The real reason why OLPC failed is that children in downtrodden countries don't need a laptop. They need food, a healthy environment, good old fashioned classroom education and plenty of pens and notebooks. A laptop is the worst tool you can use for studying.
I went through my entire school and undergraduate college without once bringing my laptop into the classroom. My mother and father learned to program in FORTRAN using nothing but pen, paper and the occasional slide rule.
Paper books, decent sized notebooks and ballpoint pens. Spend $100 on that. That will actually help. This whole project was solving a first world problem in the third world.
I don't know how they fared in 3rd world countries, but before OLPC every laptop was upwards of $800 dollars, if I remember right. There were small low-power laptops akin to OLPC's XO, but you had to pay a premium for those. The concept of a $100 laptop was revolutionary (even though, as I remember, they never really got the price below $200, but still!) and it spawned a whole slew of cheap small commercial laptops (generally called netbooks). Chromebooks are a direct descendant of the XO laptop.
I bought one when they came out in 2007 and there still isn't a laptop that I've seen that is a durable as the XO. My 3-year old at the time danced on top of it, threw it across the room, and dropped it countless times and it was just fine. It came with a complete repair manual and you could use standard tools to take it apart and put it back together, which I did for fun even though I never needed to. The membrane keyboard was almost unusable and eventually one of the kids that I let play with it dug their fingernail into the edge of a key and ripped it right off. It would have been easy to replace the membrane, but by then we weren't really using it much.
The screen was pretty nifty for its time. It was dual mode, backlit or frontlit. You could go outside on a sunny day, turn off the backlight and have a high-resolution frontlit, completely readable (though black and white) display. It didn't look amazing indoors and new phone screens are readable both indoors and out for the most part, but again for its time it was amazing.
I still have mine, but I haven't pulled it out in quite a while. It was quite slow, but I remember it using it fondly and really liked the sugar UI (https://sugarlabs.org/). My kids were very young and we had fun messing around with it (there was a nifty audio application that I remember). Another thing I remember about it was the security system, bitfrost, which seemed well thought out. It also had LEDs wired into the mic and camera so you knew when they were listening/watching. I'd really like to see that in other laptops.
There is a huge history of how much aid has hurt African countries.
After doing a bit of research, I have come to the conclusion that the best way to help poor people is to give away phones. I think it would really help people keep in contact with friends and family as well as help bootstrap innumerous businesses and really help the GDP of these countries. Sadly I have yet to find a service that lets me send new (cheap) smartphones to people in need.
Although I do not like a tiered internet, I do like the premise of Zuckerberg's Internet.org project. I think that access to Wikipedia in particular should be a right these days. For some reason I always idolize it (along with Kindles) as being the path towards creating a Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy for everyone.
I am a big fan and consider it to have been a success, though not what Negroponte hoped for. Back in 2006 I helped them out (they even gave me a machine as thanks) but the advice I gave them was ignored. I told them at least Brazil and India (and probably other countries) would insist on making them locally instead of importing from China and that if the children themselves could make their own computers it would be even better (see Raspberry Pi and 3D printed cases). I also told them I had experience with children and they normally hated trackpads, preferring (in order) mice, big trackballs, the IBM rubber thing and joysticks instead. The first time a child ever saw a XO-1 was when they were about to ship and wanted to prove that a kid could take it apart and put it back together.
I don't think that OLPC failed, it was just superseded by the smartphone and the tablet.
I can buy an 8" tablet from Aliexpress and get it shipped to me for $70, it even has a SIM slot.
In my travels through Asia, I've discovered that practically everyone has a smartphone. Most of these people have never owned a PC and never will, but they all have computers now.
It's great to read the ongoing stories from the boots-on-the-ground still doing the actual deployments: http://planet.laptop.org
Unfortunately as the project loses momentum these types of stories are dwindling; here's one example from the aggregator:
OLPC is certainly history now and Sugar Labs, while still active, is struggling to keep Sugar relevant.
We at OLPC France started https://sugarizer.org : a HTML/JS rewrite of Sugar. Real-time collaboration on pedagogical activities, the journal to browse past activities, all this in plain HTML/JS.
Contributions are welcome!
It was a pretty nifty little device for its time, I used one as my main laptop for a while but it was super duper slow my raspberry pi3 smokes it. It would be so cool if they released that same form factor as a device that you plug your pi into. The actual industrial design was fantastic I would love the same housing to turn my pi into a little laptop.
I'd just like to share a story from XKCDB, the chatlog of XKCD's IRC channel. http://www.xkcdb.com/10124
XMPPwocky: My own https://xkcd.com/349/ story. Yesterday, I worked my way from "I should try installing Qubes OS on my dual-boot" to "I have no working boot discs, no CD drive, and no OS on the actual hard drive". Today, i got to try and fix that.
XMPPwocky: The issue is, this is my only computer. so I can't make any bootable media to boot from, except I also had, tucked away in my closet, an OLPC XO-1. Aaand I couldn't find the charger.
XMPPwocky: What I could find? The hand-crank charger.
XMPPwocky: To make a long story short, I cranked through the entire download and installation of an Ubuntu liveCD.
XMPPwocky: would not recommend
You had to be the right kind of poor to be able to buy the OLPC. They were not very interested in selling domestically in the US (except for that buy 2 get 1 offer). Chromebooks and cellphones hit the price point now, and don't require an NGO.
I had an OLPC and lived with somebody who worked on the OLPC project at the time.
One of the more bizarre twists of the project was that, I think in part because of the well intentioned but incredibly naive liberal utopianism of the project, to use an existing computing paradigm (windows, mouse pointers, etc) would be a form of colonialism.
Therefore, to avoid being colonial oppressors, these educational laptops required a completely new desktop environment and computer interaction paradigm. Obviously, since the colonial computing environment uses lots of rectangles, everything in this decolonized paradigm would be circles. Lots and lots of circles. Obviously, this put the project massively behind schedule, and it was beaten to the punch by the flood of super cheap Asus "netbook" computers - which all ran Windows XP or Ubuntu Netbook Edition.
I finally became disillusioned after going to an incredibly cringey talk with Nicholas Negropente, where his answer about why do African children need laptops rather than vaccines was that we should imagine the beauty of a family in a hut gathered round the an OLPC reading Wikipedia together, or some such drivel. He was really out of his depth, and I think probably only got the project because of his brother's connections.
Still, I loved the OLPC. Cool toy, great screen. Once the Intel clones and the RPi came out, it became completely irrelevant though.
"There’s surprisingly little hard data about the long-term impact of OLPCs on childhood education"
For a project that was literally an educational experiment, that's pretty damning.
Interesting story I always think of related to the OLPC. We had someone from the project give a presentation to our local LUG, brought in by the excellent Jonathan Corbet of LWN.
The early OLPC prototypes had a hand crank for power. Everyone loved that idea, internally at the OLPC project and in the public. But, when they were trying to build the final design, the materials scientists said the stresses involved in that crank would cause longevity problems. "We can totally solve this, we just need to make the frame out of titanium." "Uh... Thanks guys, but this is supposed to be a $100 laptop."
It is a typical case of 1st world people thinking they know what 3rd world people need/want. Like the mythical $25 phone that nobody nowhere actually wants.
I find the failure list dispiriting. Because of what I think it says about the critics more than the critique. I still feel by intent and outcome it's more victory than failure. People learned things, including kids. Negroponte and everyone else should celebrate trying, if not fully succeeding.
This is judging the Newton by the iPad. It's judging stallman by torvalds. It's judging CDE by KDE
Charity can't beat profit-driven companies if there is a market. There was a market, so smartphones emerged ... and the OLPC is hopelessly outclassed.
>After he outlined a dramatic (and ultimately metaphorical) plan to drop tablets out of helicopters...
"I thought it would work! I planned those thing right down to the last detail. It was perfect! Where'd you get those tablets???"
"As God as my witness, I though tablets could fly."
I remember when a calculator was hundreds of dollars. Eventually they wound up hanging on a tab in the supermarket for $1.99 and then given away as premiums with [Your Business's Name Here] embossed on them. Quite the ignominous end :-)
E-readers haven't sunk that far yet, but they're getting close.
A friend of mine bought an XO-1 via the buy one give one program.
It never worked, when he showed it to me the thing wouldn't boot due to storage errors and it was never fixed, DOA. I was seriously bummed out, as I really wanted it to be the laptop I could use for hacking outside in direct sunlight.
...did they solve the Internet connectivity problem? Did their mesh network thing ever work?
If they didn't, no wonder it didn't catch on, kids needed connectivity first, hopefully with ability to play videos and easy to share them and other high-volume content via dirt cheap usb-sticks (a free stick should've been included in the pack), not something to write on as pen and paper are much better for that when learning anyway...
Or at least was it usable as a kindle substitute and did it came preloaded with at least a few thousand sciency books on it? To make it at least sort of usable without networking... No?!
...then what problem were they solving?!
In this decade, there's Endless Mobile. Also attempted to compete with commodity hardware, with similar results. Now apparently redefining mission to software-only: a distro for commodity PC hardware.
OLPC was a huge success. But not the way Negroponte expected.
The OLPC scared the industry to death. MS was so scared that it made Windows work on it. Tablets did not exist as consumer goods at the time (we had some but only for businesses and they were not practical to use) and all the major PC maker were expected year after year to churn out low cost laptops for the "education" market.
Then tablets came and the whole product category just disappeared.
OLPC had an Open Firmware Forth bootloader. True? False?
Why did OLPC require a "developer key"? (develop.sig)
Will there ever be OpenFirmware-compatible hardware where the Forth bootloader is signed by the owner of the computer?
Will the buyer ever have the option of owning and controlling the so-called "developer key"?
Will there always be a requirement for the seller to retain a "developer key" and for the buyer to request it after purchase? Why or why not?
Everywhere and nowhere. I thought they helped inspire the current round of affordable computers (chromebooks, phones, cheap laptops, pi, etc)?
> Designers dropped the feature almost immediately after Negroponte’s announcement, because the winding process put stress on the laptop’s body and demanded energy that kids in very poor areas couldn’t spare.
Err, kids in poor areas have less ability to turn a handle than those in wealthy areas?
I got one on the buy one, give one initiative; and being cheap was only a plus, but it was great for it's purpose; as a kid's laptop.
I gave it away a few years ago to someone who could give it a better use (teacher), but now that I have a kid on my own, I'd like to give him something like this. Any recommendations?
I think the key element missing here is the lack of infrastructure to support technology. I wonder if this would have been more successful if coupled with something like Project Loon.
John Perry Barlow with an OLPC XO-1 Children's Computer.
This article's tone and framing is negative and about failure, but imho this is just a weird capitalist winner-take-all notion of success. The numbers in the article show that millions of units were shipped and you can pretty clearly infer that tens of millions of children had access to a computer they otherwise wouldn't have. As someone who's childhood access to an apple2e was a massive privilege and advantage, I know damn well if I was one of those tens of millions of kids I'd be better off for it.
So this "failure" seems to have helped millions, learned a bunch and developed some OSS. I should hope to fail so hard myself someday.
I have an extra one that still works. If anyone is interested in it, please let me know. I will send it to you if you pay for shipping.
I think nowadays you could make a laptop with a solar panel on it's back. That'd be pretty cool.
Lost and forgotten in favour of more expensive laptops. The same applies to Android One/Go
I played with one back when it was just launched. Besides the innovative outdoor-friendly display it was an insanely bad experience. MIT Media Lab (and with that I mean Nicholas Negroponte) gone crazy.
The UX (both keyboard and software) was .. just awful.
Kinda missed the refusal from day one to work with Microsoft because ideology beats kids lives evidently.
Also missed the fact they refused to give developers access to the laptops because there might spring up some sort of black market for stolen laptops or something.
Ans as mentioned the whole idea has serious issues, we know the hole in the wall didn't work and laptops in schools are generally not value for money.