Nicholas Negroponte calls the OLPC "an education project, not a laptop project" (though the new CEO would disagree). The question is, are those two goals incompatible?
Ray Fisman in Slate argues yes. In an article last week, "The $100 Distraction Device", he wrote about a Romanian program that gave vouchers for a computer to families with income under $17. The results?
Children in families that received a voucher spent 3.5 fewer hours in front of the tube [television] per week. But computer use also crowded out homework (2.3 hours less per week), reading, and sleep. Less schoolwork translated into lower grades at school--vouchered kids' GPAs were 0.36 grade points lower than their nonvouchered counterparts--and also lower aspirations for higher education.This sounds precisely the opposite of the goal of the One Laptop per Child program. Granted, the Romanian program has some significant differences from the OLPC's mission.
First off, OLPC does more than just give kids a computer. It pushes to integrate the laptop into classroom learning. By integrating community involvement into the program, they allow for the students to be steered towards more productive endeavors and ones that relate to their studies. As Fisman notes, "...their [the computers] usefulness relies on parents being around to assure they don't simply become a very tempting distraction from the unpleasantness of trigonometry homework."
Furthermore, the Sugar user interface allows for greater control over what can be done with the system. The programs being created for it (with the possible exception of Doom) are designed to help children create, explore, wonder, strategize, and learn.
This is why I fear that some the unique educational potential of OLPC will be lost with the conversion to Windows. The platform, and, at least as important, development community, would no longer be so focused on programs that were created for learning and thereby lose the strongest advantage the OLPC had. For all its issues, Sugar is an amazing endeavor.
What I would find to be a more interesting study would be compare the progress of students who receive the Sugar XOs versus those who receive the Windows versions.