I am Gabriel Morales of XO For All and this is a continuation of my story around One Laptop Per Child.
Another issue which become increasingly apparent was the education factor. Although I loved the tech behind it, OLPC was always clear in that "It's an education project, not a laptop project", which I agree is essential. And yet, it became clear that the primary objective of Negroponte and friends was simply to get this laptop into kids' hands. And I vehemently disagree with that.
The XO cannot exist on its own. Without proper guidance from teachers well-versed in the applying and troubleshooting the technologies involved the project would fail, or become something else entirely. To allow such a situation would be contrary to any responsible educational goal. A technology is only as good as its user's wisdom.
One of the most intriguing features of the XO laptop is the ability to create an instantaneous ad-hoc "mesh" network with all the other XO laptops within range. Now, an ordinary laptop can do this with the proper software settings. But the XO laptop was designed to do this by default and in a very intuitive way, with a very cool looking Sugar interface for it.
In this way, children can communicate and share information with others in range. If there are enough XO laptops in the area, the mesh network will use the XO laptops in between two distant and otherwise disconnected regions to patch all of them together, creating a huge, interactive network. I always thought this was a marvelous idea.
The XO laptops can also share an Internet connection in the same manner, using the same network, as long as at least one of the XO laptops is receiving an Internet connection. While the former means a regional community sharing together in new ways, the latter means unleashing the full force of the world onto the children.
Perhaps I am radical in my outlook, but I do not believe that children are benefitted nor prepared for unfiltered and unfettered access to the Internet. The XO laptops are normally fitted with very specific software, which would be capable of limiting the types of information accessible to the user. But an open web browser is as much a potential Pandora's box as a tool of enlightenment.
Pornography was reportedly found on some children's XO laptops in Nigeria. Now these things happen, unfortunately. By no means will I judge OLPC by an isolated incident. However, it does illustrate the fact that use of the XO laptops needs to be supervised and guided by judicious adults, not simply "handed to the kids".
I do not believe children should not be permitted Internet access, but only that they be allowed it under the supervision and guidance of a judicious adult. Not everything is conducive to the goals of education and healthy development, and many things are counter them.
My entire point is that XO laptops should not be simply dropped into children's' hands for them to figure out, but that there needs to be some type of infrastructure around that, even if it's just one teacher with a few deputized adults in training, and limiting Internet access to the classroom.
To their credit, OLPC did promise to place filters on the XO laptops, which should restrict access to some of the more obvious sources of rubbish, but that is only a crude and partial solution to a problem that needs live people to take care of it.
Open & Not-So-Open Source
One of the shining lights of the project was the decision to use primarily Open Source software. This was very important, because I saw it as a protection against the XO becoming a "Trojan Horse" for Microsoft and software marketing. Instead of a learning tool, I feared the XO would become a marketing tool for Microsoft and other software venders peddling their wares. This would be truly insulting and diminishing to the project and its intended beneficiaries.
So when Steve Jobs offered Negroponte Mac OS X on every XO laptop for free in 2005, it made me merry to entertain the possibility, but I completely understood and agreed with Negroponte's reasons for refusing. Imagine my horror when Negroponte and Microsoft announced they would be shipping Windows XP as an option on the XO laptops in 2008. In fact Walter Bender, the guy in charge of software on the XO left OLPC apparently over a related issue and founded the independent Sugar Labs non-profit foundation, since it seems they no longer shared the same vision.
Negroponte has expressed doubt over the practicality of a wholly Open-Source-based machine, and I do indeed recognize it as a challenge, as merely the act of playing a DVD requires non-free software (the XO laptops don't have DVD drives, but you get the idea). However, a bit of a "dirty" system with some proprietary or non-free software is immensely preferable to a fundamentally non-free one with some Open-Source parts. In this case, Mac OS X would have been preferable.