OLPC Sadness

Free Software Add comments

I like the OLPC XO-1. It’s a quite little machine, it doesn’t have venting holes, and is quite resistant to dust and water. It’s also strong, and handles small falls (like falling from a desk to a floor) very well. I also like the amount of effort they have put into creating the custom Sugar interface, and all the other things around it like the mesh networking support and the way that a user can find other users close to them.

I think the project has taken a turn for the worse though. Nicolas Negreponte, founder of the OLPC project, is pushing the project for the XO-1 to use Microsoft Windows, and they have lost top staff like Walter Bender, who was also one of the top open source guys in the company. Negreponte claims that his interest is to get the machines in as many children’s hands as possible, this article also says:

He lamented that an overriding insistence on open-source had hampered the XOs, saying Sugar “grew amorphously” and “didn’t have a software architect who did it in a crisp way.” For instance, the laptops do not support Flash animation, widely used on the Web.

“There are several examples like that, that we have to address without worrying about the fundamentalism in some of the open-source community,” he said. “One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist.”

Personally, I think that getting the laptops in the hands of kids in an irresponsable manner can do more harm than good. I previously blogged about Microsoft trying to force their old software on users, and this isn’t too much different. Microsoft is already reportedly releasing the next version of Windows next year. This means that by the time many of these XO laptops running Windows get to their target users, it would be an 8 year old operating system that’s already two releases behind the newest. I think this is terribly cruel, and shouldn’t be allowed. If I was a project donor, I would rather pay a bit more for decent hardware like the ASUS Eee or Intel Classmate PC (or even a Classmate 2) and run a modern, supported, localised operating system that truly benefits the users, instead of providing a legacy operating system on slow hardware.

8 Responses to “OLPC Sadness”

  1. Christer Edwards Says:

    The OLPC project seems like a failure to me at this point, and with all this drama I’m very likely to get rid of my OLPC altogether. I got it early and never use it, and with all this drama I don’t think I really want to be a part of it anymore.

  2. Simone Says:

    Asking Adobe the license for releasing Flash equipped XO isn’t more simple?

  3. Mike Says:

    I believe I understand your point about getting new software to the hands of these kids. But I disagree that they need the coolest, best fastest OS that the word has to offer today.

    In my world of OLPC, the point of these laptops isn’t to allow kids to be full fledged programmers. Its the first step to getting them the next level of education that they don’t currently have today. There is no doubt that there are hundreds of great programmers out there that have these little machines. My hope in the project is that they see what programming is, find its fun and be able to use that energy to get a decent job either in their town, or move and be able to support there families back home.

    That said, does it really matter that the machines runs Windows or Linux. I agree MS is great at pushing their weight around, and I would love to see Linux grow more. Teaching these kids Linux from the get-go is one big way to help this. However, this shouldn’t be at the cost of the children, the main goal.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think OLPC is doing as well as many have hoped. If MS is willing to step in and keep the project moving at a good pace, we must be willing to take the good with the bad.

  4. Karol Krizka Says:

    I wonder how their success will continue if they switch to Windows. I think one of the main reasons they are at the point they are now is their use of open source. There are many people blogging about it (and buying it during the “donate a laptop” period) just because it runs Linux. Get rid of Linux and I think it will just become another of the many unknown projects backed by a single company that just gets mentioned at any of the “third world our reach program project bids”.

  5. Gustav Bertram Says:

    Why not make the machine dual boot? Curious kids will experiment.

    But what I really want to know, is what happened to the South African government’s pledge to buy 2 million of these laptops? Near the start of the OLPC project it was on the web page. Later on, it silently vanished.

  6. Peteris Krisjanis Says:

    Don’t give up hope on OLPC yet. First, NN has rather big mouth and he frequently have made statements which has nothing to do with truth. Yes, it is stupid, but it is how NN talks. He needs some really good PR manager to handle this.

    Second, for reality, there is seriously little chance that there will be working XP for XO till next year. It means all sales which goes on today will be Sugar on Linux never the less. It also will give time for open source guys in project to convince everyone that their way is right one.

    And of course, Sugar is free source and will be never stopped. I see this year Sugar will be adopted for lot of other small machines.

    Third, I think Microsoft actually have different aim here - and that worries me. I think Microsoft plays fool with NN, promising things they will never deliver AND they plan to copy XO and Sugar and try to provide their own version - and then send a NN a nice “fuck you”.

    So, I think, instead of leaving project, we must make pressure to all involved persons to prove that Sugar is the way, Linux is the way, Windows port is wasting time and Microsoft just wants to fool around, without any serious intends.

    Btw, Walter plans to lead Sugar so I think it is quite natural. Will OLPC go together with it or not - let us see then.

  7. Dominic White Says:


    I like your warning, but in reality it does nothing to address NN’s point. He needs a meaningful way to enable Sugar to be developed following standard SDLC models, with proper requirements from the OLPC and proper design/implementation to meet them. Surely the OSS community can step up to such a challenge.

  8. jonathan Says:

    RMS speaks out: http://www.fsf.org/blogs/rms/can-we-rescue-olpc-from-windows/blogentry_view

Leave a Reply

WP Theme & Icons by N.Design Studio. This Site has SuperCow Powers.
Entries RSS Comments RSS Log in