Laptop Project Builds Support, Software Options

The One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC), an effort spearheaded by MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte aimed at delivering functional, educational laptop computers to children in developing nations, is looking to wealthier nations to buy its computers for those in need.

The project, which looks to rely on inexpensive yet capable hardware, and free and open source software including Linux, may also be more likely to work with Microsoft’s Windows — as long as it has an additional memory upgrade — according to reports.

The OLPC laptops, being manufactured by Quanta Computer, are intended to provide some basic information and communication resources to students in developing nations around the globe, with contracts and orders already in place for Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Tech Benefactors

After having rolled out the first 1,000 actual laptops for OLPC last month, project backers are now reportedly talking with nations such as Finland and Japan to help purchase orders of the computers for less-developed nations.

Although some argue resources might be better spent on food, medicine or other necessities, Negroponte and other OLPC supporters have countered that the OLPC machines represent education and opportunity more than they represent technology.

The OLPC machine itself, a medium-sized laptop geared toward education and entertainment for children, will ship with a Web browser, word processing program and other basic PC tools. The project is relying heavily on open source software, indicating it is not only less expensive, but will give children the true opportunity to own the machines.

“We are using open document formats for much the same reason: transparency is empowering,” the group says on its site. “The children — and their teachers — will have the freedom to reshape, reinvent and reapply their software, hardware, and content.”

Not Without Windows

While OLPC is working with Linux vendor Red Hat for the laptops’ operating system, the design is open to other operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X and other Linux variants.

Negroponte confirmed the potential for Microsoft software on the OLPC machines while speaking in Hong Kong recently, reportedly indicating the laptops have an SD slot for additional memory, which would be required for Windows XP.

Unlike conventional PCs, the US$100 OLPC machines do not have hard drives, but rather rely on Flash memory technology.

Out of the Rut

It makes sense to make information and communication the basis of assistance to developing nations, particularly when the divide between those with resources and those without continues to grow, Frost & Sullivan Senior Analyst Mukul Krishna told LinuxInsider.

“It’s a way to provide the tools required, and hopefully provide an avenue so future generations don’t fall into the same rut as previous generations,” he said.

Although the people of developing nations face tremendous pressure to provide basic necessities for their families, the OLPC project and similar efforts may prevent them from being left behind in terms of information and communication across geographical borders, Krishna added.

Tough Task

Still, Krishna called it a significant challenge to make the OLPC effort work.

“How useful is just handing off a laptop and disappearing?” he questioned. “It’s going to be really, really tough.”

The entry of a player such as Microsoft makes good business sense for the company, which will get exposure among the world’s newest computer users, Krishna concluded. In addition, the availability of more software options may ultimately help bring down the project’s cost.

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