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For Real OLPC Impact, We Need Infrastructure

Leland Smith

I was in the Peace Corps in Cape Verde as an ICT volunteer from 2006 to 2008, and while I was there, the One Laptop Per Child project came on my radar and I became pretty enamored of the prospect of bringing some XOs to the country, or at least raising awareness of the idea within the government.

However, after considering all the obstacles with some fellow volunteers and local educators, including a Ministry of Education delegate, I kept running into the same issue: So we get the laptops, and then what? We discussed the potential of OLPC endlessly, but eventually came to the conclusion that the program was a mess, especially after the departure of some of their best minds and the insistence that the hardware is the only thing to supply. But if OLPC itself won’t supply the rest of the framework, somebody must.

Ignoring all other issues – Is OLPC worth it cost-wise? What about the XO’s hardware? Does it encourage constructivism in the classroom? What countries are appropriate for this? – I’ll focus on what I know.

Connectivity & Power

One of the foundations of the XO is connectivity, and of course the infrastructure is lacking in most target countries. A knowledgeable partner needs to facilitate the development of internet access at usable speeds, whether it be wired or wireless, at a sustainable pace. The advent of numerous new undersea cables all around Africa will doubtlessly contribute here.

Power infrastructure is also needed; this is all useless without it, even with power-sipping ULV chips. Renewable and accessible sources of energy need to be there before school servers can even boot for the first time. These two issues are obviously bigger than OLPC and are major driving forces in development; I cite them because they are so fundamental and necessary for the success of any OLPC-style program.

Despite the huge scale of the problem, any initiative of this type needs to have its fingers in this pie and be connected with infrastructure development partners to get anywhere.

Software

Along with the physical infrastructure, you need a software ecosystem. Leaving Sugar out of the equation (I’m a fan, but not everyone is; plus, more choice is always better), you need content developers constantly innovating to produce high quality educational programs and knowledge portals.

This could be the MoE developing software on the government’s dime, or better yet for private sector enthusiasts, budding software companies can produce the programs, encouraging small business growth in the ICT sector and getting new programmers on their feet. Furthermore, technical and vocational students in more developed countries can undertake the programming themselves, hitting even closer to the heart of OLPC’s aims.

No matter what, this won’t happen without a coordinating entity, a role that OLPC has been unwilling and/or unable to step into.

Teacher Training & Content

Finally and most crucially, teacher training and educational materials need to be brought into the equation. No matter how simple the XO is, using it in a classroom requires a major rethinking of how education is undertaken in most schools around the world, and 99% of teachers out there just won’t be able to do it without assistance.

Like infrastructure, this is so big and so obvious that it seems outside the scope of OLPC. Train teachers? No kidding! Don’t you think thousands of people are already trying to do that?! Naturally. But any ICT4E program needs this at the center of its aims, and OLPC’s failure to incorporate this into its program has been a massive hindrance to adoption.

If Not OLPC, Who?

OLPC isn’t going to do any of this. So who will? Why not a non-profit composed of equal parts techies and educators? Small teams of dedicated professionals could ease to roll-out of educational computers to the appropriate countries over the course of a few years, on a cost-shared basis between donors and recipient governments.

They don’t even need the XO – many have pointed out that more capable netbooks have undercut OLPC in cost at this point. OLPC started it, but this is the next logical step.



23 Responses to “For Real OLPC Impact, We Need Infrastructure”

  1. I want to comment on this, having worked with XO computers in Cambodia for the past two years. I agree that, in theory, if this end-all-be-all organization could come in and provide electricity, internet, and teacher training throughout all of the countries looking to use XOs, the program would be better. An organization taking that on would need to look like the UN, or a million of Sachs’s Millennium Villages. To say that OLPC should be the ones considering how to get power and internet to rural areas is like saying bike makers should be in charge of paving roads or building bike paths.

    Now, if XOs are being given out or bought in areas with no power source and no teachers, then yes indeed that is a problem. That has been a problem here in Cambodia, and my view is that XOs should be given only to schools/areas that already have the infrastructure to use them well.

    Other comments:

    a) You don't need internet to use XOs. The XOs "talk" to each other, without the internet, via their mesh network. Even though we have solar powered internet access where we use our XOs, we don't allow the XOs to access it as we don't want unmonitored internet use in the schools. The program has still been successful without internet as the programs installed are educational tools which do not need internet to function.

    b) Power. Yes, this is needed. The cranks and solar panels which can be used with the XO either need to be distributed outside of beta testing and even then, the prices need to come down to keep this affordable. That is, and will, happen though, as demand grows for products like these. We use solar and the kids often charge theirs at home via their families’ car battery (used in most homes to provide lighting and chargeable at whosever home has a generator). Yes, XOs should be distributed in areas where people have considered their power source.

    c) Saying you need a "coordinating entity" to manage software development disregards the social networking and open source software development movements that help define our times. We have watched as groups of college students in Phnom Penh have come together to translate XO programs. I imagine that the goal would be that the young kids who are using them now will themselves one day be creating new software and, of course, by then, computers inspired by the XO will have even more sophisticated technology. Your statement also disregards the fact that there are many computer programs that are now compatible with the XO that are NOT part of OLPC. Scratch is a program we love and use a lot and were able to install on the XO. We have installed a few English teaching and review programs which are not related to Sugar but are made by companies that have made their programs compatible with the OLPC. There will continue to be more demand and more business opportunities for software companies to develop additional technology for these computers as more XOs, or their "competitors", enter the market. (Nicholas Negroponte has clearly stated that creating "competitors" is indeed his goal as the point is to get the best technology out there, not HIS technology out there. That is a key to its success and why it can be argued that, even though the volume of XOs currently being used is small, the netbook phenomenon and many other spin-off technologies which have been inspired in part by the XO have made the impact of the XO far more broadly reaching than planned.)

    • d) Teacher training, with any new educational technology or theory, is of course the key to its success. Once again, there will be many markets which open up for business opportunities and market based incentives for improvements in this area. In Cambodia, there are a group of us who are using the XOs who meet to discuss our progress. They have been used to varying degrees of success, largely due to the quality of the teacher who has been put in charge of the program. Teacher training is indeed needed to make the XO program successful. BUT, that teacher does not need to be a "new breed" of teacher – an XO expert. There are already many creative computer teachers, or even English/leadership/science/math teachers who have the skills to use the XOs to create innovative lessons. One of our XO teachers last year had studied IT and networking. Those skills weren't the key to making her a successful XO teacher – it was her creativity, her classroom management skills, her ability to understand and support a multi-level classroom. These are skills needed for ANY teacher to be a great success, no matter the topic. Get a great teacher in front of an XO and it will be used in great ways.

      I do not think that the XO, in the state it is in now, is the end-all-be-all of classroom education tools. If you have great teachers, you don't even need a blackboard and chalk to be able to transfer knowledge. But having tools which support the complexities of rural classrooms does help, when they are put into the right hands. So, for the "Who will?" question, I say, YOU and I and any donors out there, and also governments/entities looking to purchase these and put them into the "right" hands, make sure they ARE getting put in the right hands! Don't try to put these things into schools where there are no teachers and where electricity is not available. That is not the fault of OLPC, but our silly faults for thinking that these "laptops" (or better yet "children's learning tools") can improve education on their own. The environment needs to be right, and in those areas, I think the XO is and has proved to be a great starting point for improved learning.

  2. The first writer misses the point. He sounds like someone who needs to be spoon-fed. He has his perceptions that seem limited by his own experience. Regardless of what "minds" OLPC may have or may not have, it is in the organization of that effort that value gets created. OLPC is a marriage of pedagogy and technology and therefore has the essential contents for a child to build on. The write expects just one person to come and solve all the existing and potential issues. Short of God, let us know who else plans on doing that. Its Negroponte's ability to imagine the future unlike most of us, ability to create that, challenge everyone with various capacities to create that new world and continuously think through the process with the help of the team he has created that keeps the OLPC going forward. When in doubt, please ask.. could you have done it? If you feel like answering yes, please ask, do I have a tack record to support my claim? It is still possible that you are the genius the world is waiting for. In which case, you are welcomed with both arms open as long as you have the ability to walk the talk and show

  3. . From where children are today, simply letting them have a laptop that has the essential skills at $1 per week changes their world like little else. Try asking the couple million children using it. Would they leave their laptop? Have they not learnt the skills they will usually acquire in 5 years in just a matter of months? That alone more than justifies any investment in OLPC. Demanding more is easy. Delivering on one of them may cost most critics of OLPC a few life times with no guarantee of results. So while on the hardware side, there is not one user, critic that I have met there is ONE other approach that comes close even by an order of magnitude, on software side as well it prepares children with the necessary skills they would acquire over the next five years and on networking as well, they begin experiencing it from day one by collaborating, chatting, communicating in their own communities. Give them all for nothing or nothing at all is an approach that some wishful thinkers may desire. But that is not the way teh world has reached this point in human progress

  4. Thank you for pointing out. Clearly Daniela Papi has given a great response based on personal experience. Atanu Dey's discussion you refer to was provocative, if not lively, and most commentators clearly seemed without much experience of using OLPC and mostly imagintive about their observations.

    Let us have some real discussions with folks who have succeeded with OLPC and there are a couple million children in a few dozen countries by now.

    I can offer one little observation: what traditional approacation hope to help children with in 5 years, OLPC helps cut that down to months.

    What the Govt of India or Pratham and others achieve in 5 years, by simply adopting OLPC, they can give a child those skills far sooner and for a fraction of costs, giving children years of chldhood back to learn and build on.. all for Rs 8 a day, much less thanven little impact spends on child education.

    And like an unnamed Chief Minister, who sees its potential told me, just the power saving (yes, OLPC XO can be purchased and maintained for 5 years for the cost of electricity used in powering a deskop) should justify it for even a sarkari babu or an analysis freak..

  5. During the last two years we have been developing the Master Plan for ICT in Education in Cambodia, which is now ready for approval. For many reason, the Ministry has stayed away from laptop for children.

    We have concentrated on giving students ICT skills that they can use in university or on jobs that they will have after school. The target age is 16, the first year of high school. Only 30% of high schools have electricity, and only 3% of primary schools have electricity. An earlier target would have meant that we could reach much fewer students. The training is now technical, but a new curriculum is being developed to give ICT based Professional skills, much more centered on understanding the professsional world, developing communication and thinking skills… and meanwhile self-learning technical skills.

    We only use low power consumption desktops in schools, as the school is the real learning place, with a teacher that can drive this learning. We use Khmer language open source software in all schools. Khmer has letters of very different sizes, so it is not possible to display Khmer clearly in small screens. Less than 15 inch is bad.

    An XO does not fit any of the criteria for this training. Screens are smalls, there is no maintenance infrastructure, the power of the computer is not enough to run the productivity tools, and the price of a desktop is exactly the same (placed in the final destination), about $300.

    Primary schools are not a target, because there are no goals that we can reach at a reasonable cost. We can not reach to primary schools because they do not have electricity (nor could afford it if they had access to it), because of the level of training of the teachers… and because the annual cost of a primary student is $30… an XO multiplies by 10 this number, and does not help provide an education that is 10 times better (even if it could be afforded).

    The XO is not defined based on the needs of an education system, but on an idea that is born in the west, away from the local reality, with a technical goal ($100 computer), instead of first defining the needs of the system and then looking for the tools.

    Can it help? Maybe… but if the same amount of money i put into improving teacher training ($15,000 for a teacher that is teaching a class of 50), or in improving the teacher's salary (with this money you can double the teacher's salary for 25 years), then the results will be much much higher.

    Again, it is a question of figuring out the problems first…. and then finding the best solution, which in many cases is not technology.

    Javier Sola
    ICT Adviser
    Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport – Cambodia

  6. During the last two years we have been developing the Master Plan for ICT in Education in Cambodia, which is now ready for approval. For many reason, the Ministry has stayed away from laptop for children.

    We have concentrated on giving students ICT skills that they can use in university or on jobs that they will have after school. The target age is 16, the first year of high school. Only 30% of high schools have electricity, and only 3% of primary schools have electricity. An earlier target would have meant that we could reach much fewer students. The training is now technical, but a new curriculum is being developed to give ICT based Professional skills, much more centered on understanding the professsional world, developing communication and thinking skills… and meanwhile self-learning technical skills.

    We only use low power consumption desktops in schools, as the school is the real learning place, with a teacher that can drive this learning. We use Khmer language open source software in all schools. Khmer has letters of very different sizes, so it is not possible to display Khmer clearly in small screens. Less than 15 inch is bad.

    An XO does not fit any of the criteria for this training. Screens are smalls, there is no maintenance infrastructure, the power of the computer is not enough to run the productivity tools, and the price of a desktop is exactly the same (placed in the final destination), about $300.

    Primary schools are not a target, because there are no goals that we can reach at a reasonable cost. We can not reach to primary schools because they do not have electricity (nor could afford it if they had access to it), because of the level of training of the teachers… and because the annual cost of a primary student is $30… an XO multiplies by 10 this number, and does not help provide an education that is 10 times better (even if it could be afforded).

    The XO is not defined based on the needs of an education system, but on an idea that is born in the west, away from the local reality, with a technical goal ($100 computer), instead of first defining the needs of the system and then looking for the tools.

    Can it help? Maybe… but if the same amount of money i put into improving teacher training ($15,000 for a teacher that is teaching a class of 50), or in improving the teacher's salary (with this money you can double the teacher's salary for 25 years), then the results will be much much higher.

    Again, it is a question of figuring out the problems first…. and then finding the best solution, which in many cases is not technology.

    Javier Sola
    ICT Adviser
    Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport – Cambodia

  7. I dont think there is one approach that is a silver bullet. All approaches are useful and using the power of synergy, a lot can be achieved. In most debates i follow, one thing that usually props up is inadequate resources (termed as lack of resources). This marks the starting point of my deviation. The global financial meltdown is even going to make this situation worse. Many countries especially the ones with low resources waste tax payers money on items that are not useful. Some of these resources could be put to better use. An example is use of proprietary software, despite the high license fees involved. A cost cutting measure would involve governments using Open Source Software, for most of their business processes. For a government office to use proprietary software, there should be a demonstrable need to use that application, after a clearly defined process that show cases how the alternative OSS platform can not achieve the desired results or does not exist. Again i am not advocating that OSS is the only approach, but just one of the several approaches available. Another challenge for the United Nations and similar institutions is to create an Internet global Super Highway. High speed Internet access is available in many developed countries, but several multi nationals that invest in developing countries in search of oil and other resources could benefit from such high level infrastructure developments. Communication costs would be lowered through use of IP Telephony and similar technologies. Such high cost investments can not be left in the hands of private investors who will be guided by short term goals and selective judgment. ICTs are key in lowering costs for business and government operations. The benefit of such a global initiative on ICT infrastructure is the right stimulus needed to enable economic growth.

    Cavin Mugarura
    I.T. Expert
    International Food Policy Research Institute
    Washington DC

  8. With due respects to all those who advocated open source software the number of software relevant to the users in many areas of applications including eduation is rather limited. When one wants free this and free that who is going to work long for it? Volunteers? The few dedicated volunteers cannot do that forever. Hence until today open source is not really moving as fast as it should be. Everyone expects free.

    So maybe you can get free OS , the problem is in the end there just arn't many software that users can make use of. Developers of applications need money to live and cannot live on fresh air. So who is going to provide all the software required if one cannot even survive knowing that everyolne wants things free?

    Proprietory systems like Microsoft's Windows may be expensive, but during the life of the PC or OLPC. The number of applications running on proprietory software are so many. So why do we buy a PC. To save on OS or to run applications that are available free or otherwise? I choose proprietory anytime.

    Linux ? Well not many people are using it actually. Take for example, the number of visitors to my site using Linux OS is just 1%… and hardly a reason for most developers wanting to develop for that platform.

    You get what you pay . Pay nothing you get nothing( or near nothing).

    This is the real world.

    Peter

  9. Well Peter,

    With all respect, I think that we can prove you wrong.

    In Cambodian schools we only teach software like OpenOffice, Firefox, etc… This software has great quality and usability, it is fully in Khmer (which MS software is not), it has spell-checkers, etc… For Cambodia, it is much better than proprietary software, as it enables local governments, schools and SMEs to use computers, which otherwise they could not do. Microsoft is just not the right solution for the country.

    Some OSS is developed by volunteers, but the most important packages are developed by corporations OpenOfffice is developed by SUN, with programmers from IBM, Google, etc, and a large number of volunteers also, but it follows a strict development cycle. Firefox is developed by the Mozilla Foundation, funded by income from Google for hits in its top right search Window. All these companies participate in the development because it is financially interesting for them to have good OSS software in the market.

    There are over 130.000 Open Source projects in SourceForge alone (a website for hosting development projects). It is not just a few applications.

    80% of the Internet servers around the world run only on OSS.

    Every day we are seeing an increase on the market share of some desktop OSS products, even against free proprietary. MS Internet Explorer is quickly loosing its dominant position, in spite of the fact that it is pushed with Windows (a practice for which they have received heavy penalties). It is the same with OpenOffice.

    Full education systems are moving to OSS, as it is the case of several regional systems in Spain. The Andalucian education system has over 160.000 computers using only Linux and OSS. They are centrally maintained, saving not only on software, but on maintenance costs (cannot do this with Windows). The regional administration follows in the use of OSS. This is also happening in other regions of Spain, with strong support from the government. It is not only developing countries using OSS, also developed countries are moving ahead into it.

    In short… OSS is pushing hard in education. This is also related to careful policy planning, because when policy is written, the advantages of competing options are carefully measured, and this is when the advantages of OSS become obvious and are selected. Decisions made away from policy tend to be much more affected by marketing and current use, and favor companies who spend large amounts of money in marketing.

    Change is taking place… and this is the real real world, without the mask of marketing.

    OSS has its own business model. As when you use Google, the customer is not the one who pays, somebody else who is interested on you using it is the real funder, but the result is that you get a free service, or free high quality software.

    Javier Sola

  10. This "You get what you pay for" argument is simplistic nonsense. If it was universally true there would be no need for tenders, no-one getting ripped off and no need to consider change. The fact is that a lot of the software gravy train is being shown to be a very expensive monopolistic aberration especially on the scale of governments. OpenOffice demonstrates that most governments could easily develop an alternative to MS Office at much lower cost if they tackled the problem holistically. The same is true of on-line curriculum. We have a business model to give that to the world for free. If we don't succeed I'm sure someone else will.

  11. Fact remains the number and extent of RELEVANT contents in Linux OSS compared to those available in Windows platform is negligible.

    Often times the normal guys using linux, find software relevant to his/her needs non existent and very limited software choice. Hey not everyone has access or in contact with certain groups of volunteers to get free software relevent to their needs.

    Yes, you can mention the caombodian projects which so happens to have dedicated volunteers to create thousand or so contents in Cambodian language… do you really think the average guy out do have such access or even able to handle OSS? Even in Canbodia, does anyone know the ratio of Windows XP compared to Linux?

    We are talking about millions of software available in Windows of all kinds.. made by professional who works for a living on it compared to volunteers based software. Which do you think the owner of PC on OSS or Windows would have access to these professionally done software? There are many open source too in Windows platform.

    Is it a wonder that in the market netbooks in Windows XP sells much much better than Linux? Why?
    Who in the end gets better value for the hardware purchased just to save on the OS?

    Peter

    • Well certainly the malware on Linux is negligible compared to Windows :-) If you take the biggest and fastest growing source of content, its the internet and that is available to both Linux and Windows so no need to worry too much about the platform from a content futures POV. Choice is good. The reason XP sells on netbooks is easy. MS was forced to keep it from end of life. People don't like change. Without XP Linux would have been the only real possibility and people would get used to it and realise the emperor has no clothes. Smartphones will do that in time anyway, MS are just desperately fighting for time.

      The platform is shifting to the internet and mobile devices (which far outnumber desktops and laptops combined) In that market, XP and the other windows variants are nowhwere. Even Microsoft understands this, they just don't have a solution. Personally, I'm quite happy for you and most of the other desktop windows users to stick with it. Educating people to make informed choices and enabling them to be technologically literate enough to make such choices is good business and the need would largely disappear if the world migrated to either Linux or the Web as the platform tomorrow. It will happen but companies like mine benefit from the fact that people need educating to make the transition and there are enough that want to for a growing start up. A much better place to be than in a stagnating market dominated by large multinationals and luddite users.

      In the developing world there is scope to save masses of money by simply sidestepping the Windows desktop paradigm that has cost UK schools alone 4 billion dollars over the last few years. Mobile devices using the web as a platform will be at least an order of magnitude less expensive and will get less expensive over time as will good quality digital content. Good luck with Windows desktops, but for some of us the world has moved on.

  12. I agree with you Javier, many people think that Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is free, the free aspect refers to freedom. They are many companies making a fortune from Open Source Software. Releasing a software as proprietary versus open source is a choice. Both options have pros and cons, and you can not conclusively claim one option is the best. The OSS revenue model is a paradigm shift from the traditional channels, that involve selling boxes. OSS has three main revenue streams that include Dual license, dual product and professional services. Also the statement that OSS products are limited especially in education can not be justified by the reality on the ground. As a software developer, i use proprietary, open source and develop custom software, because there is no one shoe fits all scenario. One area where OSS has not made great strides is in Graphics design & development, with Adobe remaining the defacto industry leader. The success of several OSS products is a testament that the modus operandi is right. Also OSS developers can not be described as a bunch of volunteers. The development is borne out of a community. There has to be demonstrable need and interest for an OSS product to see the life of day. This means that even if some developers (volunteers) abandon the project, it does not lead to its death. An example is the Mambo content Management System, where developers left to start another CMS known as Joomla. The departure did not kill Mambo. The market agrees with OSS, and if you look at the web server industry, apache has over 80% market share, Linux as a server has over 70%, and the list is longer if you add wordpress, Joomla, Drupal (White House website is using it), MySQL, Open office et al. Open Source Software has several challenges, if its to gain leverage. This is why Linux has struggled on the desktop market.

  13. Free as in freedom but economic considerations mean less expensive rather than gratis is good enough.

    "One area where OSS has not made great strides is in Graphics design & development, with Adobe remaining the de facto industry leader."

    That could of course be because of certain traditions and culture in that market. Many are Mac users for no really logical reason. It's down to personal preference.

    Personally, I find Inkscape and GIMP perfectly good enough for any task anyone is likely to need to do in school based education and most of what any small business would need.

    If we want to educate people technologically we should be encouraging them to think in terms of what is good enough at the best price, not what does everyone else use (if that was a good criterion no new product would ever get off the ground) or how long is a product tick list. The biggest problem for products like OOo, Inkscape, GIMP etc is no marketing budget so many people don't know they exist and if they do have never tried them. The fact that they do exist shows that there are significantly lower cost development routes for software, particularly where large economies of scale are concerned. It really makes no sense for a government to pay license fees that combined are greater than the development and maintenance costs of a product. Eventually they will begin to realise this. If you have a limited market selling software licenses might be the only way but large purchase of software licenses by governments is generally economic madness except when there is a monopoly on which the government has got itself locked into. And really you than have to question the wisdom of getting into that situation in the first place. Of course corruption is another possible problem.

    For a complete beginner getting a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu where the entire operating system and all the relevant applications are updated from a secure repository without having to mess about with CDs anti-virus software, license keys etc is easier. Windows is only easier if you have invested time and are familiar with the way it does things which is of course true for the majority of PC users. There is massive inertia, but things are definitely changing. At some time technology will bring affordable mass education to the developing world, it's just difficult to know when. I'm willing to bet it won't be via desktop windows though ;-)

  14. Thank you Ingotian, for your post. Allow me to disagree with you on the following section
    "One area where OSS has not made great strides is in Graphics design & development, with Adobe remaining the de facto industry leader. – my post"

    That could of course be because of certain traditions and culture in that market. Many are Mac users for no really logical reason. It's down to personal preference."

    The truth is for Advanced (read Professional) Graphic Designers, GIMP has some limitations, e.g. lack of CMYK Color Model.

    Your point on marketing is right to a certain extent. For example, i doubt that Apache has done a lot of marketing, to gain its prime spot as the leading web server application with over 80% market share, over Microsoft's IIS. Marketing is vital, but the taste is in the pudding.

    If an Advanced user tries out GIMP, and it has pitfalls, its time to drop the ball. I know they are plug-ins for GIMP that deal with the issue of color separation, but they are partial solutions not the real deal.

    • There are many areas where FOSS is not particularly high profile besides art and graphics particularly specialist desktop apps. OLPC is aimed at schools with challenged budgets – GIMP and Inkscape are good enough for what schools need. Audacity and other audio applications are not good enough for some aspects of digital recording studios. The point is that we need applications to be good enough for the environment in which they are used not pay a premium for features that will hardly ever if ever get used. Really we need to educate people to think about value, not brand names and tick lists. Read up on the principles of disruptive innovation. Is the product good enough for a target market but likely to be rejected by the most demanding customers? If so it is probably a disruptive innovation. So it is definitely not the time to drop the ball, on the contrary, now is the time to take it up. Over time its not hard to develop technology and as demand for a particular technology grows so will the revenue needed to sustain and develop it.

      Apache doesn't need the same sort of marketing as GIMP because it was early into a new market before any sort of monopoly was established and of course the knowledge and culture of that market was geeks and communications technologies.

      • I did not mention that graphics is the only area, where OSS is not fairly well, they are several other areas. GIMP is good enough, and i use it, but the reason why it has failed to overtake Adobe is based on its limited features, rather than competing with a superior brand name.

        I also agree with you, that once a product has a critical mass, its likely that it will improve, although there is no guarantee for that.

        Apache's rise to fame, is based on its superior technology, and not any other reason, and it had giants to compete with like Netscape, IIS, unless if you have some hidden facts to prove otherwise.

  15. Back from a much-need vacation in a place with no cell phones or internet… whew.

    A few things:

    I don't think that having a "coordinating entity" has anything to do with undermining the FOSS spirit of OLPC software. Much the way that Canonical has made Ubuntu a legitimate OS choice out of what used to be a distinctly chaotic (for 99.9% of the world) piece of software, a guiding body is necessary to make OLPC programs meet a standard for quality and compatibility across the board. Javier's other examples are to the point. My argument for FOSS is less for the F than for the OSS that is necessary to develop local software ecosystems, a self-sustaining industry and educational tool in its own right.

    While you don't strictly NEED the internet for the XO, I think at least half the value of the OLPC is the gateway to the vast knowledge out there on the internet and teaching kids to effectively sort through and use that information.

    Re: "To say that OLPC should be the ones considering how to get power and internet to rural areas is like saying bike makers should be in charge of paving roads or building bike paths." I don't think the analogy is apt. OLPC isn't a niche industry or even an industry at all. It's a development project and should follow through. Clearly, Negroponte disagrees with me there, and I won't take issue with him. He set his goal and accomplished a lot, but if I had the chance to design the program from the beginning, I wouldn't have stopped at distribution.

    There's a general sentiment here that the solution to this is that OLPC-type programs need to wait until the conditions are right, and there is obviously a great deal of truth to that – providing a tool in an environment not equipped to use it is the underpinning of failure for an awful lot of development projects out there. But my whole point is to work in a concerted effort to create the right conditions. I realize that this probably came across as very pie-in-the-sky ("Guys, this is so EASY! Why aren't we doing this?!") and it's hard to imagine on a large scale. But if this can be done locally (target a region, provide the machines, teacher training, infrastructure incentives, software development grants, etc) as it has been in some places, scalability is a must. Donors fund multi-million dollar agribusiness value chain enhancement programs, so why aren't there huge teams of experts converging on this issue?

    As to Ravi's comments… I am not sure what you mean by "spoon feeding," but as to whether or not I could have done this, the answer is clearly no. I'm not taking away from OLPC or Negroponte and absolutely laud their efforts. But to simply stop and congratulate them on a job well done is inappropriate at best. I sure wish I was the genius the world is waiting for! Maybe give me a couple more years? :)

    So yes, Daniela. Who will? You and I, I hope. I assume that's why we read this site.

  16. Isn't there an expectations mismatch here? Expect more of the person who found a path to salvation, of sorts and critique the guy to death instead of finding ways to seek the next plausible destination?

    At the very least, OLPC seems to be a "holistic" response to the needs of the underprivileged to leapfrog in learning about learning, to the world folks on this forum are privileged to belong to. If it succeeded in getting a million folks on that path in their childhood, I would declare it successful.

    Of course there will be questions and we need to address them. But all that is not a flaw. Nor is that the responsibility of Negroponte alone. As long as it found a way out of the moribund education system, it may worth a try to get out of over half a century long stagnation that no one seem to have noticed until OLPC surfaced.

    Let us give the credit where its due and look the address the new challenges that surface along the way. As long as that does not seem fraught with risks we may not be able to manage, its clearly a path worth taking.

InfoDev UNESCO

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