Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Open Source Rifts at the OLPC

An article over at Ostatic blog about the escalating open source wars at the OLPC got me thinking again about this project. In general, I’m a big proponent of using OS in the OLPC and hate where this fight is taking things. Why do I even like the OLPC? Well, it has something to do with this quote:

It should be noted that the point of the laptop project was not to give children access to the Internet, or to word processors, or even so that they could learn to touch-type. The idea was to provide children with an open-ended system with which they could tinker and explore — and through that exploration, learn. Papert long referred to computers as “the children’s machine,” because it offers children the chance to learn by creating and sharing, two key elements of Papert’s educational theory known as “constructionism.”

At the end of the day, I just want more computers in the hands of kids in Africa. It’s only by younger generations gaining access to technology that we see major change happen.

Of course, this begs the question about mobile phones. Is it possible to program for mobile phones on mobile phones? If so, maybe we can skip some of this PC paradigm altogether…


  1. I have not been a huge fan of the OLPC – predominantly as it seems (to me) to be predominatly a solution designed without really understanding the user market needs.

    I can see your argument that the computer was never designed to offer email/browser access – although to me that would be its most useful function. However, I can’t really see the benefit of having a large number of “geeks” playing with the insides of cheap computers when they will have no way of then monetising those skills as adults.

    Personally, I think a rugged smartphone with a separate decent screen and keyboard would be the ideal solution. People are buying phones because they want and increasingly need them – and then later bolting on a sensible keypad and screen which then relies on the existing smartphone for its CPU would be cheap and not really need any government subsidies.

    You can use the phone as a normal phone for voice calls – then access emails and a basic web browser via the secondary accessories.

    At least the CPU component has built in cellular access and could be subsidized by the network operators – which is to my mind the core failure of the OLPC.

    The Linux fans can soothe themselves with knowledge that Linux works on some smartphones as well 😉

  2. @Ian: As for not being able to see “the benefit of having a large number of ‘geeks’ playing with the insides of cheap computers …” — I can’t imagine how those problem-solving skills and tools wouldn’t translate into wealth. Geeks are probably the most important part of any contemporary economy. And *native geeks,* working on issues important to their own countries … well, that’s the only way to really design solutions to these problems IMHO.

    The difference between a subsidized consumer product and an open source hackable tool (a platform) is huge, but — as with a robust smartphone — it’s not either/or: we should have both ends of the spectrum, each with hundreds of competitors, and everything in between!

    The OLPC is a mess. … But it’s a major rethinking of the interface and hardware of computers in the developing world. You gotta love that. I can’t wait to see V2 and V3 and all of its competitors, especially when they start to be designed by the people who use them …

    The OLPC is dead! Long live the OLPC!

  3. Fundamentalist

    May 7, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Linux would be a boone for developing countries, they would not have to be tied to the expensive, and at times wasteful planned obselescence. If there was a need for an upgrade or fix, local knowhow could be developed or used to fix the computers. The list of dams.electricity, water pump systems that start out with great fanfare and end up not solving the major problems are numerous. So if there is a hardware compatibilty issue with any of the donated operating systems, what’s the recourse?

    Smartphones are a nice option, but developing a self-sustaining infrastructure would be beneficial.

    Ian had mentioned monetizing their skills, linux skills will go a long way!!! The backbone nfrastructure of most computer systems (trading firms, manfacturing plants, telephone systems, ATMS, Point of Sale Systems etc) is one place skills can be monetized.

    Smartphones are a platform for the near term, but we can’t avoid it, with the dropping cost of computer manfacture, $50 dollar laptops in the next decade might not be uncommon!!

  4. Hey Erik

    Nice timing on the post. I’ve also been thinking about OLPC lately, but more in terms of the ‘battle of the paradigms’ between them and Intel, and (for a change) not so much about the role that mobiles can (and will) play. Mobile phones are quite some way off getting even close to threatening the PC environment. Of course, that will change.

    If you’re interested in my thoughts on the Intel/OLPC saga, then I wrote about it recently:



  5. Robert Braxton

    June 16, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Has the OLPC reached Nairobi, Kenya? We are looking for any school with teachers to compare notes in Kenya in June and July, 2008.

  6. Six XO units are in Kenya, Eastern Province, following July 2 – 22 trip. More expected to go this next July, 2009. Three (or more) teachers are trained and the six units provide for pupils in a primary school of over 400.

Comments are closed.

© 2022 WhiteAfrican

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑