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Saturday, January 12, 2008

OLPC America plans distributing low-cost laptops to needy students in USA

One Laptop Per Child Project Extends to American Students

OLPC America plans to combat digital divide by distributing low-cost laptops to needy students in the U.S.

The One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) plans to launch OLPC in 2008 to distribute the low-cost laptop computers originally aimed at developing nations to needy students in the United States.

The group, which was formed in the U.S. by teachers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), came under criticism shortly after forming because its original mission did not include the U.S.

Originally, the aim of OLPC was to develop a $100 laptop for kids in poor nations to ensure they don't miss out on the benefits of computing, and to make sure developing countries don't fall further and further behind modern nations due to their inability to buy computers, a conundrum commonly referred to as the digital divide.

OLPC America already has a director and a chairman, and will likely be based in Washington D.C., said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of OLPC, in an interview.

"The whole thing is merging right now. It will be state-centric. We're trying to do it through the 50 state governments," he said.

The decision to launch OLPC America came about due to three considerations.

"For one thing, we are doing something patriotic, if you will, after all we are and there are poor children in America. The second thing we're doing is building a critical mass. The numbers are going to go up, people will make more software, it will steer a larger development community," Negroponte said.

The third reason is educational, so that children in the U.S. communicate with kids in developing nations and expand their horizons.

The reason OLPC had not included the U.S. in its low-cost laptop program was because of the huge difference in need, Negroponte said. In the U.S., people spend US$10,000 per year per child in primary education, but in Bangladesh, a developing country, they spend $20. It's a huge difference, and many people in the U.S. can afford more expensive laptop PCs for their kids anyway, he noted.

But although the U.S. was not the focus of OLPC in the beginning, it has always been in the plans.

"To have the United Sates be the only country that's not in the OLPC agenda would be kind of ridiculous," Negroponte said.

OLPC Considering 'Give One, Get One' Offer in Europe

Europeans interested in the One Laptop Per Child Project's XO laptop may soon have the chance through a similar to one offered in North America last year.
Europeans interested in the One Laptop Per Child Project's XO laptop may soon have the chance through a "give one, get one" offer similar to that offered in North America last year.

"At some point we might do it in Europe," said Walter Bender, OLPC's president, in an interview Friday.

Under the "give one, get one" program offered in Canada and the U.S., customers could buy an XO laptop for $400 and a second XO laptop would be donated to a developing country. Each XO laptop currently costs around $188.

OLPC hasn't yet made the offer available in Europe because the XO has not received the necessary certifications to be sold there. "We haven't finished all that stuff, so we couldn't do it in Europe yet," Bender said.

Whether or not OLPC does make the XO available in Europe remains to be determined, and such an offer remains under consideration. "We may or may not do it," Bender said

From OLPC's perspective, the "give one, get one" offer helped large numbers of people in North America get involved with the group's efforts to bring computing to children in developing countries, Bender said.

"A lot of people [are] jumping in to the software, to learning and to support. ...That's what I was hoping Intel would do, but they didn't. The public is doing it instead," he said, referring to Intel's acrimonious departure last week from OLPC's board of directors.

OLPC has so far shipped around 50,000 XO laptops to North American customers under the "give one, get one" program, and more remain to be shipped, Bender said. The number of customers who ordered laptops under the program was not immediately available, but as many as 150,000 units may have been donated through the program.

OLPC and Microsoft Working On New XO Laptop
According to reports, the One Laptop Per Child project is working with Microsoft to create a new version of the XO laptop that would be able to boot Linux, which is the current operating system, as well as Windows.

The two companies are working together to try to create an environment on the OLPC XO laptop that would allow users to have a choice and either boot Linux or Windows. They would be able to choose so that they could better run the applications which they need at any given time. Nick Negroponte of the OLPC project made the announcement on Wednesday that they are working with the software giant Microsoft.

The OLPC is hoping that this partnership with Microsoft will put them ahead of Intel’s rival budget laptop, the Classmate which runs both Linux or Windows. It does so though in a way that is not dual-boot.

Microsoft and the OLPC have been in talks for months but nothing concrete has come out of the talks for the XO laptop as of yet. This is not likely to replace the current XO laptop, but instead put two different models of the laptop out to the world.

This comes just one week after the OLPC and Intel split ways due to Intel’s commitment to the rival Classmate PC.

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