Cognitive Daily

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Aaron Couch
    July 26, 2007

    I’ve been following this project for quite some time now. It’s such a great endeavor to have so many companies investing and contributing to this. I really hope that it does fulfill its intended purpose as an educational tool. Although the original goal was $100, it’s actually going to run about $160 at first production, but should reach $100 in short time. The annual production goal is 100 million units, so it should have a huge impact.

    You can view a video demo of the interface here:
    http://www.ivr-usability.com/olpc/olpc.html

  2. #2 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 26, 2007

    Fox “News” has a…

    You forgot the scare quotes.

  3. #3 harald schilly
    July 26, 2007

    well, concerning content, even the process of developing content libraries has been “open sourced”. look here in the wiki or related pages: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Content_repository

  4. #4 Doug
    July 27, 2007

    The XO laptop project is not developing textbooks.
    Using this laptop just to deliver textbooks is like using a ferrari to deliver a pizza.

    Think of the use of animated educational simulations, games, networked chat/discussion, etc.

    Anyway, the XO laptop is not going to be available to us (American/European/etc.) for months, and it will cost $350 or more.

    Apparently another laptop based on the Classmate PC (by Intel) will be available for $199 in the next month, called the Asus Eee PC 701, see: http://edtechdev.blogspot.com/2007/07/199-laptop-due-out-soon-asus-eee-pc.html

    It is basically twice the computer the XO is, with more RAM, a better processor, more expansion ports, etc.

  5. #5 Joshie
    August 10, 2007

    The concept of open-source textbooks raises several issues, not least who’ll be having editorial control over what’s in these. Then what about all the people who’re employed in educational publishers, creating, printing and distributing textbooks? What about their jobs?

  6. #6 John
    August 11, 2007

    Editorial control? Jobs? These laptops are designed to give the intellectually starved access to mental nourishment, the question of which chefs will be cooking their meals and whether the bus boys will get still good tips is a non-issue. If it’s being fixed don’t break it.

  7. #7 Jim
    August 31, 2007

    In many cases the children are working together to produce materials that are contributed directly back to an open source project, as described here, and in the olpc wiki:

    http://iamacat.wordpress.com/2007/07/15/thats-what-im-talkin-bout/

    And to answer the naive ‘what about the poor publishers’ question: We’ve had public libraries in the states since Ben Franklin’s time, and the publishing industry somehow loped along, even with all that public mooching.