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Madog cautions SA against one laptop per child project

By   |  May 17, 2006

MIT’s “$100-dollar laptop” has created a huge buzz, but does it make sense for the developing world? Linux International executive director, Jon “Maddog” Hall, offered an alternative for South Africans at LinuxWorld Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Hall told delegates at the tech conference that although the One Laptop per Child initiative – which aims to provide children with $100 laptops – meant well, it may not suit countries like South Africa. A better option could be refurbishing old computers and loading free and open source software onto them.

“Now I’m not saying it is a bad project, but I have alternative for you,” he said. “If some of the banks, financial institutions, engineering organisations [etc], decided that they, when they upgrade their computer systems, were going to allow them to be taken apart, refurbished and put back together, and employ people in South Africa to do that and then sell them for $100 a piece, you might find that will generate a huge number of jobs for people and the money will stay inside of South Africa.

“I’m not saying that the One Laptop per Child project is bad; what I’m saying is that you should think about where the money is going to be going, because I can almost guarantee you that the money for those laptops will not stay here in South Africa.”

Hall said last year South Africa spent R3-billion in software royalties to companies outside of South Africa. “R3-billion that could have been spent inside of South Africa generating jobs,” he said, “and the thing is, when you keep that money inside of South Africa, that money generates more jobs, which generates demand for more software, which generates demand for more jobs.

“But once it leaves South Africa, it’s pretty much gone. I don’t think Bill Gates wears that much gold,” he remarked.

Hall said the answer was open source software development, which enables local programmers to modify software to the needs of paying business customers.

“How many of you have had to change the way you do business because of the software?” Hall asked delegates, nearly all of whom raised their hands. “All of a sudden you have the software telling you the way you should be running your business.”

Although theoretically proprietary firms should respond to their client’s needs, Hall said they usually only make changes to their code if it makes “business sense” for them. “Is your name General Motors; Ford or the U.S. Military?” he asked.

He also noted that people in developing countries like China are unable to afford $600 Microsoft Office packages. “If I was in the same boat, I would put a black patch on and say ‘Ay Ay, Matey’.”


2 Responses to “Madog cautions SA against one laptop per child project”

  1. Wayne Kitching
    May 26th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Not to be a spelling Nazi, but please check the spelling if headlines as well.I see that maddog was polite enough not to mention the fact that his nickname was spelled incorrectly.

    BTW, personally I would buy a $100 laptop, even at $300.Can\’t someone organise bulk shipping for South Africans who want to buy these laptops?

  2. David Fraser
    August 4th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    I think this is somewhat misguided…

    These laptops are produced with open source software. Rather get people engaged in the open source development process, and maybe even with hardware development / production.

    When something is an enabling device, it\’s silly to demand that it be done here.

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