The other day when I was in Vancouver and using the XO while sitting in a nice café someone started asking me about the machine and the current state of OLPC. When I mentioned that Give 1 Get 1 was going to make a comeback in autumn the person asked me whether I would recommend him donating this time 'round since he missed out back in December 2007. I have to say that I scrambled for a couple of seconds before being able to give him a real answer.
Back at the end of last year when people asked me the same question I normally replied "If you want a small laptop, then yes, go for it." as the alternatives to the XO were severely limited. Of course the omnipresent ASUS eee PC701 was available but to many people the small screen-resolution was a deal-breaker. If they didn't know about that one already this was my main argument against purchasing the eee PC701 when people asked me about it.
Although it's also susceptible to gravity the XO's robustness (unless you throw a hard punch at the screen) is a definite selling point when you plan to bring your laptop along wherever you go. You'd hate to be stuck with a half-broken $1800 machine just because you dropped your laptop from 2 feet like this guy did with his MacBook Air. And while there are quite a number of issues that people ran into the XO is definitely a very capable machine when it comes to accessing the Web, reading an e-book or watching a movie while on-the-go. It certainly beats having to lug around a 15.4" laptop.
Now, in mid-2008, the situation is quite different. Last time I checked there were about 30+ small and (relatively) inexpensive notebooks, now often referred to as 4PCs or netbooks, around. ASUS alone has 7 or 8 different eee PC options out there. Acer, Dell, Gigabyte, HP, MSI, VIA and a whole bunch of other companies have also released similar products. As always they all have their strengths and weaknesses, just like the XO, but the competition is definitely quite fierce.
As an example let me use the soon-to-be available Dell E Classic which will cost $299, have a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of Flash for mass-storage. Even with the XO sporting the awesome display, above mentioned robustness, equal or potentially slightly longer battery-life and the feel-good aspect of donating to a very-worthy cause it's quite hard to argue against that feature-set, right?
Of course the points mentioned above are mainly relevant to people whose main motivation for donating to OLPC is to get a small laptop for themselves. However a significant number of the donors also participated in G1G1 to get a laptop that's suitable for their own children. Again, in late 2007 the main argument for the XO would have been that the competing products weren't designed with children in mind. Plus none of them were able to run Sugar which is definitely one of the most attractive aspects of getting an XO.
While the products mentioned above aren't necessarily designed with young users in mind most people would agree that children at the age of 10 or 12 will quickly learn how to use them. Also thanks to the work by some dedicated individuals it's now quite easy to use Sugar on existing Fedora, Debian and Ubuntu installations.
That leaves us with a third group of donors, the ones who want to enable a child in a developing nation to receive a laptop via the Give 1 part of the equation. With many more organizations working on pilots and deployments now compared to the end of 2007 it's much easier to find efforts worth supporting by directly donating to them.
In the end the overall effect on me is that it's become quite a bit harder to tell people to do Give 1 Get 1 once it starts again in autumn. Assuming it's a carbon-copy re-run of last year's Give 1 Get 1 and the price is again set at $399 there's now a plethora of other devices and options that I'd recommend people to also consider before making a decision.