Peru will be starting a 9-month trial of OLPC's XO laptops running a "tweaked" version of Windows XP and Microsoft's low-cost version of Office, Microsoft Office 2003 Standard and Learning Essentials 1.0. While the feature in Ars Technica made no mention of the XO's innovative Sugar interface, it looks like these XOs will be running a fairly vanilla XP, without the learning-centered GUI that ran on top of the XO's Linux OS.
So what does this mean for OLPC and for Microsoft in developing markets? It means that too many people still see Windows as the de facto standard for desktop computing. It also means that these machines are glorified word processors and web appliances, since the version of XP shoehorned into the XOs leaves little room for customized educational applications. Windows XP also does not support mesh networking, leaving another oft-touted feature of these little devices out of the Peru-bound versions. Perhaps most importantly, where will the anti-malware software run?
As regular readers know, I've long been a fairly harsh critic of the OLPC program and direction, no matter how credit I give them for creating an increasingly important market segment (and I give them a lot of credit). This move does nothing to improve my view of the program. What really distinguishes the XO from it's competitors now? Sure, it's design is innovative, but it's basically just a funny-looking, mediocre-performing netbook when you install Windows XP.
Go back to the labs, guys, and start innovating again. A distribution and marketing strategy based around a stripped version of Windows XP rather than solid pedagogical aims and exciting developments in hardware for kids, educators, and emerging markets just doesn't make sense.