Why Windows XP is an OLPC Marketing Flaw


In his argument for the need to have Windows XP on the XO laptop, Nicholas Negroponte puts forth a compelling reason for the change to a proprietary operating system from the current Open Source platform in his technology Review interview:

olpc windows xo
An XO laptop marketing flaw
"When I went to Egypt for the first time, I met separately with the minister of communications, minister of education, minister of science and technology, and the prime minister, and each one of them, within the first three sentences, said, 'Can you run Windows?'" Negroponte says.

One future possibility is a "dual-boot" version of the OLPC machine, in which either Windows or Linux can be launched at start-up. If such a scheme were to materialize, Negroponte says, "I expect we will do a massive rollout in Egypt."

I believe that Negroponte's obsession with Microsoft Windows is a yet another strategic error - separate from any Open Source vs. proprietary discussion.

The "Does it run Windows?" question shows that OLPC's marketing is flawed in a very basic way. By focusing on a $100 price and on the term "laptop", Negroponte has Ministries of Education thinking of the XO as a cheap business laptop - a $100 Dell or Toshiba. In this comparison, the XO will always fail.

The XO is a specialized learning tool specifically designed to empower education for primary school children in rural and remote communities - 4-12 year olds in need of an educational experience suited for their developmental level. As such it should be compared to other learning tools; chalkboards, libraries, and textbooks - then the comparisons are much more interesting and compelling.


Once you look at the XO in the educational context, the question of "Does it run Windows?" becomes irrelevant. Or think of it another way - when was the last time you wondered if the Leapfrog came with Windows?

As long as Negroponte continues to allow the XO to be called a "laptop" instead of something like "Children's Machine", Ministers will continue to use variants of the "Does it run Windows?" question as a way to ask for a $100 MacBook per child.

Once they have Windows, the Ministers will complain that the XO is slow, or doesn't run Microsoft Office. And when did you ever think that an appropriate software for young children?

Yet, 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 mush more accurate, I'm willing to bet a Linux kernel that Egypt would look at OLPC quite differently.

Add in teacher training, local support and maintenance, and all the other aspects of implementation that OLPC refused to support in the past, offered in a partnership with the Ministry through a well-staffed implementation team, and there would be a much different reception.

For a great example of this idea in action, just look at OLE Nepal. Not a peep about Windows XP on those XO's.

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Too bad Dr. Negroponte didn't design the XO so that it would ensure a 50% increase in funding to the education department. Then his big problem would've been to survive the stampede of education ministers waving hand-fulls of money.

Wayan, the downside to calling the XO "a children's machine" is that the current pricetag $188-$200 is too high, and the appeal is not so broad. There are other "children's machines" that have been developed over the years... like the DreamWriter, Alphasmart Dana, etc.

Many OLPC advocates seem to think that OLPC is the pioneer in "education machines"...that it has never been done before. But it HAS been done before.

What sets OLPC apart from previous efforts is the use of a limited general-purpose computer for the task.

Sure, if it is called an "education machine" they won't ask if it runs Windows... but I'll guarantee that interest will be dramatically less. Even though it would be an unfair comparison, they'd view the XO as a glorified "Speak n Spell" or one of those Vtech education "laptops" that are not computers at all.

What I'm basically saying is that either way it is a hard sell. Distancing the XO as being a laptop is NOT going to make the task selling it easier, just different.

...and with all this talk of WinXP for XO, does anyone have any firsthand experience with early betas of XP on XO (or is it just nebulous market-speak)? Because all this hand-wringing over XP on XO may be moot if there isn't a version of XP for XO.

Thank you. Very good article.

All what you said is such a no-brainer issue that i can't stop to wonder how a seems-to-be-a-brilliant-guy Nicholas Negroponte, doesn't understand it.

May be the Microsoft pressure was to heavy for him ? Does Nicholas really know the term *disruptive*? Does he know that there are big fishes ( Intel, Hp , etc. ) ready to jump in this "cheap laptop" wagon ( offering Windows off course ) and if OLPC doesn't keep its original and differentiated goals, it will simply die?

Totally no-brainer !!

I think that XP on the XO is just a temporary stopgap. It will help sell a lot of machines that wouldn't get sold otherwise. Then in a couple of years when Microsoft stops selling XP to oem's, the various countries that have been buying the xo will switch over to linux.

You people have done a wonderful job of developing a learning/teaching machine for children. Governemnts are very few who are going to buy the XO. This is a failing marketing system.

Let me explain how to move thousands of XOs around the world. The church of Christ wants to purchase 150 of them for $33,000 [OLPC set the price] delivered to us in the USA. Those machines would be taken personally to various countries where we have schools and orphan homes. They refused to sell them to us. If they would sell them,there are hundreds, if not multi-hundreds of NGOs, churches, schools who would buy them. It is the prefect machine for the market it was designed to fill. OLPC marketing is not bad or good; there is no such thing.

Really, the viral marketing nature of the XO has been totally underestimated and totally ignored. For an organization that has been so innovative in its engineering (hardware and software and social), the continual clinging to an outdated and untenable economic model is puzzling. Meeting with heads of states and ministries of education and trying to sell large orders in bulk have not produced the results that OLPC seeks, please abandon that failed model! The G1G1 program has been a wild success in marketing demand (the delivery of course could've had vast improvement). There are many, many organizations/consumers/evangelists that RIGHT NOW just can't get XO's, they're buying them on e-bay!

Please Mr. Dr. Negroponte -- instead of clinging to the same old failed marketing model (and dragging OLPC into the muck with specious Windows XP partnerships just to pass muster from government heads) -- PLEASE -- analyze where the demand is, where the innovation lies, where the excitement and energy is incubated and unleashed. If you truly want to change the world, then please remember the groundswell comes from the bottom-up, not from the top-down. Abandon the top-down marketing approach. It isn't working and you are ignoring the business model that does work.


If Negroponte had tried to sell Macs to corporations in the mid 1980s, one question he would be likely to hear within 30 seconds of starting his presentations would have been "does it have slots? We need to be able to expand the machines."

Yet when Apple released the Mac II with slots in 1987, not one of those who had been complaining about their lack bought one. This particular objection went away, instantly replaced by "does it run DOS applications?"

My point is that it is really important to listen to your customers, but be sure that they really are potential customers. There are people out there who won't buy your stuff no matter what but will waste your time by making you try to adapt what you have in order to please them.

Egypt asked about Windows because they have a multi-million dollar agreement with Microsoft. They may not be allowed to use anything but Windows so the first question had to be "does it run Windows". no?

It's no surprise that Windows XP is a marketing flaw.

If XO-1 runs Windows, it's no good.

Think about when children in Indonesia using XO-1 with XP go on bad sites they think are okay to go on that inject viruses. The children won't know what happened.

And they might download too much useless software that the 1024MB flash drive will be clogged. They don't know what's happening.

They will have little room for their work because the OLPC version of Windows XP uses 1024 Mb of space.

The evil part, is, of course, some applications require over 1024MB of disk space and/or 256MB of RAM. Pathetic, huh?

What's worse, they might not get a second XO-1.

**Windows XP makes the XO-1 useless**

Want more facts? Windows7Sins.org highlights that children will become entirely dependent on Microsoft.

Here is the link: http://en.windows7sins.org/education/

If you want to discuss this, click on my pseudonym or visit Stop-Microsoft.org, where you can discuss this as a guest.

(Sorry if the discussion is irrelevant, just wanted to warn you readers!)