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Why OLPC Struggles Against Educators, Big Business 261

Posted by Soulskill
from the santa-is-not-a-capitalist dept.
afabbro writes "The current issue of BusinessWeek has an expansive article of the history of OLPC and why it has, to date, been a flop. Among the reasons: no preparation for the educational systems expected to use it, uncertain pedagogical theories, poor business management, competition from Microsoft/Intel, and no input from education professionals in designing the software. As BusinessWeek quotes one educational expert, 'The hackers took over,' and the applications are too complex for children to use. To date, 370,000 laptops have been shipped — a far cry from the original 150 million planned to be shipped by end of 2008."
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Why OLPC Struggles Against Educators, Big Business

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  • In the book "The IBM Way" i read something along the following lines: we must control change, or change will control us.
    • Yeah, that's true. But like in any form of hacking, before changing things, you should find out how the system already works. I'm just a tiny little educational publisher but even I have made the time to put my products in front of appropriate users at every major step towards version 1.0, and then in front of teachers as that day came closer.

      I really want the OLPC project to succeed, though the switch to a Microsoft OS as a standard install (note: NOT MANDATORY, ONLY STANDARD) has dimmed my enthusiasm som

  • by zappepcs (820751) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:01PM (#23783879) Journal
    I think the intent of the OLPC is good, and there are tangential benefits to such a program, however I think this justifies all the people that in the beginning asked one simple question: Why?

    If you have a better way to build a mousetrap, build it and see if people will buy it. Trying to tell them they need it before you build one is ... well, not how things work really.
    • by smilindog2000 (907665) <bill@billrocks.org> on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:33PM (#23784339) Homepage
      I think that OLPC has already been a technology success, and it will change the world, just not the way Negroponte envisioned. Microsoft, Dell, and Intel ignored the under $400 PC market for years. It doesn't make financial sense for them to take the last $70 each makes per machine and cut it to $15. The event of the $200 PC (like like the gOS PC [everex.com] would have been delayed for years if not for OLPC.

      With charitable motives rather than financial, OLPC created the next generation machine for the next 2 billion users. The Aus EEE PC and competitors all copied the low BOM of the OLPC, and now target the billions of people world wide who can't afford a Wintel machine from Dell. It's the next big wave in computing, and OLPC led the way.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Enderandrew (866215)
        I agree. I think OLPC missed the mark just a little bit. The concept and design is pretty good, but the OS is a bit limited. Storage is limited. Memory is limited. And yet they went over their target price of $100.

        Frankly, as prices continue to go down, they should aim to improve their current model with slightly better specs and have two models. Ship a beefier $200 model, and try to get the current model down to $100.

        And even though only 370,000 have shipped to date, many of those are smaller trials
    • by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:51PM (#23784609) Homepage
      I think the intent of the OLPC is good...

      Unfortunately, most discussions about charitable undertakings end there. Projects like OLPC make people FEEL like they are making a difference, regardless of whether or not any measurable long term benefit is actually being achieved.

      Just look at the trillions of dollars that have been flushed down the proverbial toilets of many developing and third-world countries. Certainly the intent of such aid is noble, but what has it accomplished besides distracting us from the factors that prevent real change from happening?

      I know that asking such questions often makes one a pariah in the eyes of narcissists more interested in self-gratification than actually helping people who need it. But when are people going to realize that sending money or goods to countries ruled by corrupt governments only benefits the corrupt governments?
      • by stranger_to_himself (1132241) on Friday June 13, 2008 @06:24PM (#23785931) Journal

        I think the intent of the OLPC is good... Just look at the trillions of dollars that have been flushed down the proverbial toilets of many developing and third-world countries. Certainly the intent of such aid is noble, but what has it accomplished besides distracting us from the factors that prevent real change from happening? I know that asking such questions often makes one a pariah in the eyes of narcissists more interested in self-gratification than actually helping people who need it. But when are people going to realize that sending money or goods to countries ruled by corrupt governments only benefits the corrupt governments?

        People do realise this, but it is very hard to get money to the right people, even if you can find them. Politically the World Health Organisation and the World Bank cant just ignore ministries, however corrupt they think they are. That's not to say they aren't trying.

        It's also very hard to measure the successes, since we have no baseline or no indication of what would happen if there was no aid or no intervention. It's very easy to interpret our failures to completely fix problems as a failure to make any positive difference, especially since when a situation does get resolved it stops being news. You are right that good intentions plus money does not necessarily equal success, but a lot of good is done.

        Since we in the West have got wealthier our perception of what is poverty has also moved upwards. Attempting to lift an entire continent out of a state it has essentially always been in is a task of unprecedented difficulty and will never be fully achieved, since our goalposts will continually move further and further away, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

        Having said that the OLPC project does not seem to have been very well thought out, but a lot of the ideas, especially that of empowering the children of poorer nations, are sound. It's got people thinking in the right direction, and as others have pointed out has prompted the development of similar commercial products.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fbjon (692006)
        An important point IMHO is that the OLPC isn't just for poor countries with corrupt governments.


        Now, the OLPC may or may not achieve major success and impact, but the concept seems sound and good, and deserves a second try if the first one doesn't succeed. As long as the second try is absent of monopolisation.

    • by tucuxi (1146347) on Friday June 13, 2008 @05:17PM (#23784943)

      The /why/ is curiosity. Kids have lots of it, but you tend to lose it over time as they get slapped in the hand and get told by adults to get serious. There's no telling to the number of great engineers (or doctors, or artists, or what-have-you) that we missed out due to stifled curiosity.

      If you have a better way to build a mousetrap, build it and see if people will buy it. Trying to tell them they need it before you build one is ... well, not how things work really.

      The OLPC offers unlimited tinkering and very deep and broad educational (education as in building mental models of things and learning to learn, not as in rote memorization) experience for kids, and can help them learn to read and write and communicate and explore the 'net. It is not "a better mousetrap" - there was no mousetrap before, unless you are referring to the school itself as the mousetrap. And OLPC does not intend to displace schools.

      Ok, the business model may not be too sound (but the entry of the ClassMate and 3$ Microsoft software bundles can be seen as partial successes - if the goal is affordable computing to 3rd world kids, things look much brighter than a few years ago). Yes, Negroponte is not a finance magician, and I guess he has learnt the hard way that large corporations do not always place developing nations before shareholder value - that's what PR is for, anyway.

      • The /why/ is curiosity. Kids have lots of it, but you tend to lose it over time as they get slapped in the hand and get told by adults to get serious. There's no telling to the number of great engineers (or doctors, or artists, or what-have-you) that we missed out due to stifled curiosity.

        On the other hand, I find it much more likely that we have gained engineers (and doctors and artists and what-have-you) because the kids did get serious. Those professions require more than simple curiosity, they also re

        • by EggyToast (858951)
          Exactly. Any parent knows that for a kid, the kid's question after "Why?" is just "Why?" again. An engineer will ask "why" and, when they get the answer, think "interesting" and add it to their pool of knowledge, looking for an application.

          Or to chop it down to something more memorable, the kid asks "why" and follows with "why". The engineer asks "why" and follows with "how?"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      If you have a better way to build a mousetrap, build it and see if people will buy it. Trying to tell them they need it before you build one is ... well, not how things work really.

      You've dismissed the entire advertising & marketing industries in two sentences.

      There are plenty of business models built upon hyping a crappy 'mousetrap' and milking it for as much as you can. You've experienced this every time you've gone to a bad movie that had a well edited movie trailer & splashy ad campaign.

    • by weg (196564)
      Trying to tell them they need it before you build one is ... well, not how things work really.

      That's exactly how things work in academia and research (i.e., apply for funding before you even start working).
  • distribution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by trybywrench (584843) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:04PM (#23783931)
    As soon as i read that article a while back about the guy who complained there wasn't a decent distribution system in place I knew it was doomed.

    Hackers like to think they can do everyone's job better even if it way out of their scope. I guess that's the difference between hackers and engineers, engineers understand that it takes managers, PHB's, marketing, sales, and production staff to make it work. Hackers think it just takes code.
    • by clang_jangle (975789) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:26PM (#23784233) Journal

      Hackers like to think they can do everyone's job better even if it way out of their scope.


      That's because in theory, we can. :P
      • Hackers like to think they can do everyone's job better even if it way out of their scope.
        That's because in theory, we can. :P
        typical ego, not unlike what OLPC is suffering through
      • That's because in theory, we can. :P

        In theory, theory and practice are the same.

        In practice...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As soon as i read that article a while back about the guy who complained there wasn't a decent distribution system in place I knew it was doomed[...]Hackers think it just takes code.

      Not to push the point, but the guy you are talking about is Ivan Krstic, one of the OLPC hackers, and he was complaining about the failure of the project's administration to put a distribution system in place. Which shows the hackers wanted the project to succeed as much as anyone and were under no illusions that code would fix everything. Blaming the hackers for a lack of a distribution system is silly.

    • by mkcmkc (197982) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:40PM (#23784467)

      Hackers like to think they can do everyone's job better even if it way out of their scope. I guess that's the difference between hackers and engineers, engineers understand that it takes managers, PHB's, marketing, sales, and production staff to make it work. Hackers think it just takes code.

      I have news: Everyone thinks they can do it all.

      Since you mention engineers, I'll start with them. I've seen a lot of code written by engineers, and it's been uniformly horrid. Many schools still teach FORTRAN as their first/main language. Good god.

      I see a lot of code written by scientists. Not one would think of letting an untrained programmer run their wet lab assays, but they think nothing of having graduate biologists write their programs. Guess what, it's even worse than engineer code!

      In an ideal world, we'd all farm out the stuff we're not good at to people trained to do it. I'm not holding my breath...

      • In an ideal world, we'd all farm out the stuff we're not good at to people trained to do it. I'm not holding my breath...
        I agree to an extent but no profession is an island. You're going to have to involve people who are specialized in what you aren't to make a project happen. I think anyone be it engineer, businessman, marketer, or sales rep or whoever that is really good at what they do understands that.
    • by Kohath (38547)

      engineers understand that it takes managers, PHB's, marketing, sales, and production staff to make it work
      Can you just build those things out of stuff you keep in your workshop?
    • by Fozzyuw (950608)

      engineers understand that it takes managers, PHB's, marketing, sales, and production staff to make it work.

      A Players Hand Book? Those are my kind of engineers! What about Monster Manuals and Dungeon Master Guides?

  • by rah1420 (234198) <rah1420@gmail.com> on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:05PM (#23783941)
    If you let the IT folk articulate the business process, you're going to get the same exact thing. That's why we have business analysts whose job it is, ostensibly, to figure out what the business people want and translate it into a swiss army knife that's going to be wildly popular and successful.

    To not involve educators in the requirements building phase of this was doomed to the same failure. The problem is that it is visible to more people, sad to say.
    • by Quadraginta (902985) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:36PM (#23784387)
      Speaking as one whose taught for years, your comment is insightful:

      To not involve educators in the requirements building phase of this was doomed to the same failure

      Part of the problem may have been that the folks running the show often were "educators" (professors and such), but not of their target audience. Teaching at the K-12 level is not at all the same as teaching undergraduates and graduates at MIT. They certainly should have brought in experienced actual teachers from the K-12 (or K-6) level they wanted to reach.

      But this comment from the summary is appallingly clueless or mendacious:

      Among the reasons [for failure]:...uncertain pedagogical theories...and no input from education professionals in designing the software.

      Anyone who has actually taught knows that "pedagogical theories" and "education professionals" (e.g. those who graduate with PhDs in education, as opposed to PhDs in the subject they teach) are worse than useless, that such things are responsible for half the time-wasting if not counter-productive garbage that clogs the educational system, total sidewalk-supervising theoretician castles-in-the-air bullshit.

      Indeed, I bet the OLPC people had some nifty "pedagogical theories" -- you might say the whole concept of the OLPC is a major pedagogical theory itself ("give them computers and they will learn!"). The problems the OLPC people are having ironically self-illustrate the uselessness of "pedagogical theories" constructed in the absence of pedagogical experience.
      • by jc42 (318812) on Friday June 13, 2008 @05:27PM (#23785093) Homepage Journal
        I bet the OLPC people had some nifty "pedagogical theories" -- you might say the whole concept of the OLPC is a major pedagogical theory itself ("give them computers and they will learn!").

        I'd agree with most of your comment except for the above parenthesized pseudo-quote.

        The OLPC crowd has made it clear from the start that their intent was never to provide kids with a computer. Their intent was to provide access to information. The computer was included simply because to most of the target population, the only possible access to good information requires a computer and a wireless network. We have centuries of experience saying that the traditional books just weren't making it; kids in underdeveloped areas typically don't have access to those in any meaningful sense. But the Internet can be made available at a cost that's orders of magnitude lower than building a local library in the local language and populating it with good books against the opposition of local rulers. So they were aiming at leveraging the Internet, via a wireless-only small computer, to give the kids access to real information.

        But you'll find all over in comments from the OLPC folks that the computer itself was never the primary goal. It's just a tool. The goal is access to information, something that the commercial and political systems show very little interest in providing. We might also note that the listed problems can mostly be summarized as the results of commercial and political opposition to providing their kids with such information.

        It's not terribly surprising that, with such a goal, the OLPC project might have a certain skepticism about involving education professionals except as occasional consultants. A personal anecdote: As a high-school in the 9th grade, I decided that math was interesting, so I started asking the math teachers if I could borrow their books. I'd read one, return it a few weeks or a month later, and ask for another. After a few months, I'd read all the texts for the school's courses, so I started asking if I could borrow their college texts. Each teacher flatly refused to let me read them. I "wasn't ready" for college stuff. I had some friends at a nearby college, so I started borrowing from them. This got my teachers very upset.

        Since then, I've mentioned this experience to a number of teachers, and every one of them has agreed that I "wasn't ready" for the advanced stuff. This was clearly nonsense, since I could understand the college texts. The theory that I developed, which I've seen a lot of support for since, is that the teachers were simply threatened by the loss of control from my going behind their backs and getting more information from other sources. This is a common problem with "educators" everywhere. They control what the kids are supposed to be learning, and they tend to clamp down on kids who try to avoid the controls and advance too quickly or into areas that the teachers don't understand.

        This was well before there was such a thing as personal computers, so it has nothing to do with computers. They might not say it too openly, but part of what the OLPC project has been aiming at is breaking the stranglehold of the local authorities, and give kids access to much better information than they've ever had. I'm not at all surprised that this should get "pushback" from the local authorities as well as the commercial world.

        And anyone who has ever seen any ads should understand that the commercial world is not interested in education. It is interested in persuasion, something very different. So we should especially expect pushback from commercial sources.

        (And my Firefox 3's spellchecker didn't like "pushback"; it suggested "pushcart" as the right spelling. ;-)

        • by jedidiah (1196)
          > Since then, I've mentioned this experience to a number of teachers, and every one of them has agreed that I "wasn't ready"
          > for the advanced stuff. This was clearly nonsense, since I could understand the college texts. The theory that I developed,
          > which I've seen a lot of support for since, is that the teachers were simply threatened by the loss of control from my going

          This is utter nonsense and the sort of thing I was ranting about in another post.

          In many other countries that college level mate
        • by westlake (615356)
          Their intent was to provide access to information. The computer was included simply because to most of the target population, the only possible access to good information requires a computer and a wireless network. We have centuries of experience saying that the traditional books just weren't making it; kids in underdeveloped areas typically don't have access to those in any meaningful sense

          Access to - good - information on the web demands basic literacy, a host of more advanced skills and a large store o

  • Just a suggestion, but maybe using 3rd world children to carry out jihad against the technology industry isn't a great plan.
     
  • by WaHooCrazy7 (1220464) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:10PM (#23784021)
    OLPC had a good mission when they wanted everything on the system to be fully open source, with simple point and click applications and the ability to view the source of any application. However then they got into talks with microsoft, and started to include some very complicated applications with their product, and their mission kind of went down the crapper
    • by KGIII (973947)
      I dare say that they were already screwed prior to the talks with Microsoft. I don't think that can really be attributed to things that took place before the agreement was even made public.
    • by westlake (615356)
      OLPC had a good mission when they wanted everything on the system to be fully open source, with simple point and click applications...then they got into talks with microsoft, and started to include some very complicated applications with their product, and their mission kind of went down the crapper

      The OLPC's mission went into the crapper for the same reasons The New Math went into the crapper:

      Whatever Happened To New Math? [americanheritage.com]

      The geek as cultural imperialist is his own worst enemy.

      The Classmate or XO runn

  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:10PM (#23784029)
    His teacher had told the class to search the Internet for information
          on the environment, but the boy was stumped. "I was trying, but I couldn't
          find anything,"

    What the boy didn't know, was the rest of his classmates *did* find something and
    the classroom immediately erupted in a resounding "RTFM!" in response, showing
    proof that children in developing nations can at least find Slashdot.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:14PM (#23784067)
    Who says it's a failure? Just because there aren't more people willing to donate a rather expensive bit of hardware during rough economic times doesn't mean the design is bad. There will be one geeky kid in each group who will figure it out and show the rest. As for input from education professionals, I can't imagine a more counterproductive thing to do.
    This article seems short of facts and long on assumptions.
    • by glop (181086) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:39PM (#23784447)
      I personally have an EEEPC and Asus explicitly credited the OLPC for the idea to make it.
      This seems like a great success to me:
        1) identify a need that the market is not addressing (cheap, simple, robust, networked machine)
        2) make one in a non-profit for 3rd world children
        3) convince all the industry that they need to emulate and best it
        4) let everybody enjoy the resulting products

      I really am thankful to the OLPC project for that.

      I also read cool things about the OLPC's music and sound tools in Linux Journal. It will probably be part of Fedora or Ubuntu I install on my EEE when I hand it down to my son.

      He will probably enjoy it a lot and that will be another OLPC success (albeit a modest one).

      You won't see me count the OLPC project as a failure any time soon. They really helped change the world.

  • by thermian (1267986) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:17PM (#23784103)
    Oh dear, it seems what we have here is yet another slide towards the desire to forget computings hacker origins.

    I was at a Microsoft presentation once where the speaker said Microsoft were not interested in hiring 'hackers', they wanted serious programmers. The concept didn't impress me then, and it doesn't now.

    Doing away with hackers will have the effect of homogenising the industry. Guess what tho, not every country thinks this way, some developing nations will look at the stagnant 'hacker free' computing industry and destroy it in a matter of years by producing more innovative products.

    I mean innovative in the real sense, not in the bland 'keynote speech soundbite' sense.

    • Doing away with hackers will have the effect of homogenising the industry. Guess what tho, not every country thinks this way, some developing nations will look at the stagnant 'hacker free' computing industry and destroy it in a matter of years by producing more innovative products.

      Making technological innovation happen is maybe 5% actual "innovation". It takes many people of many different specialties to actually put it all together and get it to society. An anti-gravity machine some hacker develops in his garage is absolutely positively useless unless they can get it to the population at large. Making that happen is just as hard and complex as the "innovation".

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by maxume (22995)
      I like your synergy and value delivery and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
    • Which explains disasters such as MFC, win16 and win32 and Vista.

      Hackers have roles designing operating systems and configuring complex projects.

      Good managers understand business demands and customer expectations.

      There needs to be both and not too much of one or the other. My old man would plan for over a month before his team woult write a single one line of code. A good project focuses on customer and corporate requirements and then designs the model of the application before any code is written.

      Today ever
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:27PM (#23784239)
    The most interesting thing is that the one non-critical voice mentioned in the article (the Peruvian schools using the laptops) is the only voice which seems to have actual experience using the laptops. That seems to me to be a very good sign that those who are shouting so loud aginst it are reading from Microsoft publicity briefings and not from reality. Negroponte's comment that he is acting like Greenpeace lying down with Exxon is kind of telling. If MS is the one responsible for making computers bad for education then working with them really is like working with the devil. Anything you do will be twisted againt you.
  • by Kohath (38547) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:33PM (#23784349)
    I think the reason is that the OLPC was always a solution in search of a problem. It started out as "lets make a cheap laptop".

    It didn't start out as someone going to schools and asking the people what they needed. It seems like the most reasonable course of action for a project like this is:

    1. Go to the schools and listen.
    2. If you still think that computers are the solution, bring some expensive ones into some places as a pilot project
    3. If that is proven, then remove functionality from the expensive ones until they operate like the cheap ones
    4. If they still prove useful then maybe decide to make the cheap ones

    Did this happen? If it did and the cheap ones worked in prototype form but not in their final form, then the OLPC's problems can probably be solved. If not, then it was probably doomed from the start.

    The "do something I think is cool and see if people like it" plan of action tends to lead to disappointment when people don't like it. The likelihood of disappointment is proportional to how cool you think the project is.

    If you donated $150 per child to each of these classrooms, would they automatically use the money for OLPC laptops? What if they could get real, full-scale laptops and support discounted to $150? Would they buy them? My guess is that the answer is no in most cases. They'd buy the things they need instead.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DesScorp (410532)

      "I think the reason is that the OLPC was always a solution in search of a problem. It started out as "lets make a cheap laptop"."

      And had that stayed the main focus, then perhaps the project would have been more successful. What the military calls "Mission Creep" ended up sinking an interesting, practical approach to making laptops more affordable.
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:35PM (#23784383) Homepage

    Educational software is hard to write. Really hard. Except for very well defined skills, like typing or flying an aircraft, most educational software doesn't help much.

    The OLPC should come with one or two really, really good applications for teaching reading or arithmetic, ones smart enough to self-adjust to the user's level and move them forward. That alone would justify the thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WeirdJohn (1170585)
      Most "Educational Software" is nothing of he kind. I've been involved in research on the topic on the past and basically there are 3 main things called "Educational Software":

      1) Testing Applications. These are no more than Electronic versions of the lists of exercises found in texts, with a little logic thrown in to mix up the questions, and maybe to direct the difficulty to how the kids answer the problems. These are just substitutes for paper - no constructivism involved, very little thinking required
  • Fuck them. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eddy (18759) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:36PM (#23784393) Homepage Journal

    >and the applications are too complex for children to use.

    That line makes me want to say 'fuck you'. The idiots here aren't the children nor the hackers, that much I'm sure of. If I could figure out the C64 [mostly] on my own in a world where there was no 'world wide web' at my fingertips, and adults would go 'compute-what?', I'm sure today's kids will do alright with these computers.

    I guess the upside is that even if this guy stood up before 100 children and told them the machine is too hard for them to use, if 99 of them would be naive enough to believe him, there would be that one kid thinking 'oh yeah? This is so on'.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sesshomaru (173381)

      I guess the upside is that even if this guy stood up before 100 children and told them the machine is too hard for them to use, if 99 of them would be naive enough to believe him, there would be that one kid thinking 'oh yeah? This is so on'.
      That's the child that Business Week fears, and feels a need to suppress.
    • by kjart (941720)

      I'm guessing that the issue is not that the applications are too complex for a child to use, but rather for all children to use. Sure, you figured out the C64 on your own as a child, but could every other child that you went to school with have done the same thing?

      I think this is the perspective lacking for a lot of people who have posted on OLPC stories. It is easy for us to get excited and think "what child wouldn't want one of these? A laptop to hack away on is exactly what I would've wanted!". The rea

    • by westlake (615356)
      If I could figure out the C64 [mostly] on my own in a world where there was no 'world wide web' at my fingertips

      There were magazines like Creative Computing and Compute! which could be found in any drugstore. There was the BBS. There was public broadcasting, with programs like Canada's "Bits and Bytes."

      The middle class kid never needed the web to get started in computing.

  • by greenfield (226319) <samg+slashdot@unhinged.org> on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:38PM (#23784419) Homepage
    Check out the non-print version [businessweek.com] if you would like to see photos of the XO laptop. Of course, while you will also have advertisements, the content is nicely formatted for the screen.

    I often wonder why Slashdot posts links to a version of the article formatted for printing rather than the main article.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Angry Rooster (972166)
      "I often wonder why Slashdot posts links to a version of the article formatted for printing rather than the main article." Because any time they link to the main article, everyone complains that they should link to the print version to avoid ads and multi-page crappiness. - Rooster
  • by bugs2squash (1132591) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:41PM (#23784475)
    I have an XO - It has lots of flaws.

    But my son loves it, he's 6 and he loves playing sim city, even when I point out that his city has zero population and he clearly does not know what tax is. He will learn about taxes all too soon and in the mean time, he will learn about computing organically. I'm pleased that he has a chance to do so without being force fed "only one way to do things".

    And I'm sure the kid who thought the internet was inside the OLPC has learned a lot through having an XO too.

    Would there even be a classmate PC if not for XO. Would classmate have been as good as it is if XO and the new OLPC had not pointed the way for how all of these devices could be better. Will the next generation of XO and classmate and ee-whatever be better yet next time around. YBY sweet fat A.

    Seems to me that Negroponte has achieved a great deal, and I suspect that there's a lot more to come and that the children are the winners.

    I and many believe firmly that widespread education is a dire need as well as sustenance, and that the former could help provide the latter in years to come.

    I wouldn't write Negroponte or OLPC off yet, the OLPC foundation (and the Intel classmate team, for what they do) has my sincere thanks.
  • by presidenteloco (659168) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:42PM (#23784487)
    I've reviewed the details of the Sugar UI and the apps that come with Sugar, and I was struck by the fact that every effort has been made to make the operation of the programs simple and intuitive. There's clearly a lot of usability design in there.

    I think the problem is that the OS UI, and the Apps, are new and different. I think the adults evaluating this are stuck in old ways of thinking. They learned computers on Windows, and Windows and Windows app ui conventions are just how it should be, dammit. Anything else is scary and complex, from their solidified-brain perspective.

    People aren't willing to give something new (and yes, pretty much objectively better) a chance.

    It's the old "we haven't changed anything, and we're not dead yet, so why change something now"
    conservative viewpoint.
  • by John Jamieson (890438) on Friday June 13, 2008 @05:00PM (#23784725)
    The work by "Hackers" was a huge success. Take a look at the number of UMPC's that will ship in the next 3 years. Tens or hundreds of Millions.
    Yep, the work they dreamed up will sweep the world in ways they did not envision.

    As far as the "failure" of the OLPC to sell in the millions.
    1. A lot of money was being spent by MS and Intel to sink it.
    2. It is hard to get $$$ out of many third world countries without graft.
    3. It is hard to scale up the distribution and services side of an organization. 0-150 million in a few years is almost impossible on a shoestring budget.

    Then, these problems are compounded by the unwillingness to gain volume by selling at retail. Then, they tick off the hardest core supporters by embracing MS.

    Yep, this thing will tank.
    • Sorry about continuing my post this way.

      Yes, I believe the OLPC will tank(the product as it exists today), but most of the good will last.

      Because the hackers have created this new segment, we will see the cost of components drop lower in the LONG term than even the OLPC project could have done alone.

      Because of this new segment, Linux will develop at a faster rate. Bringing additional benefits to the "have not" population that can not afford MS Tools.
  • Why the surprise? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Friday June 13, 2008 @06:00PM (#23785631) Homepage Journal
    I don't know why people are surprised. Failure is the norm for utopian pipe dreams, not the exception. Had any significant number of these machines made it to the third world, things would have been even worse. Graft, theft, and the blackmarket would rule the day.

    Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but I always saw this project as a rather hare-brained attempt at making MIT significant again the way it had been in it's Project Athena glory years. It's not so much that Negroponte failed to delivery a solution for a given problem, as much as MIT developed a solution no one asked for or wanted.
  • care for the 1,826 million children (I have included all of them for simplicity) in the world under the age of fifteen. 150 for each child per annum, the UN could foot the $273,900,000,000 bill from the world gdp of $ 65,610,000,000,000 and still have loads of change. Or perhaps they all really do need a green plastic computer?
    We could ask them.
  • the article stated:
    "In Luquia, Justo Miguel ComÃn, a fifth-grader who is the youngest of seven children of subsistence farmers, was delighted to get his laptop in late April. "I like the math games, and I love the camera," he said two weeks later.
    [...]
    Yet when BusinessWeek asked her son detailed questions, it became clear he didn't fully understand the computer's capabilities"

    --wow... a fifth grader can't completely understand the full capabilities of a new piece of technology in TWO WEEKS. Maybe they
  • by jeffsenter (95083) on Friday June 13, 2008 @09:37PM (#23787829) Homepage
    OLPC is presently not the resounding distribution success it originally predicted, but it is well on its way to achieving some of its goals. Intel has introduced the Classmate PC as a response to OLPC. Libya chose to distribute that instead. Is that really a loss? How much does it matter if Libyan kids are using Classmate PC instead of OLPC? The ultra-low cost PC market was in part created by OLPC. Microsoft drops the price of its software for poor countries from $150 to $3 to respond to the threat of Linux and OLPC. That is a good thing.

    Another thing to understand is that OLPC is not best suited for the very poorest countries. It is better suited for moderately poor countries. Peru, where people generally are not absolutely starving, is a better choice than Haiti.
  • by Robocoastie (777066) on Friday June 13, 2008 @10:50PM (#23788275) Homepage
    "the hackers took over?" - what a bunch of molarchy. I and the rest of my generation cut our teeth on Commodore64's and AppleII's. Those had no gui, or wysiwyg tools in the beginning. BASIC was taught in 7th grade as a class! Kid's today don't even have "computer science" class where they actually learn how to use a computer and why it does and how it does what it does. Instead they have "MSFT Office class". As a result they don't know that the Word icon is actually telling the computer to run c:\program files\office\word.exe (for example) so they are stumped when an icon gets deleted and wonder why they get viruses after using KAzaa so much. OLPC is an attempt to go back to really teaching computers. The system isn't "hard" it's just not familiar because we've let MSFT hold people's hand to freaking long which has made us all lapdogs.
  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:48PM (#23788591) Homepage
    It is really no surprise that the OLPC doesn't sell well, since they aren't actually selling it. There are plenty of people who bought a Eee or maybe a N800/N810 who would have gone with a OLPC instead if they would actually had a chance to buy one. Over here in Europe there simply is no proper way to buy one and even G1G1 isn't really an alternative, first of it was only a time limited USA-only offer and secondly it is twice the price, which simply is to much to keep up with the competition. If people have the choice between $400 OLPC and $300 Eee, most will go with the Eee.

    They really need to cut that elitist 'only for the third-world' bullshit and just sell the devices over regular retailers.
  • by Slugster (635830) on Saturday June 14, 2008 @12:54AM (#23789003)
    The hardware has got nothing to do with it, and the hackers have got nothing to do with it. And to a degree, the OLPC buying restrictions don't even have much to do with it.

    The reason computers have failed as general educational devices so far is because (at least in the US) there's no material to use on them--no textbook companies will offer a fully-digital version of their textbooks. And that is why in most schools, the ONLY classes that commonly have computers for each student are computer-specific courses.

    The MAIN advantage of computers in a general classroom use would be digital textbook storage (and the cheaper distribution costs that could be passed on to schools and students), but textbook publishers will not offer digital versions of their books. Why that is I don't particularly know--since they are in electronic form at some point before hitting paper anyway--but until there is a good base of digital text material to work with, computers in the general classroom situation will go nowhere, because the potential cost savings of them cannot be realized. If schools could spend more money for some mini-PC's or e-book readers but spend a lot less money on "books", that might work out to be financially attractive--but it's not legally possible now. (Electronics prices are always dropping; what are textbook prices doing??? Going up or down???,,,)

    In a general gradeschool situation, using "the internet" to teach is usually not useful for learning about anything other than goatse and tubgirl. ...Don't take my word for it, ask any teacher what they would rather have: internet computers for every student but no books, or unlimited access to textbooks for every student, but no computers. Which one do you think they would choose?
    ~

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