David Pogue: Laptop With a Mission Widens Its Audience

The Business Section of the NY Times for Thursday, October 5, 2007, was notable for containing two articles that are of great interest to the open-source community.

I have written about the first, Larry Magid’s article The Next Leap for Linux in my recent posts Larry Magid: The Next Leap for Linux and Why Ubuntu? The NY Times Picked It To Represent Linux, And Said Good Things About It..

The second — and in my view the much more important — article is by David Pogue, Laptop With a Mission Widens Its Audience, and is the subject of this post.

Mr. Pogue writes about what is known as OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), Laptop.org. His article begins as follows:

In November, you’ll be able to buy a new laptop that’s spillproof, rainproof, dustproof and drop-proof. It’s fanless, it’s silent and it weighs 3.2 pounds. One battery charge will power six hours of heavy activity, or 24 hours of reading. The laptop has a built-in video camera, microphone, memory-card slot, graphics tablet, game-pad controllers and a screen that rotates into a tablet configuration.

And this laptop will cost $200.

The computer, if you hadn’t already guessed, is the fabled “$100 laptop” that’s been igniting hype and controversy for three years. It’s an effort by One Laptop Per Child (laptop.org) to develop a very low-cost, high-potential, extremely rugged computer for the two billion educationally underserved children in poor countries.

The concept: if a machine is designed smartly enough, without the bloat of standard laptops, and sold in large enough quantities, the price can be brought way, way down. Maybe not down to $100, as O.L.P.C. originally hoped, but low enough for developing countries to afford millions of them — one per child.

The laptop is now called the XO, because if you turn the logo 90 degrees, it looks like a child.

The article later says (emphasis added) :

There’s no CD/DVD drive at all, no hard drive and only a 7.5-inch screen. The Linux operating system doesn’t run Microsoft Office, Photoshop or any other standard Mac or Windows programs. The membrane-sealed, spillproof keyboard is too small for touch-typing by an adult.

There you go, boys and girls. Though stated in a roundabout way, we learn that this marvel of hardware is even more marvelous in that it runs Linux. Yes, Linux, recalling to mind the famous scene in the movie Jurassic Park in which a twelve-year old girl says, in words that will always find their way to the heart of every programmer, dogs (and brothers-in-law) notwithstanding:

“This is a Unix system … I know this!” [1]

That’s right, OLPC runs Linux! We know this!

It was great to see this news reported in the Times, even though I have known for some time that OLPC would be based on Linux.

This is what I try to do in in this blog:

I know Linux, and I want you to get to know it — as best you can, and as best I can teach you — so you can then decide if it can be of assistance to you in your work or play.

Simply put, that is what we in the open-source community have had as our goal for well over two decades:

To give you options, and to educate you on how you may be able to use them to meet your needs, with no up-front cost required on your part as you explore these options and educate yourself about them with our assistance.

While we can provide the software at no cost, you still need hardware to run that software, and that is why OLPC is such an innovation, in that it significantly lowers to barrier to entry of exploring open-source options.

That is why I found the most important part of the article to be:

.L.P.C. slightly turned its strategy when it decided to offer the machine for sale to the public in the industrialized world — for a period of two weeks, in November. The program is called “Give 1, Get 1,” and it works like this. You pay $400 (www.xogiving.org). One XO laptop (and a tax deduction) comes to you by Christmas, and a second is sent to a student in a poor country.

This is why I have just visited www.xogiving.org and signed up to pay the $400.

First, to help someone whom I will never know.

Second, and this is much more important to me, so I can study my XO and then report to you on what I learned during that exploration.

Indeed, as best I can, I hope to provide some guidance in using it effectively and writing software to make it even more effective.

I can’t wait, though I know I must, but the anticipation of the journey will make it even more exciting once it actually begins.

Stay tuned.

I’ll keep you posted.


1. While some purists have argued it really isn’t Linux, they don’t know a command line from the line at Belmont Race Track, and so will be dismissed from further consideration. It is Unixy enough for me. “Nuff said,” as I often read as a child when I was a rapt fan of the comic strip Snuffy Smith.

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