Waveplace organizes OLPC REALNESS Summit

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 05/05/2010 - 13:00

I've long been an advocate for selling the XO commercially or at least following a Grameen Village Phone style approach to create OLPC XO-centric small business models. Or simply just enable smaller pilot projects to spread the XO technology. I still believe any or all of these offer amazing benefits to expanding the scale of the OLPC XO, re-establishing the XO as the dominant player in the low-cost, rugged, low-infrastructure-requirements laptop, ideal for education projects around the world.

This doesn't seem to be getting much traction, despite apparent interest. Let me propose a different path forward, closer to the original "we sell laptops in batches of 1 million or more to governments" idea: Drop education.

Don't get me wrong - education is absolutely key to development, and the OLPC XO can be a great tool for education. But education systems also need to invest in teacher training, school infrastructure (from simple, double-ventilated pit latrines all the way to electricity and computers).

But there are so many other areas where something like the XO could help. Anywhere that cell phones are established as data-reporting tools is a potential place to introduce an XO. The laptop is barely more resource-hungry than a cell phone in terms of power, and can work "off-grid" with solar or car batteries just as well. It can deploy without any central communications grid (unlike a cell phone), given enough XOs or mesh extending devices to maintain an active peer-to-peer mesh network, and add one satellite uplink or cell-modem into the system and you're online. More importantly, if the cell network is down, a mesh network still can pass along messages within a small area.

Even a simple OLPC can still provide a much more rich data reporting toolset than coding long strings of data into a 160 character SMS, not to mention the ability to add in encryption for personal security and not relying (necessarily) on a central network which could be compromised.

What are some areas that such a device could provide valuable tools? Crisis response would be one obvious win, but also health reporting and/or managing reports being filed, human rights violations, election reporting, and even something like agricultural data exchange, enabling farmers to "pull" and explore information on long-term weather forecasts, disease risks, and market prices.

Combine an XO with FrontLineSMS and you have a portable, solar-powered SMS communications hub, which I can see being valuable in a few tough situations if you had some manual encryption schemes set up with your constituents.

Accepted, the XO is more expensive and would require more training than a simple cell phone. It could not -- and should not -- replace cell phone deployments, as a cell phone can go longer without power and is less "flashy" than an XO. But hybrid systems involving OLPC XOs as well as cell phones, or using XOs as portable SMS-messaging hubs, or simply to quickly deploy a local area wifi mesh network are all clear needs that an OLPC XO could help with.

OLPC and F/LOSS enthusiast Dr. Sameer Verma, an Associate Professor of Information Systems at San Francisco State University has been beating the XO drum in Jamaica with this presentation to the University of the West Indies/Mona (UWI) and at the ICT4DJamaica conference (with great photos) last September.

You probably already know Sameer from either his role as organizer of SF-OLPC or his OLPCNews guest entry earlier this year, OLPC Jamaica, and the beginnings of a pilot project in August Town, a community near UWI, a stone's throw away from where I lived while in Jamaica.

$10 laptop in India?

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 02/26/2009 - 10:08

I'll believe it when I see it, but the Times of India is reporting that the promised $10 laptop is closer to a reality, but right now it's as real as the crank on the original XO design.

Who knew cardboard was so exciting?

I'm growing weary of promises for new / better / cheaper technologies for ICT4D - whether it's the pure-touch-screen tomfoolery of the XO-2 or new designs from India (remember that they've been promising this since at least late 2006, and the XO-2 has been a diversionary tactic starting in 2007 and formally announced May of last year.

We're missing the point here, as usual. ICT4D is not about the ICT, it's about the "D" - Development. Use whatever technology is best suited for the problem at hand, don't wait on the next big thing or spend money to develop it, at least starting out. This is why mobile phones are such an attractive tool - amazing install base, even in the developing world, low cost, low-power, but provides limited connectivity and 2-way (limited) data flow.

Via Morgan Collett we learn that OLPC is discontinuing it's "small" deployment support of 100-1000 XO laptop purchases:

Deployments should be any scale

Unfortunately, as some of you might have heard "Change the World" aka "Give a School" aka "Give 100, Give 1000" will cease to exist. We are just waiting for the info to be taken off the main website (any second now). We are doing this in an effort to refocus back to large-scale deployments that create change in a major way. We WILL honor all requests that we have received prior to the info being taken off the website.

As I commented last night, this is ridiculous - why can't OLPC perform remotely as well as every other computer manufacturer on the planet? Especially with a first-mover product with (for now) unmatched features.

I want 1-laptop deployments, 5-laptop deployments, and 10-laptop deployments. I really hope there's a good reason why that's not as easy as it seems.

India's $20 Laptop

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 02/03/2009 - 12:33

The XO Files Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 05:50

This entry is part four in the series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe in the XO" Read Part I here, then Part II, The New 4PC Market, and its Failings, and Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution.

The XO Files Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC

The XO Files: I Want To Believe
The XO Files: I Want To Believe

The beginning of 2009 isn't going so well for the OLPC Foundation over at 1CC, with layoffs and very disappointing G1G1 sales.

To (finally) close up my "I want to believe" series on how things went wrong, and how things could go very right with the OLPC dream, let me offer some resolutions for the Foundation to consider for 2009.

I will decide on a mission statement
That is, "I will accept that OLPC is and has always been a laptop project, not an education project". And that's OK, if presented as such. The world needs a laptop like the XO, and it can still help improve education. But let's agree that the XO is a laptop and not an education miracle, and treat it as such - a wonderfully well-designed and flexible tool that can be used in many contexts in international development projects and in more quotidian ways as well. This opens up more "markets" for the XO, widens the potential scope, and creates a much larger and diverse user-base who can benefit from and contribute back to the ongoing development of the XO.

I will stop overreaching

Microsoft, the "third world" and anti-virus

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 11/19/2008 - 10:27

For the past year or so, I've repeatedly been trying to bring up what I see as a huge, gaping hole in any project which uses Microsoft products for an ICT4Development rollout - computer viruses. Windows XP, when connected to the Internet sans protection, lasts as few as four minutes before becoming infected, and rarely more than a day. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of OLPC XOs running Windows (with no mention of anti-virus software to date), and you have a nightmare scenario pretty rapidly.

The much-debated VitalWave TCO paper we discussed at the World Bank, which argued that the higher cost of Linux administrators balanced out licensing costs for discounted Microsoft and anti-virus software, even admitted the significant costs of purchasing and maintaining a subscription to anti-virus tools

If Microsoft wants to continue to capture the developing world market, this is going to be a barrier. They can drop their own licensing costs for the XP Starter Edition (which at this point is zero cost to them) down, and hand out older Office software; but the initial and subscription costs for anti-virus software are not (directly) under MS's control. Regardless, having anti-virus protection directly impacts the functionality of the device - if installed, A-V can slow a less powerful computer down to a crawl during a scan and at startup, but the consequences of not having it can render the system absolutely useless.

So it comes as little surprise that Microsoft has announced a free anti-virus software for XP and Vista that targets lower-powered systems (cough, like the OLPC?) to address both these problems and lower the cost barrier for adopting MS:

TCO for low-cost computing in Education

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 11/10/2008 - 11:55

The video archive of last Thursday's discussion at the World Bank on the total cost of ICT4E projects is now online at the Bank's eDevelopment thematic group blog

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