One Laptop Per Child: Give One, Get One Goin’ Fast!

laptop-kids.jpgThe pop-up antennas look like little Shrek Horns to me, but they serve a vital purpose on this One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) nonprofit green machine called the ‘XO’…Those little rabbit ears can transmit educational ‘umphf’ to kids in developing countries with a bounty of e-books, internet access, video/music and a world of knowledge…all with sturdy simplicity. (video PSA here)

I’ve been tracking tech news on the “$100 laptop” since I first saw it at Digital Earth and started reading the roundup stories on Sky’s blog.

I figure if anyone would know how to evaluate the XO’s ability to withstand rugged, remote conditions enough to be relevant to the lives of these children, it would be Sky, as he’s always outbound with a backpack and an air ticket to some exotic locale…

Thankfully, it looks like MIT Media Lab’s founder Nicholas Negroponte and his team did just that, designing for bright sun, dim light, splash and dust abuse, low energy draw, plus a manually-operated system if the power blows. (foot pedal instead of crank?) Smooth.

Here’s a solid write-up on the Educate4Dev blog, which includes a video demo of the XO with New York Times’ techie David Pogue doing a “show & tell.” He sums the vision and mission concisely, it’s “Not intended for snarky bloggers, it’s intended for poor kids in other countries, and for that, it’s amazing.” Here’s the deal…

Now until Nov. 26, you can ‘give one/get one’ as a ‘twofer’ in North America only at $399, ($200 tax deductible).

Need another nudge? In the USA, T-Mobile will toss in a free year of HotSpot wi-fi access (worth $350 in itself) a nice bennie for travelers who tap into airport hubs and cafes with any of their gear-on-the-go.

With nearly two—billion children in the developing world inadequately educated, and one in three not completing fifth grade, I’d say this is a perfect win-win for this season of Thanksgiving, to pay it forward to a child in need.

I’m in. Just ordered mine.

I must say, customer service was stellar and all went smoothly, which I’m taking as a good sign. Consumerist feedback echoes my thumbs up. (and yeah, yeah, I know there are plenty of bigger picture glitches to be considered too, but I’m all for giving it a shot)

laptop3.jpgI’m hoping my ‘give one’ will go to one of my fellow WLW delegates in Africa, so I’ve pinged them all for a heads up on the program.

Evidently you can’t specify who the recipient is, (or even the country where it’s going, unless you cough up REALLY big bucks to buy that right) but between ‘what kids can learn’ on this gizmo and the ‘Trickle’ factor of taking the first steps out of poverty by using media for positive change, regardless of who ends up with the green machine, I’m in.

Inhabitat lists it as their fave for humanitarian “product design with a conscience.” Yep. And it’s dang cute, too. XO. Even the name makes me think of kisses and hugs for the kidlets. And it certainly ignites the warm-n-fuzzies trying to help kids…

laptop-kid.jpgThe lime green “XO” first caught my fancy considering it for our eco-community in Roatan, Honduras, which is a tiny island, prone to power outages, spotty internet service, and sand fleas.

Solar viability, some adapted form of hand-crank/manual design if the power fails, and water, splash-n-dust resistant? Yep, looks like it would hack it, even if iguanas and ‘monkey lalas’ traipse over the keyboard…

Roatan is a dive spot, which looks a bit like Hawaii did 75+ years ago, (no I wasn’t there, kids). It has one road, ‘rental cars’ that are pickups with springs sticking out of the seats, and seat belts that may or may not work, depending on how much you push for preference and plea your case…

olpc-closeup.jpgWe have an alliance with some schools over there, always in need of supplies, so we’re anxious to ‘show and tell’ if this lil’ green guy does even half it says it does in these XO specs.

The OLPC wiki will no doubt be updated regularly with the latest progress, but I’d keep an eye on this TechWeb forum thread if you want to stay abreast of the reality-check portion.

While most applaud the noble gesture in the tech talk world as part of a larger and great solution, some of the snips and quips should also be kept in mind in order to find another way around the obstacles. (Rose-colored glasses are pretty, but polarized lenses can cut the glare better, and prevent missteps/accidents in the long run, n’est ce pas?)

It reminds me of our WLW summit when many African delegates from multiple regions talked about NGOs being clueless about some of the villagers’ issues, and forging ahead with grants to ‘bring water to a region’ only to have the plumbing dug up and rendered useless as hungry families sold the scrap to trade for food…sigh.

olpc_wiki_logo.pngCan’t go into it with “eyes wide shut” and have this education effort work…so I think it’s productive to troubleshoot.

And yes, we all know other firms are eyeing profits sans altruism to see how they can make a buck on cheap laptops as well…But rather than bash the biggies, I favor Andy Carvin’s even-handed approach to narrowing the digital divide through collaboration, as he reminded, “different tools for different circumstances.”

Naysayers who note the $100 pricetag is “aspirational” might want to consider that with mass production it may still be achievable, so I say cut ‘em some slack, wait-n-see, sheesh! And yes, some countries need it to be $10 not $100…I get that. But…this is going in the right direction.

As Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops… at all.”

Hope is key to the OLPC mission, but so is action…and I sing that tune loudly everyday here at Shaping Youth. Any other ‘birds of a feather’ want to join me?

Seems this is a classic opportunity to use the power of media for positive change, ‘shaping youth’ in a sustainable, uplifting direction!

Other OLPC Resources At A Glance

OLPC Main Site (

OLPC Give One/Get One Promo ’til 11/26!


About OLPC News: Independent Review Site Unaffiliated site of feeds/photos; donates all proceeds to

Fedora Project/OLPC Wiki

Masi Oka/:30 Video PSA (public service announcement)



  1. Infoweek just added this post 11/17 with calculations of a 57% return on investment…pretty dang good I’d say! (and that’s without factoring in the T-mobile hotspot! πŸ™‚

  2. Another newsy piece w/commentary and backstory from Ethan Zuckerman’s blog/via the Berkman/Harvard tribe:

  3. Nice roundup! I ordered one for my kids …

    Thought you might enjoy this screencast about what a second grader knows about creative commons

    How are youth media organizations incorporating instruction about creative commons?

  4. fyi, Sustainable Business Blog just reports OLPC OFFER EXTENDED THROUGH 12/31/07:

    “Tuesday, December 4, 2007
    Give One, Get One Laptop Offer Extended!

    So you missed the November 26 deadline for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Give One, Get One campaign? Good news! The offer has been extended through December 31, 2007”

  5. Update for the new year here via Wired Campus:
    Chronicle for Higher Learning…check this out:

    “January 4, 2008
    No Intel Inside for One Laptop Per Child Project

    One Laptop Per Child, a non-profit group that produces low-cost laptops and distributes them to students in the developing world, has ended its relationship with Intel, which sells its own low-cost student laptop, according to a report on

    Ars Technica offers an analysis of what has sometimes been a wrestling match between the two parties over how to go about making laptops cheap enough to become ubiquitous in schools around the world. Apparently Nicholas Negroponte, who started One Laptop Per Child and is the former director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, wanted Intel to stop selling its Classmate PC and focus that energy on supporting the One Laptop Per Child machine, called the XO-1. Intel officials, for their part, have said that competition in low-cost laptop manufacturing will be the best way to achieve both projects’ goals.

    When Intel first announced teaming up with One Laptop Per Child in July, the chip-manufacturing company said it would “explore collaborations involving technology and educational content” and join the board of the project. But it looks like the One Laptop Per Child project will continue to use processors from Intel’s rival, AMD.

    A spokeswoman for One Laptop Per Child could not immediately be reached for comment by The Chronicle. –Jeffrey R. Young”

  6. ANOTHER update…this time the NYTimes:

    January 5, 2008
    Intel Quits Effort to Get Computers to Children

    SAN FRANCISCO – A frail partnership between Intel and the One Laptop Per Child educational computing group was undone last month in part by an Intel saleswoman: She tried to persuade a Peruvian official to drop the country’s commitment to buy a quarter-million of the organization’s laptops in favor of Intel PCs.

    Intel and the group had a rocky relationship from the start in their short-lived effort to get inexpensive laptops into the hands of the world’s poorest children.

    But the saleswoman’s tactic was the final straw for Nicholas Negroponte, the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer researcher and founder of the nonprofit effort.

    He demanded that Intel stop what he saw as efforts to undermine the group’s sales, which meant ceasing to sell the rival computer. Intel chose instead to withdraw its support from One Laptop this week.

    The project has been a lightning rod for controversy largely because the world’s most powerful software and chip making companies – Microsoft and Intel – had long resisted the project, for fear, according to many industry executives, that it would compete in markets they hoped to develop.

    As a result, One Laptop’s XO computer comes with a processor built by Intel’s rival Advanced Micro Devices and open-source software, rather than Microsoft’s Windows and Office software.

    After several years of publicly attacking the XO, Intel reversed itself over the summer and joined the organization’s board, agreeing to make an $18 million contribution and begin developing an Intel-based version of the computer.

    Although Intel made an initial $6 million payment to One Laptop, the partnership was troubled from the outset as Intel sales representatives in the field competed actively against the $200 One Laptop machine by trying to sell a rival computer, a more costly Classmate PC.

    The Classmate sells for about $350 with an installed version of Microsoft Office, and Intel is selling the machine through an array of sales organizations outside the United States.

    Even after Intel joined the One Laptop board, in country after country, the two organizations competed to make government sales, Mr. Negroponte said yesterday in a telephone interview. The relationship first frayed seriously in October, he said, when an Intel salesman gave a Mongolian government official a side-by-side comparison of the Classmate PC and the XO.

    Mr. Negroponte said he was infuriated and threatened to throw Intel off the One Laptop board. In response, Intel’s chief executive, Paul S. Otellini, agreed to change Intel practices and he accelerated the development of the Intel prototype.

    Sean Maloney, the company’s top sales and marketing executive, sent e-mail instructions to the sales team that were intended to end the practice of product comparisons.

    Mr. Negroponte said eliminating the comparisons was required as part of a nondisparagement clause in the partnership agreement the two companies had signed.

    In the field, according to Mr. Negroponte, nothing changed.

    He complained, in particular, that Intel sales representatives were claiming that as a result of the company’s board position at One Laptop, Intel had information suggesting that the organization was in trouble.

    Intel refused to respond to Mr. Negroponte’s specific account of the events that led to the end of the partnership.

    Instead, Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman, reiterated the company’s statement that Intel had decided to leave the organization after it reached a stalemate over whether the chip maker could continue to promote the Classmate.

    “Our position continues to be that at the core of this is a philosophical impasse about how the market gets served,” he said.

    Mr. Negroponte said that an Intel representative did not attend a board meeting of the group in Miami last month, citing a potential conflict of interest.

    At the meeting, the board agreed that Mr. Negroponte should make a final effort to end Intel’s efforts to disrupt One Laptop’s sales.

    A rapprochement never happened, however.

    “They played another dirty trick in Peru,” he said. “It’s a little bit like McDonald’s competing with the World Food Program.”

    In Peru, where One Laptop has begun shipping the first 40,000 PCs of a 270,000 system order, Isabelle Lama, an Intel saleswoman, tried to persuade Peru’s vice minister of education, Oscar Becerra Tresierra, that the Intel Classmate PC was a better choice for his primary school students.

    Unfortunately for Intel, the vice minister is a longtime acquaintance of Mr. Negroponte and Seymour Papert, a member of the One Laptop team and an M.I.T. professor who developed the Logo computer programming language. The education minister took notes on his contacts with the Intel saleswoman and sent them to One Laptop officials.

    In a telephone interview Friday, Mr. Tresierra said that his government had asked Intel for a proposal for secondary-school machines, and it had responded with a proposal offering the Classmate PC for primary grades.

    “We told them this is a final decision, we are running the primary-grade project with the XO,” he said. “She wasn’t very happy.”

    He said the decision to purchase the XO had come after the government had run a pilot project with the computers. “We were very happy with the results,” he said.

    Until Intel surprised him by quitting on Thursday, Mr. Negroponte said he had still held out some hope that the relationship could be saved. The Intel XO was supposed to be introduced next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in keynote speeches to be made by Mr. Negroponte and Mr. Otellini, but the prototype will now be set aside.

    Intel’s decision to leave was announced first in a series of phone calls made by a company spokesman to a small group of reporters. Some time later, D. Bruce Sewell, Intel’s senior vice president and general counsel, sent an e-mail message to Mr. Negroponte.

    The note said that the statement, which had already been reported by wire services, was an inadvertent leak. He apologized for the way the announcement was handled.

    For his part, Mr. Negroponte said he still hoped to sell two million to three million computers this year. He said that on Monday, if all goes well, he will announce a major order. Mr. Negroponte had originally hoped to sell up to five million computers.

    The group did not get major orders; instead One Laptop has continued with a variety of smaller deals in countries including Uruguay, Peru and Mexico.

    The group, based in Cambridge, Mass., announced Friday that its two-month “Give One, Get One” charitable promotion had generated $35 million and sold a total of 167,000 computers, half of them to be distributed in the developing world.

    He said he still believed that the XO could have a big impact.

    “If I can sell 1.5 million computers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ethiopia, I will feel a lot better than other sales we might make.”

  7. Well…crud…maybe this explains why I don’t have mine yet…

    PSFK has been saying all along that mobile phones are the way to go rather than OLPC, but this piece points to the Kenya furor that has reinforced that thinking to me…I think I drank the Koolaid that it was a great solution when it was probably ‘cart before the horse’

  8. Forgot to include these links to the conversation…

    First, at CES, the discussion of implementation:

    AND now, re: Kenya, as I mentioned, this EXCELLENT article with links to how social media/phones are aiding the war torn areas of Kenya…yep, they’re right…laptop schmaptop compared to communications coverage in a handheld…yikes!

    Obviously, the hope would be for both, but right now, my friends in Kenya will no doubt concur…mobile is what’s needed…so they can mobilize their families to safety!

  9. Update in the New York Times here:

    Media Companies Help Promote Laptop Project
    Published: November 16, 2008

    After a rocky beginning, the nonprofit group One Laptop Per Child thinks an advertising campaign will give a lift to the organization’s effort to place low-cost laptops in the hands of children in developing nations.

    About 500,000 of the group’s light and rugged machines are being used in 31 countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Peru, Rwanda and Uruguay. But the cost of the laptops, at less than $200 each, has been prohibitively high for many countries, and the number of laptops distributed has fallen short of early projections.

    An additional 500,000 of these XO laptops are in transit or being built, and should be in use by early next year, said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the education and computing project….etc. etc.

    see NYT…

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