Bridging the technology gap – Microsoft joins OLPC project

One Laptop Per Child is a non-profit organization, founded by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte, which make inexpensive laptops to be used by children in developing countries. They aimed at developing a $100 laptop to bring technology and education to poor children. So far, more than 300,000 XO laptops are used by children in developing countries who now can access the Internet, explore the laptop’s features for education as well as for pleasure and communicate with each other using the integrated mobile ad-hoc network mesh. 

The OLPC received a lot of attention for the innovative design of the XO laptop which is robust, functional and stylish at the same time. So far, one of their principles has been using free and open source software. The laptops run with Linux. Despite all efforts and the support from companies like AMD, Google, eBay and Nortel; OLPC failed to provide a laptop for $100 and had to increase its price up to $187.

Recently, Microsoft announced to make Windows XP available for $3 in developing countries and to make the OLPC laptop able to run both – Linux and Windows XP. However, Microsoft’s joining didn’t go down well with everyone in the OLPC team. Therefore, two key employees left OLPC.

Next to Microsoft’s involvement, OLPC received a lot of criticism from the tech industry, because they fear that the XO laptop could cause a sharp decline in prices, and also from foreign aid experts which argue that it’s stupid to ask poor people in developing countries to spend more than $100 on a computer rather than on food, books or clothes.

On the other hand, the “Give One Get One” program allowed North Americans to buy one XO laptop for themselves and to donate another one to a kid in the developing world for $400 altogether.

The OLPC inspired competitors to come up with their own low-cost laptops for developing countries. Intel began to work on its “Classmate” after leaving the OLPC after accusations of stealing business from the project and ASUS came up with the Eee-ase which also uses Intel chips and costs $199. In contrast to the XO, the Eee-ase is designed to be desirable for users everywhere around the globe as an Ultra Mobile PC.

Whether the money could be better used for something else is contentious, but enabling kids from Third World countries to access the Internet is definitiely a huge step forward as regards education and computer skills are beneficial in every respect.


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