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.
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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