My Year with the OLPC – NR4PT

Around this time last year I was very excited to receive my OLPC (One Laptop per Child), called the XO-1. Having drunk the Negroponte gatorade I was endlessly frustrated with Dvorak and other tech journalists who kept their criticism of the XO-1 focused on either Negroponte’s eccentricities or the fact that the creators made it specifically to not be a Windows PC. The concept, begun at MIT’s Media Lab, that technology in education is not about training students to be little MS Office drones but to use computers to teach programming in order to teach thinking and communication seemed to waft past the XO-1’s dissenters. Leo Laporte and David Pogue got that the little green XO-1 wasn’t about attacking an untapped technology market, but was an humanitarian cause to bring the gift of technology to Third World classrooms.

In the ISTE Keynote address that I heard Negroponte introduce the XO-1 he quipped that they must be doing something right to have raised the ire of Intel and Bill Gates. Alas, maybe the joke in the end was on Negroponte when Intel promised to play fair but couldn’t resist the temptation to undercut Negroponte’s “humanitarian cause” and sell their competing kid-size ultra-light laptop, the Classmate, to the same countries Negroponte was trying to reach. So the Gospel according to Negroponte fell on deaf ears because the Win/Tel hegemony couldn’t hear the words for the vastness, opportunities and profits presented in possibility of harvesting the Third World educational/government technology nickel.

This holiday season the OLPC foundation is repeating their give one/get one campaign that I participated in last year to get my own XO-1, only this time they’re working with Amazon.com to get the word out and do the distribution. The commercials are very cute. My own XO-1 sits on a top shelf in my bedroom, part of my shrine to sentimental technology I’ve previously invested in (I really wish I had kept one of my old Kaypros to put in the shrine). I hate to think that Dvorak and the others might have been right after all.

The humanitarian cause and hardware rational was sound. But I was hoping to use my XO-1 as some kind of netbook or ultra-light laptop. After a year I found the Sugar interface confusing and the hardware just too underpowered. Click, wait, find a webpage, click, wait, how the hell do I switch back and forth between pages? Seriously. Right size, great battery life, indestructible, a little weak with the tiny keyboard (kid-sized, right?). I really wish Apple would come out with a netbook/ultra-portable jbb