One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing affordable and durable laptops to needy children in developing countries, is seeking donations to help the project gain the momentum it needs to begin bridging the digital divide—and the group’s willing to make it worth your while by throwing in one of its laptops for you or your kids.
The new promotion, aptly titled Give 1, Get 1, lets interested Americans and Canadians purchase two XO laptops, one for themselves and one to be donated to a child in need, for $399, including shipping. OLPC will run the promotion for two weeks between November 12 and 26, according to NYTimes.com. The group is already accepting donations, but Give 1, Get 1 marks the first time the XO machines will be available to the public.
The eventual goal of the project is to produce laptops that can be sold to governments or schools in developing countries for US$100, hence its original title, the $100 Laptop initiative. The laptop, called the XO, currently costs $188, recently bumped up from $176 due to increases in the costs of raw materials like silicon and nickel, but OLPC hopes to reduce the price to around $100 after more countries sign on and the machines can be produced on a much larger scale.
I’ve been following the progress of OLPC since it was first announced by Nicholas Negroponte, MIT Media Lab cofounder and OLPC chairman, in January 2005 at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
From the start, the project has faced its fair share of hiccups, including criticism from computer and software producers—even Microsoft’s Bill Gates took a few shots at Mr. Negroponte and his OLPC machines—various price increases and a lack of support from large developing countries like India. But recent reviews of the machines have largely been positive and it’s beginning to look like OLPC may have the potential to finally take off. A computer expert from the University of Aarhus in Denmark last week reviewed an XO laptop and said the machine could prove to be a revolutionary tool for education in developing nations. Chip giant Intel also recently said it would support OLPC, even though it already makes its own low-end computer that competes with the XO laptop, the Classmate PC. The XO laptop runs on chips from Intel’s biggest rival, AMD.
The NYTimes.com article cites a valid concern OLPC had regarding Give 1, Get 1 before it moved forward with the promotion. The project team feared that potential participants, or their children, would be turned off by the machines’ lack of common features found in their current computers, like hard disk drives. And they feared that donors would vent their frustrations online, spreading bad publicity across the Web and possibly damning the entire program. So in August, OLPC sponsored a focus group of children between the ages of 7 and 11, to garner their collective impressions, and found the children were largely pleased with XO machines.
From the article:
The focus-group subjects liked the fact that the machine was intended specifically for children, and appreciated features like the machine-to-machine wireless communication. “Completely beastly” was the verdict of one boy. Another environmentally conscious youngster noted that the laptop “prevents global warming.”
I think Give 1, Get 1 is a fantastic idea, though I’ve got to say I’m not sure it will draw as much support as Negroponte and his team hope. It’s clear to me that anyone who purchases an XO laptop as part of Give 1, Get 1 won’t be doling out $400 for a computer they plan to use everyday or even at all. Social responsibility will be the driving factor, as it should be, and novelty will certainly play a part as well. (Heck, who doesn’t want to give the thing a test drive?) But Mr. Negroponte hopes to collect donations somewhere in the ballpark of $40 million, which would go to shipping free XO laptops to some 100,000 needy kids, according to NYTimes.com. And that seems like a stretch to me.
What do you think? Is OLPC on the verge of changing the way the world’s children are educated? Would you pay $400 for an XO of your own, as well as to send one to a child who may never own a laptop without such a donation? If so, I urge you to mark November 12 on your calendar.
I can’t say I’ve got the means to drop $400 for an XO laptop—though I may ask CIO.com to foot the bill so I can “review” one—but if I did, I’d be one of the first to make the donation. I hope some of you reading this are better positioned to do so.
Check out the OLPC Wiki for video of the XO in action.