Once it became clear that Nicholas Negroponte, one of the key originators of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative, was going to insist that the device use open source software, Linux provider Red Hat became the most likely provider of the device's operating system.
With offers from Apple and Microsoft having been rejected by OLPC, the non-profit organisation set up to oversee the project, Red Hat is now working to develop an OS — probably a version of Fedora — to work with the stripped-down laptop that is charged up by way of a wind-up handle.
After reviewing several bids, OLPC announced in December that Quanta Computers would manufacture the laptop; and five companies along with Red Hat — Google, AMD, News Corporation, Nortel, and Brightstar, have committed $2m (£1m) each to fund the project.
Although a working prototype of the product was showcased at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in November, 2005, Red Hat claims it is still working hard on the operating system, and on integration with the education software that will accompany it.
ZDNet UK sat down with Mike Evans, Red Hat's vice-president of corporate development, to find out how the work is progressing, and to learn about the company's wider hopes for a project which could put a Linux-based device in the hands of potential millions of children around the world.
So is the OLPC project progressing at the pace you imagined?
We first started talking to Nicholas Negroponte in April 2005. We now have people actually working onsite at MIT. The aim is to get million unit commitments from a set number of governments and there are several countries that we are having heavy discussions with right now. Since the project was formally announced the amount of interest has been astounding.
Some argue that the $100 target price is unrealistic, and that a
machine would already exist at or near this price through market
competition if it was possible?
There are existing models of other technologies, whether it be Dell or Apple, but nothing on this grand a scale, with this price point and with this academic and historical horsepower behind it. The people at the MIT labs have 20-plus years of computer expertise. To me the timing is especially interesting. If someone attempted to do this four years ago it wouldn't have worked, but now I have seen that there is a real will among developing countries to bring their people forward right now.
While the laptop has the potential to be enormously beneficial to
the developing world, could it also have a disruptive impact in
developed countries such as the US?
There has been strong interest from several governors of states in the US who have been interested in having their state commit to acquire laptops. I see the impact of this laptop as similar to the impact that Linux has had in the commercial IT sector. It has been pretty dramatic when you consider the range of Fortune 1000 companies to the Googles of the world running their entire operations on it. This project will globalise some of that effort and put a concentration of mass behind open source development.
So there is a kick-back to the open source community from being
involved with this project beyond the altruistic act of providing the
tech for the laptop itself?
Yes absolutely. The open source community is a very global medium — no one country dominates it. For us this is as good an opportunity as we have ever had to help a million school children. We have already seen rampant use of open source in colleges and universities. The vision I have is seeing five, ten, twenty, eventually...