Post script to an Ed Tech laptop rant

Rant away Chris!  There is one, and only one, reason why Nicholas Negroponte has somewhat suddenly embraced Windows (and Microsoft).

Marc Wagner

Rant away Chris!  There is one, and only one, reason why Nicholas Negroponte has somewhat suddenly embraced Windows (and Microsoft).  It is really quite simple.  He is being asked by foreign governments -- to whom he is trying to sell the XO -- "Does the XO run Windows?"

Most national leaders know very little about technology but they know Bill Gates is the richest man in the world and they have heard of Windows.  In fact, their kids probably have Windows on their own computers.  National leaders are driven by egos at least as large as Nicholas Negroponte's ego and they are just as indignate about not including Windows as an option as Negroponte once was about including Windows as an option just a couple of years ago. 

The fact is that Windows XP/Vista Starter Editions were created for just such a market -- but, not being in the hardware business, Microsoft never had the vision, nor the drive, to compete in these markets -- at least not until OLPC came along!  That's one point for Negroponte and his vision to bring the tools of the Internet to schoolchildren everywhere. 

In the end, the decision whether to buy the XO or the Classmate, or any other compuitng devices for third-world schoolchildren, may very well rest on whether they can "do Windows".  Not because Windows is more suitable -- because those of us in the trenches know that third-world schoolchildren don't need Windows.  They need a computing solution that enhances their learning environment.  Both the Classmate and the XO (and others) will address those basic needs. 

Does Intel or Microsoft want a piece of that huge potential market?  Sure they do, and why not?  Microsoft can no more afford for a few hundred million school children to be exposed to Linux exclusively than Intel can afford for AMD to have exclusive access to those same schoolchildren.  This doesn't make either Intel or Microsoft evil.  It makes them hungry to compete and with competition comes innovation and choice.

I first wrote about OLPC back in 2005 (see The $100 laptop: What are the odds?) and from the start I have wondered if Nicholas Negroponte had a firm grasp on reality.  His vision for OLPC was breathtaking but his expectations for wide adoption of a single platform solution were so far off the mark that any success would be marred by a perception of failure. 

For instance, from the start Negroponte has envisioned selling 100 million XOs per year!  This is a sizable fraction of the annual worldwide sales of all x86 platforms -- running all operating systems -- and theses sales would be on an entirely not-for-profit basis!  Yeah, right!

As Chris so aptly points out:

While one has to admire Negroponte’s vision, it’s hard to see if it will be sustainable without business sense and incentives behind it. Does Intel have a lot to gain by having Intel Inside the next billion laptops? Do bears do it in the forest? It doesn’t make them the bad guy, though, since the need to compete in emerging markets has brought us some great products and will put a lot of computing power in a lot of kids’ laps (hopefully a few million of those laps will be Stateside). This doesn’t minimize the work that OLPC has done or the market that they actually created (go OLPC!), but it does point to the need to do this sustainably and intelligently.

While Chris and I differ about the suitability (and cost-effectiveness) of state-funded 1:1 computing in America, we can agree on the need for all schoolchildren everywhere to have access to suitable tools and and well-trained educators with the training to leverage those tools to the benefit of their students.