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OLPC meltdown - or, the side-effects of working closely with Nickneg.

Interested in the One Laptop Per Child project? Make a cup of tea, sit down and read this 4500 word impassioned essay from Ivan Krstić, the man who used to be in charge of the security side of the OLPC project.
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Written by Rupert Goodwins on

Interested in the One Laptop Per Child project? Make a cup of tea, sit down and read this 4500 word impassioned essay from Ivan Krstić, the man who used to be in charge of the security side of the OLPC project.

Long, anguished essays often result when people find themselves in the position of once having worked with Nicholas Negroponte. This one is a classic of the genre and, true to the spirit of sensible software development, contains much that has been and will be extensively reusable - such as the phrase "The project was a spectacular flop due to mismanagement and personality conflicts." (not, as it happens, referring to OLPC. He has stronger language reserved for that).

But it would be doing Krstić a grave mis-service to pull too many quotes, no matter how quotable he is. He's making a plea that should be heard by everyone who thinks and cares about computing in general - especially, of course, those who think advanced technology has a role to play in bringing education to the disadvantaged, but by no means exclusively.

Ditch the preconceptions, he says, about open source and Windows. Create an organisation devoted to open learning, that's agnostic about hows but very strong on the why, and committed to all the pieces of the jigsaw from software design through to content and the practicalities of deployment and support.

For if you forget why you're doing something - or, worse, do it in a certain way because you've been divinely issued with infallible insight that this is Right while ignoring the difficult bits, then you will end up dans le merde. When there are a billion kids out there needing your help, this is more than just giving naysayers another opportunity for schadenfreude. And the principles and thinking behind his arguments apply across the board.

I can't do justice to the depth, passion and sheer articulated frustration in Krstić's polemic without writing 4500 words myself, and he's done that already. Do go and read it, think about what he's saying and why.

Along the way, you'll learn more about Negroponte than you ever wanted to know. As the ex-management team from OLPC will sadly attest, you won't be alone in that.

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