Is There a Causal Link Between OLPC and Netbooks?

   
   
   
   
   

Whether one could definitively show a causal link between OLPC and the creation of the netbook category is unclear, although the Wikipedia article for netbooks discusses the introduction of the somewhat OLPC-like Asus Eee PC and notes,

"The OLPC project, known for its innovation in producing a durable, cost- and power-efficient netbook for developing countries, is regarded as one of the major factors that led top computer hardware manufacturers to begin creating low-cost netbooks for the consumer market."
asus 901 linux

This same article references the specs of the Asus Eee PC in its discussion of the origin of the term netbook,

"The generic use of the term "netbook", however, began in 2007 when Asus unveiled the ASUS Eee PC. Originally designed for emerging markets, the 23 x 17 cm (8.9" × 6.5") device weighed about 0.9 kg (2 pounds) and featured a 7" display, a keyboard approximately 85% the size of a normal keyboard, a solid-state drive and a custom version of Linux with a simplified user interface geared towards netbook use."

My initial reaction to the Asus Eee PC was that it took the good things about the OLPC laptop (small size, low cost, rapid boot times), took away features most people wouldn't want (a hand crank), and raised the target price to $200. The lower cost was made possible through changes to the computing model, and the Linux operating system was a big enabler of this lower price. Even though laptop prices had been falling up to that time, a drop in price for a usable computer from $600 to $200 was a big change.

I believe that the defining characteristics of a netbook are small size, simplicity, and a modest cost. The success of the Eee PC running on Linux prompted a response from Microsoft to offer Windows XP at a low cost for netbooks. Manufacturers were also pushed to make their Windows netbooks behave in a Linux-like manner- take away all the pre-loaded junk, and focus on functionality such as email and web access, rapid boot times, and rock-solid suspend/resume.

While the netbook category would probably have come out anyway, a good case can be made that the category came out a couple years earlier due to the influence of the OLPC and that we remain a generation ahead in netbook design as a result.

Aaron Leatherwood in the IT department at Ohio University and has experience in information technology consulting in developing countries.


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7 Comments

Well, the Simputer preceded the XO, so you can extend your argument to say virtually anything...

The Simputer design is more akin to the PDA family of the Newton and Palm world (which has since been absorbed by the smartphone market and spun-out again in tablets -- maybe).

Was there, though, a very-low-cost mini-laptop market before the XO? There was certainly a lightweight-laptop market, but those tended to command premium prices.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Simputer knows that it was one of the biggest hoax played by its promoters.

The product was at best a prototype. Just try asking how many were actually manufactured and you will get the answer. Not even 2000 over 2000 days!

To take that example and show that against OLPC beats any logic, a bit like a painting of a horse vs a 300 horse power engine!

There is plenty rotten about OLPC. Negroponte may be the best thing about OLPC He also seems to be the worst thing about OLPC.

Jut try finding out ONE figure of How many OLPC laptops have been shipped? And you may get more than one answer. Anything from 1 Million to 2.2 Million. Ask them about the pipleline and you may be told anything about they cannot supply 1000 laptops in less than 6 months to 2 Million on backorder.

As an organization it sucks. Its exploitative. Negroponte's travel budgets run in a million bucks a year and his OLPC folks are mostly volunteers who do not get paid or get paid little.

Then again he does not seem to respect people. He wants the world to follow him without spending adime on marketing or reaching out or craeting an organization to follow the norms. Just to expect the world to follow because he has done a good job is a belief only a Negroponte can live with.

All that still does not make any other product come close to OLPC.

No matter how rotten an organization it may be, Negroponte has few parralels among academic who dared to challange a market without accepting its rules

Hi Ayesha, some of your comments about the Simputer ring true to me. But we did all get one valuable asset from that endeavor: Ed Cherlin's passion. (Or perhaps he was passionate about such things beforehand :)

Regarding OLPC: our deployment numbers are pretty clearly published. We update them roughly every 6 weeks on the OLPC wiki and our Google map (also linked from that wiki page).

And OLPC as an organization has its flaws, but it is one of the least exploitative organizations I have ever worked for, when it comes to caring for its staff.

I believe that the Asus designers wrote Nicholas mid-2007 to thank him for the inspiration. And if I recall correctly, they also mocked up a dual-touchscreen model last year, though nothing came of it and again this was without direct engagement with OLPC.

They continue to have an impressive open-source development team.

Hola!

My Asus Eee box 204 desktop had its 5400 rpm hard drive crash this week. It is the desktop version of the Asus laptop. Now, I am using my Sugar on a stick to run it!

I think that OLPC and Sugar get the credit for running computers on SD or USB cards! Of course, I wished I would had gotten a LARGER SD card for it now!

Intel Classmate was defiantly a response to XO. The reference design from September 2006:
Celeron-M 900 Mhz
Intel 915 chipset/graphics
7" 800x480 display.

EeePC 701:
Celeron-M 900 Mhz
Intel 915 chipset/graphics
7" 800x480 display.

More than a coincidence I think. I see references to "partnership" between Intel and Asus for the EeePC,

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6723741.stm

While the EeePC might not be as ultra-rugged as an XO or even a classmate, part of the thought might have been to increase volumes of components used, dropping the component cost for Classmate. And dropping unit cost through economies of scale was supposedly a goal of OLPC, but of course they refused to sell them to the developed world except through the limited G1G1 programs.

As far as all the conspiracy theories of Microsoft FORCING Windows on netbook makers, I bought a 701 preloaded with Xandros. The included DVD has Windows XP drivers, and half the manual talks about how to install Windows XP. Xandros, although "simple" at first blush, is limited compared to conventional Linux distros like Ubuntu, and indeed is flat out crappy. It seems to me Asus used it as a bargaining tool to get cheap XP licenses from Microsoft (at a time when OEM XP was being sent out to pasture). Although it takes a bit of tweaking to run on a 4GB SSD (which you’d have to do with any Linux Distro too), Windows XP runs like a dream on my EeePC.

Though both Intel and Microsoft seem to have been completely caught off guard by Netbooks. Intel has pages on their site talking about how Netbooks are so underpowered they’re barely useful for anything http://www.intel.com/consumer/products/style/netbook.htm

Here Microsoft talks about Windows on Tablets, citing success on Netbooks http://www.engadget.com/2010/06/01/microsofts-guggenheimer-dismisses-android-on-tablets-as-an-exp/

“ he cites the netbook market's development, which started off almost exclusively with Linux installations, yet "three years later it is 95% on Windows.”

Ignoring the fact that to accomplish that they had to exhume a previously dead OS because they were blindsided.

For years Microsoft has been trying to push ultra-portable Windows platforms. The first wave of Tablet PCs, better integrated tablet support in Vista, and then the UMPC/Oragami project. A major reason why these didn’t sell is because they were expensive. At least $1000. Yet when ultra-portables are available under $400 they sell like hotcakes. Who would have predicted that consumers wanted inexpensive devices?

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