A Certain Lack of Focus

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

$100 Laptop (for just $190)

Joke's aside, two hundred dollars isn't all that bad. About five years ago a group of participants in MIT's Media Laboratory (led by founder Nicholas Negroponte) came up with the concept which would become a non-profit organization called One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). Their goal was to provide children from third world countries with a laptop specially designed for child development and education. The theory was that the computers would be cheap and durable, and would be able to provide the primary education to children who have none available. They aimed to produce each laptop for $100 (According to OLPC's Chief Technology Officer Mary Jepsen this is the average textbook budget for developing worlds) and the project became known simply as the $100 laptop.It's a pretty cool idea. In pictures I've seen the computer is bright green and white, looks very kid friendly. The display swivels, making it a convertible tablet. It is also kid sized, with a slightly smaller keyboard, display, and I would presume, weight. It's obviously meant to be lugged around and occasionally dropped. They've used open-source software (software that can be, and is allowed to be, modified with published source code) so that, as the children learn to use the computer they can rebuild it. "Children program the machine, not the other way around[,]" is one of the more common statements quoted by the program, and is included in their Software statement online.

They actually created their own interface called "SUGAR" which is far more graphical than the GUIs (Graphical User Interface) we've gotten used to in Macs and PCs. They've provided a demo, here. The computers can be wirelessly networked, and are intended to be used for collaboration among fellow students and teachers. This is a design that is all about cooperative learning, and kid fueled study.

Today they finally started production, with their first set retailing at $188 a piece. Their first order is from Uruguay for 100,000 laptops. According to their website, as of November 3rd Ethiopia had recommitted to an order of 50,000 (though they've not yet ordered) and many other countries are interested, though not yet willing to commit. If they get enough orders Negroponte believes that the $100 would still be obtainable.

The very things that make this an ideal design for kids in developing countries would make it a wonderful first computer for a kid who wants to play with Dad's laptop. It's cheap, durable and intended for learning. As of November 12th, people who are a bit better off can buy a laptop at twice cost to donate a laptop to the children who couldn't otherwise afford it. At $376, that's still solidly below the cost of a "real" laptop and what an amazing opportunity for your kid, to have such an innovative toy to play with. It's certainly a better investment than an ipod. By the way, if anyone's looking to get me a $400 Christmas gift, Matt and I want to play with one too.

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