On Pragmatism and the OLPC

has a hands-on photoshoot with the revolutionary XO-4 convertible tablet/laptop.  It has an infrared touchscreen, has refocused its interface to run on top of a standard Linux distribution instead of a customized and tweaked version, and... um... it looks rather familiar. I mean to say, it's almost indistinguishable from the XO-1.  

And that's a very good thing.  What has happened to the OLPC program is, in many ways, what I'd hoped they'd intentionally choose as a path forward-  thoughtful and efficient development focused on impact over glitz, using existing projects and tools where available, and not re-inventing things that weren't broken, but using incremental improvements.  Of course, that approach doesn't catch headlines as well, but it does work.

In 2009, at the end of my work studying and writing about the OLPC, I posted a series of big-think style blog posts over at OLPCNews.com.  They focused on my core belief in the importance of context-aware design that the OLPC XO-1's hardware embodied, a call to arms against their context-blind (lack of) implementation planning, and a plea to balance their work in building the perfect educational laptop for low-access environments with keeping a foot in the commercial market and selling a version for profit, to fund and grow their work. On top of that, I wrapped up my suggestions in a hail-mary blog post of "new years resolutions" for OLPC, and suggested that OLPC focus on achievable, real goals and stop making impossible claims: 

I will stop overreachingNicholas Negroponte, to extend the X-Files metaphor, is a Fox Mulder, and needs to find a Scully to temper his theories. The "refocusing" he discusses sells the achievements OLPC has made short and sets up a new round of unreachable goals:
  • Development of Generation 2.0
  • A no-cost connectivity program
  • A million digital books
  • Passing on the development of the Sugar Operating System to the community

[...] But how about stopping with the distraction of the "Next Generation" product, add some incremental changes to the current system, and continue the work of lowering its price point and increasing the adoption of it? Further - a million ebooks, as Christoph also points out, is already the mission of existing projects. If you want to cling to the education mission statement, what about focusing on educational content for the XO instead? This supports the adoption rate by lowering the bar, and is closer to the core (but possibly forgotten and never really true"education project" goals.

If OLPC comes out with a new market-changing device and starts selling it openly next, though, I might just change my name to Cassandra and be done with it.