Pacific Research Institute Attacks OLPC's Open Source Subtext


When I first read Sonia Arrison's Techworld article A Laptop in Every Hut?, I agreed with her concerns about the current lack of in-country support plans for the One Laptop Per Child project. She notes that OLPC will not be "equipping village elders in Africa with the operating manuals and training needed to fix computer bugs."

But unfortunately, instead of suggesting constructive ideas or alternatives, she then went Pacific Research Institute conservative and attacked the open source community with sharp yet broad swipes.

First she suggests that the open source community is "sputtering." Has she not heard of Linux? Does she not use Firefox? Might she forget Apache's web server dominance? I would suggest she look here before calling the open source movement anything like "sputtering".

Next up, she whips out religious overtones and imagery to describe what I see as passionate and inclusive community, and then questions its commercial success:

Facing limited success in the United States, open source zealots are looking to export their ideological crusade overseas, creating a need for their commercial services by tying a new generation of young consumers to laptops running on Linux software.

Limited success? Really? Might you check Red Hat's market capitalization? $4.2 billion doesn't sound like "limited success" to me. Or what about Firefox user penetration? 16% market share in three years against a bare-knuckled monopolist ain't bad for a nonprofit foundation.

Bad is forgetting your own words. In 2005 Ms. Arrison said "the open source (OS) community is finally coming of age" and "evolving in a positive way."

In summation, in A Laptop in Every Hut?, Ms. Arrison of Pacific Research Institute is very anti-open source, rabidly so:

Using children's laptops to convert the masses to the open source faith is irresponsible and self-serving. Software evangelists and elitist humanitarians are trying to fit developing nations into their own designs.
I wonder why? Might it be because Microsoft is again a funder of PRI? It was in 2003, but I couldn't tell if they were in 2005 or now. Could MSFT be scared that its highly lucrative, restrictively proprietary and often highly inappropriate software is losing market share to an open source alternative, and be willing to fund PRI to be its mouthpiece?

No matter if so or if not, Ms. Arrison, stick to critiquing the OLPC implementation, not its open source software, and be consistent. "Irresponsible and self-serving" would be forcing Microsoft Windows or Office on the developing world, not FOSS. As to the OLPC, we'll have to see.

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