OLPC Gets a Facelift – But is it Enough?
The One Laptop Per Child program has had a run of bad luck lately, including high-profile conflicts with corporate backers and rampant hemorrhaging of key talent. Now the focus of their PR campaign is the next version of the XO — but can it make up for the multitude of misfires?
Appearing at an "unveiling" press conference at MIT, OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte announced a new design for the rough-and-tumble system aimed at children in the developing world. Instead of a laptop with a swiveling screen and rubber keyboard, the XO Version 2 will resemble the Amazon Kindle more than a laptop. The system sports two flat-panel touch-screens in a hinged casing, allowing the device to be read like a book as well as being used as a laptop; the new design also allows it to be used by more than one child at a time. OLPC intends to market the device — which will arrive on the market in 2010 — as an E-book reader, making it an attractive choice to replace paper textbooks. With a $75 price-tag, the machine could pay for itself less than four years, based on current per-child spending for textbooks in developing countries.
No word yet on what OS will power the system, though recent developments imply that it will be either a dual-boot Windows/Linux system, or a Windows-only machine. The Windows XO remains a hot-button issue, breeding discontent and dividing the once-united OLPC team into rival camps. Just last week former OLPC chief Walter Bender announced a new project aimed at further development of the now-endangered Sugar software, while former technology powerhouse Mary Lou Jepsen is busy with the development of a commercial version of the XO.
Perhaps most surprising, however, is Negroponte's announcement that the popular-but-terribly-mismanaged "Give One, Get One" program will be making a reappearance later this year, once again offering supporters in Europe and North America the opportunity to get their very own XO for double the going rate, while delivering a second machine to a needy child in the developing world.