$100 Laptop: Great for the world, great for Linux

$100 Laptop: Great for the world, great for Linux

Summary: Mike Evans from Red Hat discusses his company's involvement in the One Laptop per Child project, which aims to develop and distribute a $100 PC to millions around the world

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...hundreds of millions of schoolchildren growing up using the laptop technology with open source as a fundamental part of that. Some will never understand what the value of open source is, but others will and will be able to create their own models and create their own variations. If you extrapolate that out over five, ten, twenty years then you have an incredibly disruptive global force.

Is this project a way to inject some momentum into the concept of Linux on the desktop?
I have been with Red Hat for about six years and have been involved with some of the desktop technology. What we have always said is that Linux and the open source desktop is an incremental game and there is no Big Bang change waiting to happen. It's about turning the knob a little bit every six months — we have never really overhyped the desktop. It has been very good theatre for people to write about but we are pragmatic about it — just like everybody in the open source community doesn't wake up everyday thinking: "How can I kill Microsoft?" In the grand scheme of things I think this will help invigorate the Linux desktop technology dynamic, but again that is not the main motivation.

So do you see this device as being closer to a cut-down laptop or a large PDA?
That depends on one's definition of both those categories, I guess. Laptops and PDAs are constantly merging and getting closer together as time goes on and we are talking almost another year before the first shipment is manufactured. From what I have seen, and what I understand from what we are doing on the software side, it will be closer to the laptop functionality.

Could you tell us more about the operating system you are developing for this project?
Our software team is driving the operating system efforts but other open source educational applications are also being developed to ship with the laptop. We are still determining what systems to use, but the Fedora technologies will play a big part of it.

So it will be a scaled down version of Fedora or something akin to that?
Possibly. We are still working that out.

Rather than providing a new, untested technology, wouldn't it be better to use the resources that OLPC has available to simply provide one working PC with an Internet connection per village in the areas you wish to help?
There are a lot of angles to look at with this project, and alternatives to it. I know the MIT people have a lot of experience with this kind of project — whether it is helping the State of Maine in the US, or remote villages in developing countries. I think there also other organisations that will step up and offer the other pieces necessary to make this work. The OLPC effort had to choose one major thing to focus on and see through. I truly believe that this whole effort, even if it fails, will make a positive step forward by making people aware of it and getting them engaged in the topic. Even if after two years everyone says, "You know what, that wasn't the best way to do it, the best way to do it is this..." that is still a big win. There is so much need and so many people that you can't solve it all with any one method anyway.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

Andrew Donoghue

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Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journalist with over ten years on leading titles such as Computing, SC Magazine, BusinessGreen and ZDNet.co.uk.

Specialising in sustainable IT and technology in the developing world, he has reported and volunteered on African aid projects, as well as working with charitable organisations such as the UN Foundation and Computer Aid.

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2 comments
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  • That's a cool interview!

    Please make more interviews soon about this awesome project!

    Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and all these companies have kept comming with OS and software that just requires faster and faster computers. But really not so much new functionallity. People still mostly just need to use the internet for search, email and instant messaging. Those 100$ laptops will probably be able to do these tasks even better and faster than our 3GHZ computers, because our PCs have so much useless features on the screen that load everytime we open our browser IE, email program Outlook or instant messaging software MSN messenger. It's just full of ads, and all functions that people never use. The 100$ Linux laptop will do these things, video and games, and it will just work.

    Companies who can contribute with satellite broadband internet, wimax, wifi hubs and solar power need to join OLPC effort now!
    anonymous
  • I would have thought that community based Debian would have been a more natural and approriate choice for the "$100" laptop operating environment.
    anonymous