In case you’ve been living under a rock, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) group has been attempting to make a cheap (read: cost effective) laptop. This laptop, though, is not for consumer benefit, but rather to support education in the third world. Some people have been wrongly criticizing the laptop for it’s poor performance, silly look, and lack of Windows. I am here to tell you why you should buy one!
$100 for $400? Why?!
The first thing you need to know about this laptop is that they did not reach their goal of making a laptop for $100. That was a lofty goal, and they fell short. Not to say that the result is not still impressive, it is $200. And you can buy one too, but if you want one it will probably cost you $400.
What? A 100% increase for the retail price? Not quite. The $400 will actually get you two laptops. They come in pairs. You only get one of them, however, the other gets donated to a third world country.
And yes, it’s tax deductible.
Features and nice touches
It has a lot of features that many people will be excited about. It is convertible into a tablet PC. Large stylus area. It’s sturdy. It has built in wireless, and a long battery life. There is a built in gamepad, audio, and webcam.
The most exciting features to me, though are completely built on open-source software, and the mesh network.
The entire OS is built from the ground up to be an intuitive GUI for kids. The interface is described like this by the OLPC team:
Beginning with Seymour Papert’s simple observation that children are knowledge workers like any adult, only more so, we decided they needed a user-interface tailored to their specific type of knowledge work: learning. So, working together with teams from Pentagram and Red Hat, we created SUGAR, a “zoom” interface that graphically captures their world of fellow learners and teachers as collaborators, emphasizing the connections within the community, among people, and their activities.
The mesh network is the real heart and soul of this laptop. The idea is basically peer-to-peer connections between laptops in a sort of local wireless network. You can see nearby laptops, and what they are doing. If one of these laptops on the mesh network has an internet connection, it can share that connection among the others. This feature has the most potential of incredible use than any I have described so far.
One other use of the mesh network is the ability to share custom programs with other users. Each program (most programs anyway) on the OLPC laptop can be altered in true open-source fashion. The source code is visible with the touch of a button, and the kids can alter it all they want. There is also a “restore” option for the laptop that will probably be used many times, to fix any mistakes they make when coding.
The mesh network is like a social networking tool. You can see what your friends are up to and share ideas. The educational uses alone are astounding. The teacher will be able to read papers as students write them so he or she can better tailor their class on the fly.
The video camera will also be useful for teachers to send home notes to the parents. Many parents in third world countries may be illiterate, and a video recording would potentially help them get more involved in school.
Overall, it’s easy to see the raw stats:
433 MhZ processor, an ISA port (wow!), 256MB DRAM, a gig of memory total, etc.
It has a very childish look, big bubbly plastic, antenna, and a super simple interface.
This is more than enough to turn most people off. But if you can look below the surface you will find an innovative machine, and a humanitarian one at that.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin.
Email me, or leave a comment below!