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OLPC to dual-boot XP, face competition

By   |  January 10, 2008

The One Laptop Per Child project, which aims to deliver low-cost laptops to children in developing countries, has begun the year with a flurry of media coverage, but not all of it is as positive as the non-profit organisation would like.

OLPC has received recent criticism from the open source community for its decision to dual-boot the machines with Windows XP as well as the version of Fedora Linux which it has been shipping with so far. In addition to this, the project may face fresh competition from a former founding member who plans to undercut the OLPC and produce a similar machine for only $75.

Launched in 2005, the project originally aimed to produce a laptop that could be bought for just $100. Since then the cost has almost doubled due to rising production costs.

The organisation’s chief technical officer, Mary Lou Jepson, departed about two weeks ago and has since launched a new venture that aims to produce a similar machine for just $75.

Writing on her company website, Pixel Qi, she says that the key to extending computer access beyond the current 1 billion mark lies in a “new generation of low-cost, low power, durable, networked computers, leveraging open-design principles”.

The New York Times reported that her departure sparked a debate between critics accusing her of taking advantage of OLPC’s nonprofit inventions for personal gains and supporters claiming it was the right time for her to leave a sinking ship.

IDG News Service yesterday reported the OLPC chairman, Nicholas Negroponte, as saying “We are working with them [Microsoft] very closely to make a dual-boot system so that, like on an Apple, you can boot either one up. The version that’s up and running of Windows on the XO is very fast, it’s very, very successful. We’re working very hard to do both.”

Crediting Microsoft’s, ahem, “friendlier” attitude towards open source, Negroponte added: “And that really helps, because it’s become a little bit less religious than it was a few years ago and that’s really good. In the end, I think, the more people that have software and hardware out there, the better.”

While Negroponte may view this as a positive, opposing views abound, with reporting that reactions on the OLPC developers channel on “ranged from shock to anger, with one developer saying that it is ‘utter crap, and is exactly the opposite of why I support this project.'”

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3 Responses to “OLPC to dual-boot XP, face competition”

  1. Kyle Williams
    January 10th, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

    I must say, I’m also really upset at the decision by OLPC to support the Microsoft operating system. It’s clearly an attempt by Microsoft to secure their position in developing nations, and is completely against the spirit of openness and sharing.

    It mirrors the situation in South African schools in which Microsoft sells the schools licenses at a reduced rate. Effectively they’re ensnaring students and forcing them, for the sake of “productivity”, to continue using proprietary software and pay exorbitant licensing fees in the future.

    It’s obvious why the OLPC developers are upset, I would be too if I supported a project which I believed to hold certain values, which were then changed.

    I wonder what the particulars of the OLPC-Microsoft contract are…slightly suspicious wouldn’t you say?

  2. Morgan Collett
    January 12th, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

    There’s a lot of FUD-flinging going on at the moment. Neither of these issues are true: Dual booting, competition.

    Firstly, see Ivan Krstic’s description of the Windows port to the XO at (He is the head of security at OLPC so take that as reliable.)

    OLPC are not promoting Windows on the XO at all, but rather ensuring it is an open platform.

    Secondly, Mary Lou Jepsen gave all her patents to OLPC and is licencing them back to get the same technology (like the dual-mode screen) into more products, which will lead to greater volumes and hence a drop in price for OLPC’s manufacturing. She’s not competing with OLPC at all. See this groklaw interview:

  3. David Haas
    January 15th, 2008 @ 2:48 am

    When I gave the OLPC project $200 a few months ago, here is what their Web site said about their committement to open source software:
    “XO is built from free and open-source software. Our commitment to software freedom gives children the opportunity to use their laptops on their own terms. While we do not expect every child to become a programmer, we do not want any ceiling imposed on those children who choose to modify their machines. We are using open-document formats for much the same reason: transparency is empowering. The children—and their teachers—will have the freedom to reshape, reinvent, and reapply their software, hardware, and content.”

    This statement remains in place. With Windows, the project is no longer what is was, and Negroponte no longer has my respect.

    David Haas, Fayetteville, NY USA

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