Yesterday, eSchool News reported:
Mere hours after news broke that Uruguay's government placed the first official order for the One Laptop Per Child initiative's XO, or "$100 laptop," chip giant Intel Corp. announces that Libya has ordered 150,000 of Intel's own version of the low-cost laptop, the Classmate PC.
Well, finally, Nicholas Negroponte gets a bite on his innovative "little computer that could" (I may have stolen that quote from somewhere ...)
I've remarked ad nauseum about the shortcomings of OLPC as it was originally conceived but I have also admitted that Dr. Negroponte has made some much-needed adjustments to his expectations. Including his begrudging willingness to give Microsoft the chance to play in his sandbox.
In my view, the most important addition to the original plan for OLPC is the inclusion of eBooks on the XO. This seemingly small compromise on the part of Negroponte, who originally anticipated that third world governments would install wireless access points all over their country, makes these little computers actually useful to those who are out of range of the Internet (which, I suspect, will be the vast majority of the time these computers are in use.)
I still believe that the XO is too lame, and too vulnerable, to be able to keeps it's promises -- particularly in the exceedingly harsh environments to which it is likely to be exposed. I seriously doubt that any XO sold today will still be functioning in two years, let alone the number of years a third-world student might need to rely on it before funding is available to replace it. Frankly, I hope that I am wrong.
My colleague, George Ou, has himself commented on the shortcomings of low-power mesh networks -- but perhaps it doesn't matter. If the networking is robust enough for small groups of children to collaborate when they are not connected to the Internet, that might just be good enough!
That said, I am not a "good enough" kind of guy so as far as I am concerned, the XO is little more than a lame high-tech toy which I don't expect to live up to expectations. It's the second part of the report that excites me -- that Intel is successfully marketing the Classmate!
No, the Classmate does not offer anything as sexy as the ultra-low-power features of the XO but the trade-off in higher energy consumption is offset by one important advantage:
IT RUNS A STANDARD OPERATING SYSTEM
Windows XP Pro or Linux, your choice. And not a stripped down version of Linux either -- Chris Dawson reports that soon Ubuntu will be a player. From a specifications standpoint, the Classmate appears to have a lot of potential for expansion as well -- especially as RAM and FLASH memory prices come down. Within a year, expect to see Vista (maybe only the Starter Edition) available on the Classmate as well.
It's important to note that Intel is also promising to include teacher training in it's support of the Classmate. If the OLPC foundation is also providing such support, it is not apparent.
What's really important about this announcement though is that, thanks to the OLPC initiative, started by Nicholas Negroponte, the industry is no longer ignoring this huge potential market. Negroponte has fashioned a working model for making these tools available to schoolchildren around the world and major OEMs are taking part!
Dr. Negroponte may not like the competition but competition breeds innovation and innovation brings opportunities to all -- many of which we can only imagine today.