The OLPC Vaporware Product Line Vs. the iPad

olpc 3.0
iPad or OLPC?

Update: the EE Times has a great, similar article on the OLPC fantasy vs Apple reality.

So, the XO-2 has moved from promise to hope to scrap, and has made way for a tablet-style, iPhoneiPad-like XO-3 (Read about the 3.0 model at Forbes and Engadget, with the now-in-production 1.5 and the in-planning 1.75 XOs, both using the current design but with faster processors.

OLPC, and Nick Negroponte in particular, love to use conceptual designs to create excitement. This works great in normal, commercial development a few times. Once you miss a few targets, people react very negatively too it, even if you do finally release a product. Why do you think Apple pairs announcements with already-planned release schedules?

The OLPC Haiti Project Reports Back Jon Fri, 11/20/2009 - 09:37

When the IDB plans to "evaluate its performance from a quantitative standpoint," it's a good sign that they mean to do just that. The XO project in Haiti, discussed here with a cost breakdown here is bearing a ton (1 pages, to be precise) fruit, with the recent IDB report (PDF).

It reveals some promise, some best practices, and also reminds us of some common problems.

I'm Still Not Convinced

At the IADB seminar on ICT in the classroom, I asked Nicholas Negroponte why not sell the XO laptop -- at or near cost -- to anyone who wanted one? This gets beyond the hassle of having to convince bureaucrats of the value of the laptop without running pilot programs and delaying the eventual adoption. It (hopefully) creates some side markets in support, software development for non-educational uses of the laptop like rural healthcare, and could enable educational uses without going through the schools themselves, even.

Granted, there are some concerns. OLPC has thus far maintained a clarity of focus by working towards their mission of universal access, rather than having to worry (like Intel and Microsoft) about capturing an emerging market. Working at the ministry level potentially could reduce the transaction costs of each "deal," but more importantly, it guarantees some level of equitable distribution of the laptops, ensuring not just those with money will get access.

And this equity is important - for a education project within a school; you have to have all the students with laptops, or you by definition don't have a 1:1 program and you don't have a good shared computing setup either. Lack of computer saturation also opens it up to higher risk for theft.

Behind the Wire: How To build your own news portal

ServiceWire Logo is a refreshed version of a news system that's been part of YSA's toolset for years. In fact, when was launch in the mid-nineties (1996 in fact) its motto was "Our Content in Youth Info" - a few years ahead of its time in terms of "Web 2.0" concepts or peer-generated content.

In late 2008 I decided it was time to bring ServiceWire up to date with current technologies. It still got a smattering of news and press release submissions from the field, but it was no longer the source of news and knowledge about what was happening in the service movement.

At its heart, ServiceWire is very simple - it takes content from the service field and collects it all in one place, making it easy to follow, comment on, and explore trends.

Read on to learn all about how it works, how you can take greater advantage of it, and how you can make your own version of it!

The Inter-American Development Bank and ICT4Edu

Today's IADB event, Reinventing the Classroom, brought together thought-leaders, practitioners and government officials to discuss the role of technology in education in Latin America. In sum, it was a lot of preaching to the choir. This particular choir, however, hailed from many different churches, temples, cathedrals, and bazaars.

Everyone present believed in the importance of technology in education, but there was enough differences in opinion and methodologies to keep it interesting. It ranged from presentations on real-world experiences of projects in Portugal using a variation of the Intel Classmate to projects in Brazil and Argentina to the amazing Plan CEIBAL of Uruguay, using the OLPC XO. Presenters extolled the virtues of free and open source software as well as the familiar Windows XP.

By the end of the day-long seminar, I felt an odd mix of hope and despair.

In Defense of the Laptop

Reading Alanna Shaikh's writeup on the OLPC Program as a failure in the UNDispatch and clicking through to Timothy Ogden's harsh commentary, I began to feel a bit defensive for OLPC. I know, it's a bit out of character, but not really.

SJ Preaching to the Open Source Choir

Perhaps this is because SJ reminded me of some of the core good things that remain part of OLPC during his talk at the OLPC Learning Club / seminar Tuesday night. SJ went off on tangents on the value of open hardware in society, and the simple concept for learners when they realize that they have complete ownership and ability to open up and modify not only the tools inside the apps on the OLPC laptop, but the code that creates the tools, the code that is the operating system underneath those tools, and the hardware itself that the OS is running on top of. This is empowering and fundamentally and importantly different from a Microsoft environment, where everything is closed and locked down once you try to step outside the walled gardens.

ICTs in the Classroom: Next Thursday at the IADB

Next Thursday at the IADB is a huge event delving into the role of ICTs in the classroom, with heavy-hitters including Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC, Tabaré Vázquez, the Uruguayan President (no doubt discussing CEIBAL), and Mike Trucano of InfoDev, who has been spearheading a cool-headed data-driven look at ICTs -- See the full schedule and RSVP at

CEIBAL (Conectividad Educativa de Informática Básica para el Aprendizaje en Línea) is a laptop program for public schools in Uruguay, and one of the largest and most active OLPC deployments.

I'll be there asking annoying questions about total costs for ICTs versus teacher salaries, problems with software licensing costs, and the importance of enabling technology, and taking notes on my cute little OLPC XO laptop.

And no, I don't see that being incongruous.

OLPC TCO Deathmatch (2 of 4)

Let's talk Total Costs of Ownership of One Laptop Per Child. Taking our set of different OLPC implementation cost calculators, as well as actual numbers that have bubbled up over the years, like IADB's Project HA-T1093 with 13,200 students plus 500 teachers (with a budget of USD $5.1M), we can try to settle on some generalities so we can compare apples to apples.

XO in rwanda
How much does this cost RITA?

Common Basic Assumptions

Let's start with how long the project will run, and what number of laptops we'll need to replace (due to age, damage, loss, hardware failure, and so on) during that time frame. That should be easy, right?

Five seems to be the magic number when talking TCOs, which is convenient when projected OLPC lifespans are also five years. Reality may disagree with that (and certainly GeSCI and Vital Wave wisely do).

So let's plan for five years, and drop re-purchasing of the whole batch within that period (see below for why this becomes relevant). We'll instead presume some per-year replacements (damage, theft, environmental problems, and "normal" wear-and-tear), but even this gets harrowing.

Different Lifespan Calculations

The OLPC Deployment Guide handily provides numbers for expected monthly repair frequencies, which they project at .083% risk of bricking per laptop per month - 1% failure over the course of a year.


Site Updates now has a mobile-friendly site at -check it out on your computer or phone (it's not WAP, just lighter and linear).

Also, I'm closing comments on a rolling quarterly basis; sneaking, Mollom-defeating comment spam on some of my older posts was becoming too much of a hassle.