Fox News has a very detailed review of the so-called $100 laptop, officially called the XO. The technology sounds quite impressive:
Even though bright sunshine is beating down upon the laptop screen, you’re having no trouble reading the display.
But the sunlight is OK, since it’s powering your system through a small, low-cost solar cell. And the XO doesn’t need much power since it runs at a fraction of what laptops that are considered “green” run at.
The review only gets more glowing from there:
I expected to be impressed simply by the economic, low-power capabilities and wireless mesh features of the XO. But what I saw firsthand exceeded these expectations. Put simply, the XO is one of the most revolutionary computer systems that I’ve seen in some time. The entire time I was looking at the XO, I was thinking, “Why can’t my new expensive laptop do this?”
But while everyone marvels at the technology behind the XO, I think the real breakthrough in the device is something completely different: it’s all based on open-source software. I’ll explain why below.
While getting this kind of computing power in the hands of kids around the world is cool, what they really need is educational materials. Textbooks, writing implements, all the basics of education are in short supply all over the third world. But if these computers can network as easily as the Fox review indicates, it means that open-source textbooks will be freely available to everyone who gets his hands on an XO.
The fact that the device is open-source means that there’s a one-time investment in hardware, and then a potentially infinite array of educational materials can be delivered to students. If a student graduates from high school, her computer can be handed over to a kindergartner and loaded with age-appropriate software at no additional cost.
Of course, all this will require an additional infrastructure to produce those materials — but once they are created, there are no costs for distribution, and they never wear out or lapse from copyright.
If, however, online textbooks and other materials are not also made open-source, then most of the benefits of the XO will be squandered.
While glowing articles about the hardware are fun to read, I’d be even more interested to see how the actual educational materials for the XO are being developed.