crucial for at least 90% of the OLPC XO children out there.

You can bet your ass OLPC has had LOTS more influence on the industry than MSI, Dell or Samsung has with their copycat netbooks. Those supposedly technological advances you mention like hybrid, 10", multi-cell batteries, those have only been introduced by netbook manufacturers to keep the prices high for netbooks. Cause netbook manufacturers don't like cheaper netbooks at all, that means less profit, and it means it cannibalizes their higher cost computers.

XO2 has 2 touchscreens for among other this very important reason. Having the keyboard on a touchscreen, means you can mass manufacture exactly the same product for the whole world. XO-1 already has 30+ different keyboards given all the different locations it has been deployed. Having to manufacture each group of laptops down to a few hundred pieces to some remote villages sometimes, with their own alphabet and language, making different keyboards is EXPENSIVE and not scalable. So with XO2, you simply ship them the standard laptop and give them the software that generates their appropriate software based keyboards.

Also, 6-hear olds aren't very fond of keyboards at all. You can generate a bunch of icons that they can click on instead, which expands greatly the types of educational contents that can be created.

You go down there to Peru, Uruguay, or to Rwanda, and I challenge you to go ask the parents, teachers, students, politicians, what they actually think about their XO1 laptops. I guarantee you they are 99.9% absolutely positive about it. And that is even though it's not always easy to get an Internet connection, even though it's not always easy for teachers to find educational contents and activities to do with the laptops, it's not always easy to recharge the laptops when the villages don't have electricity. Yet the XO1 are used non stop by all children, they share contents over WiFi Mesh from USB sticks if the village doesn't have a stable Internet connection, they find ways to recharge their laptops using $¡0 solar panels, car batteries, or in even some cases, OLPC has been the reason some remote areas actually got electricity for the first time.

Sure, OLPC should have reached 100 million children by now according to their initial plans. Yet we cannot blame OLPC for not reaching past 1 million so far. Basically the main reason OLPC has not shipped 100 Million, is Intel has done everything they could to stop them. 1 Million is definitely not bad for a start. That's 1 million children with much brighter futures in front of them, much better opportunities, much better vision for their own futures, those are potentially 1 million more scientists who can later implement the solutions that will bring their societies out of misery.

OLPC cannot lower the cost before XO-1.5 has replaced XO-1, also XO-1.5 improves performance up to the level of Intel Atom yet still consuming 10x less power using the VIA processor and still having full DCON power management on the laptop which Intel does not have. XO-1 has been stuck by the fact AMD does not support the Geode processor, does not update it, thus components compatible with Geode have not gone down in price. With XO-1.5 due out in a few months, OLPC can not only quadruple memory and RAM efficiency overnight without highering the costs, but most importantly, OLPC can then use components that are the most efficient in terms of lowering the price with Moores law. So expect XO-1.5 to cost $175 by the end of the year, maybe towards $150 next year.

To support charbax's opinion, at least for Uruguay, I have a set of videos where they use the OLPC with Dokeos (e-learning platform) and they're absolutely enthusiastic about it (and they've already got them for a year or two):

(Topic of one of my next articles here)

It's just a matter of getting someone to show them the way, really, and that's down to governments and people. Expecting the OLPC project to take upon itself to educate the world is wrong. This is just one more step in the right direction.

Charbax, you're usually quite well informed, so I am confused how you got into this... Maybe you still believe in the yo-yo charger also?

"Thus can be solar powered with $10 solar panels, "

Where do you get those panels?

"You can bet your ass OLPC has had LOTS more influence on the industry than MSI, Dell or Samsung has with their copycat netbooks. "

They have more money... :-(

"XO2 has 2 touchscreens for ...."

Sorry, the XO2 does not exist! The YamaplosFire 2010 has 3 screens! The YamaCat 2012 has 14 screens, surround sound AND makes coffee!

"making different keyboards is EXPENSIVE and not scalable. "
sorry, not true. That was bad informations they were given. Printing a new keyboard costs cents in batches of a few dozens, laser-etching it costs less than half a dollar, even if done for individual units.

Producing localized XO laptops costs quite a lot of money, not cause of the laser printing of different charachters, but you need people at the factory to be aware of each new production, you need to customize the software most likely at the factory for each new region.

Making exactly the same hardware for all regions of the world has definite advantages in costs and simplicity of the project. The manufacturers only thus have to focus on mass manufacturing lots of laptops that are exactly the same.

And where details such as which laptops has to go where, which software keyboard has to be customized how, all that can happen much later in the process.

Having to pre-configure the XOs in small batches for when you want to send just 20 or 100 of the laptops to a pilot project in India, Africa, Pacific Islands or elsewhere, it's a definite roadblock to have to organize that at the manufacturers level.

Also, even though a real keyboard is better for typing a lot of text fast, you can later connect $2 USB keyboards for that, or they can figure out to make a $1 plasticky cover thing to place on top of the touchscreen. The most important new feature here, is that one can design more natural user interface buttons on the touchscreen for children to have a much more meaningful interaction with the computer.

For example, touch the Cow with your finger when the computer says Moo!

$10 solar panels, get them through OLPC or other places. It's basically like those $5 pocket solar panels, but instead of being foldable pocketable, it's spread out to fill an A4 page size. There are many companies making them, I could show you this http://techvideoblog.com/cebit/soleitec-pocket-solar-charger/

OLPC forced Intel to create the Netbook market, there is no doubt about that.

"Children need love, guidance, and attention from their parents, NOT more toys. "

A toy like eToys (Squeak)?:
Young programmers win big
Called XtremeApps, the competition required those taking part to program computer applications from scratch.

Armed with just the basics in the Squeak programming language, as well as encouragement - but no help - from mum and dad, the Chan sisters came up with an application called Health Fairies.
Note, the girls were 4 and 8


-- XO is not a toy. --

We'll probably have to 'agree to disagree on this'. The XO-laptop was designed, from the ground up, with very young children in mind thus meeting my definition of a toy.

And I never wanted to feel this way about the XO either! I believe it was a defining mistake for OLPC to position, what could have been a serious educational investment tool, as a child's plaything! If the XO were not a toy, then OLPC's issue of 'child ownership', for example, would have never come up. Since children, for example, do not require full ownership of a 'real laptop' or even a 'real PC' to enjoy the access and benefits of such technology.

As Gian pointed out in his article (linked above), the XO is simplified to the point where it insults even a child's intelligence! It's a toy.

---It's the most innovative computer ever made. Runs on 10x lower power than even the latest Intel netbooks. Thus can be solar powered with $10 solar panels, or recharged off car batteries. It meshes WiFi, has sunlight readability and durability. This is crucial for at least 90% of the OLPC XO children out there. ---

The XO is very impressive in many ways but I think we all expected much more in execution. It was Nintendo (a videogame company) that pioneered much of what you mentioned with their handheld Game Boy devices -- low power, wireless connectivity, sunlight readability (in the original Game Boy Advance Color), extreme durability, etc. The great thing about Nintendo's products is that they are designed for the whole family! Sales of the Nintendo Wii and DS are almost astronomical as a result!

OLPC does not and never did have 'family' in mind. And in that respect, the XO could be interpreted as, not only an expensive toy, but a potentially divisive and invasive one as well! How many children taught their parents to read with it, again? Did these children also teach their parents how to set the parental controls? And is this 'miracle' XO program responsible for teaching the children how to read available on Windows or Mac?

---Basically the main reason OLPC has not shipped 100 Million, is Intel has done everything they could to stop them. 1 Million is definitely not bad for a start. That's 1 million children with much brighter futures in front of them, much better opportunities, much better vision for their own futures, those are potentially 1 million more scientists who can later implement the solutions that will bring their societies out of misery.---

: ) It's hard not to be moved to tears to read of such potential! I want to see all children (as well as us adults, myself, etc.) have brighter futures as much as anyone. But I'm not convinced that it is necessary to have 1 million laptops in order to reach out to 1 million children. Especially NOT in a region where resources are scarce.

Education-oriented computer labs totaling as few as 5000 computers could, in theory, reach the same 1 million children at a much lower price! It would also save much needed money to cover additional educational paraphernalia such as LED projectors, satellite, hard drives, teacher training, software, high-tech gear, camcorders (for teaching media, videography, or filmmaking), GPS, E-Ink libraries, 3-D Printers, solar panels, security, etc. Why not go for a standardized $10,000 or $20,000 Educational Computer Lab Per Community, for example? ...something that could scale to a much larger size if proven to be effective? ...something that would involve adults, local schools, volunteer organizations or the community as a whole? Or something that would mesh with ingenious contributions from all sources and involved workshops, direct funding, possible employment, 24/hour scheduling (adult seminars at night, for example), live conferences, volunteer classes, corporate representation, rotating exhibitions, live charitable peformances, etc.? Why the narrow focus on just children?

One would have to be stricken blind with emotion to not see how 2 billion laptops for 2 billion poor children is excessive!

---OLPC cannot lower the cost before XO-1.5 has replaced XO-1, also XO-1.5 improves performance up to the level of Intel Atom yet still consuming 10x less power using the VIA processor and still having full DCON power management on the laptop which Intel does not have. ---

Are you sure of this? Because Toshiba's NB205 netbook uses Intel's Atom, costs $350, and is said to get 9 hours and 41 minutes of battery life. If the XO-1.5 used even 3x less power than the Toshiba netbook, wouldn't this mean that the XO would run for nearly 30 hours using the same capacity battery? I ask because most of the reports I've heard paint the XO as having less than average battery life! The proof would be in a direct comparison of battery endurance.

Not just this, but it is also only a matter of months before netbooks cross into the 15-hour or, perhaps, 20-hour battery life range.

"The XO-laptop was designed, from the ground up, with very young children in mind thus meeting my definition of a toy."

I think you disagree with a lot of other people on this.

A child's bicycle or shoes too meet your definition of a toy. As are all text-books for children. And the tables and chairs in k6 classrooms.

In this selection of "toys", the XO does not fare too bad, I think. Especially as it took some time before equally useful "toys" were available for adults.


---A child's bicycle or shoes too meet your definition of a toy. ---

Winter, if you are talking about transportation then, yes, a child's bicycle (i.e. tricycle or Big Wheel, etc.) is a toy.

Would you purchase one for $200.00?


Which one? Because you seem convinced ; ) Let me know which model you think is best positioned to help solve the world's transportation problems?

One Tricycle Per Child... that would work!

---As are all text-books for children.---

Irv made a great point (above) when he said that Negroponte is a lying politician with good intentions. It breaks my heart to face this reality! It is not by accident that OLPC virtually ignored the massive grassroots community that has been so willing to back the project. And, by the way, what happened to the text-based, killer app for the XO that was supposed to be -- Wikipedia? What happened to it? Since it is clear that Wikipedia was not designed primarily for children (as the XO is), should we be surprised that Mr. Negroponte sold it to us as a killer app then later pulled the plug?

---And the tables and chairs in k6 classrooms.---


This desk isn't bad either for $100 if you live in a 1st World Country. : ) It has great reviews and the children love it! But wouldn't it be a great idea to sell this $100 gizmo -- to the sum of 1 million units for 1 million children in poor, developing countries?

Under the model of one unit per child, we could probably move 300 or 400 million desks within a few years! And, if only we could successfully convince Third World governments that our product is their saviour -- we could gross $80 Billion!

Shall we continue the sarcasm on such a serious issue?

---In this selection of "toys", the XO does not fare too bad, I think. ---

Neither does this toy for the price ($23.45):


The $80 touchtablet units ship with more activities... They don't fare too bad either.


The Pearl Ice even has a detachable touchscreen which the XO doesn't. But there are others:





The video demonstration of the Fisher-Price Cool School, in particular, is worth checking out -- isn't it cute! You can find other interesting laptops for children on Amazon if you search 'laptop' under [Toys & Games].


But to be serious...

How is it possible to be so naive to think that you need 1 million laptops in order to reach 1 million children? Is this an American mindset?

Has OLPC forgotten about Hyper-threading, multi-core, multitasking, virtualization, etc.? You could reach 1 Million children with as few as 5,000 computers! So why is there a blind rush to purchase 995,000 computers more than needed?

Is this a part of a plot to bankrupt as many countries as possible before they have a chance to see the light of day?

"Winter, if you are talking about transportation then, yes, a child's bicycle (i.e. tricycle or Big Wheel, etc.) is a toy. "

In my country, children's bicycles are means of transportation.

(this is the schoolyard of a primary school in Hellendoorn, see

"Shall we continue the sarcasm on such a serious issue?"

Pointless use of sarcasm. You come up with a definition of toys that is simply WRONG. The XO is a toy in the same sense that bicycles, text-books, and school furniture are toys, ie, NOT.

The XO is a tool that either serves its intended purpose or not. If you think it does not, please tells us why you think so in the light of all the witnesses that it actually DOES work.

For tools, the price should be be compared to the productivity increase. Forgetting the productivity is like telling me that a truck is more expensive than a sedan, and therefor a sedan should be used for transporting bricks instead.

"Has OLPC forgotten about Hyper-threading, multi-core, multitasking, virtualization, etc.?"

What is the relevance of these technical improvements on using a single computer for reaching each child?

"You could reach 1 Million children with as few as 5,000 computers! "

You have lost me. That would be 1 computer for 200 children.

If you mean we have one server and 200 dumb terminals, then you still need 1 computer per child, just a simple one. But the XO IS a simple computer.

Anyhow, the whole point of the OLPC is that children can take their computer HOME to study. So the computer can also be used to as an electronic textbook. Any centralized system with dumb terminal would simply eliminate most of the intended functionality of the scheme.


I think the biggest mistake was restricting the sales of the XO, supposedly to preserve the non-profit status of OLPC. They should have, and still should, create a separate NGO to handle sales to deployments of all sizes in all countries where our government allows the machines to be sent.

There are schools all over the US who would welcome the chance to buy XOs, loaded with Sugar, for their students. Without another G1G1, there is no practical way to do this.

If the sales entity keeps good books and keeps its proverbial "nose clean," they should be able to retain their non-profit status. If not, so be it, but it will still protect the status of OLPC.

@Anon - I of course fully agree. Even with another (or continuous) G1G1, the price point has moved on; you can get an ASUS or other netbook (not to mention a powerful desktop) for under the $400 price tag of G1G1. My understanding of the 501c3 status here is that profits must be put back in to the organization, not accrue to the board and "shareholders" of it. You can still grow the organization, it just gets (admittedly, a lot) harder to balance the budget with an unknown amount of income coming from sales profits.

I don't think Sugar was the mistake, but there were program management missteps along the way. It's a delicate balancing act, trying to introduce a new software standard on hardware not far out of the lab.

It is difficult to invent a new computer standard, and the tradition for companies based in the east coast (DEC, IBM, Commodore) has been vertical integration. Except for IBM, all the vertically integrated firms have been lost. A vertically integrated company designs the chips, runs the foundry, puts the chips on circuit boards, and sells them to the customer.

West coast companies have tended to use a partnership approach, not making everything themselves. This increases the speed of innovation, in general.

There is more to getting Sugar adopted as a new standard for education. Schools that depend on computer labs (as someone else suggested) aren't able to have the same impact on student education, because of competition for the lab.

Using Sugar applications could be as easy to get as visiting a web site. There's no reason you couldn't try out Sugar applications via a web browser, it's just a question of where they are running.

Not all software running on the XO has to be written for Sugar, but it is part of the educational philosophy.

If the only point was to get more Linux systems out in the world, then teachers wouldn't sign up for that. They want to make a difference in their student's lives.

Maybe it is worth looking at ARM chips and maybe Apple as a partner again (they have low-power chip designers from PA semiconductor on staff now, oriented toward the ARM).

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