I talked yesterday with Stephen Dukker (right), CEO of nComputing, which provides virtual desktop solutions for education in the U.S. and in developing countries. That's an approach that makes a lot of sense in developing countries, since the hardware is cheap ($70 a seat) and worthless when disconnected from the network. Still, Dukker, said, "We don't particularly think laptops are a terrible idea; they're a very good idea for people who can afford them."
Our real objection to OLPC is that they're trying to be a PC company without being a PC company. They pushing back support, integration, deployment onto governments without extensive experience. Every OLPC deployment has failed because of post-trial support issues.Negroponte says the kids will learn how to fix the machines themselves. "Who do they notify, how do they get the spare parts? How many employees does OLPC have? As far as we understand, there's not a single OLPC employee whose job it is to manage the logistics of how do you deploy hundreds of thousands of PCs," Dukker said. Basically, Negroponte is saying, "this machine cost $200 but you have to pick them up in China and don't call us if you have any problems." When you factor in the cost of support, the real cost of the machine is closer to $800, Wayan Vota of OLPCNews has calculated.
He trivializes the hardest part of the project. The problem is these countries need help to integrate technology into their curriculum. I don't like to see a trail of carnage of early adopters.Consider this article from Newsweek's Bruce Nussbam on the results of the Nigeria test last year:
Some 40 of the machines have been broken or stolen. The students play games often on their computers rather than follow the class. There are few, if any, technicians available to fix hardware and software problems. The solar panels on the roof of the school are useful because they were not aligned properly. Some of the students accessed pornography through their laptops.
Perhaps most important, the internet connection connection (including a dish) is expensive. The 1.2 m dish and a one watt radio cost $2,500. A 128kbps connection costs $350 a month or $4,200 a year. The OLPCs themselves now cost $188 per.
During the five month trial, the village received the internet connection for free. Now it is on its own--and can't pay, so the connection is cut. It is asking for the government to subsidize the payment.
Negroponte had done one wonderful thing – he has focused the establishment industry on the opportunities for low-cost machines in the developing world. But now – since the XO is simply another Windows machine – albeit green – the time has come to get out of the way and let real PC companies supply the world – and provide service and support.