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Report: OLPC may eventually switch from Linux to Windows XP

Insistence on open source scares people away, Negroponte says

By Eric Lai
April 23, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - One day after the resignation of the One Laptop Per Child project's president was publicly revealed, the OLPC's founder and chairman said that the group's XO laptop may evolve to use only Windows XP as its operating system, with open-source educational applications such as the homegrown Sugar software running on top.

OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte also told The Associated Press on Tuesday that an insistence upon using only free, open-source software had hampered the XO's usability and scared away potential adopters.

For instance, the Sugar graphical user interface aimed at children "grew amorphously" and "didn't have a software architect who did it in a crisp way," he said. Also, the laptops don't support the latest versions of Flash animation, which is widely used on children's and educational Web sites.

"There are several examples like that, that we have to address without worrying about the fundamentalism in some of the open-source community," he said. "One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist."

Negroponte also said that a dual-boot version of the XO that can run Windows or Linux will soon be ready. He had already revealed in January that the group was working with Microsoft Corp. on the dual-boot version.

The admission that the XO laptop might eventually run completely on Windows likely will further dishearten many of the Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit's strongest supporters. They viewed the OLPC and its championing of free, open-source software for ideological and cost reasons as way to challenge Microsoft's dominance.

But the OLPC's moves could also make the XO more attractive to adopters, both educators and affluent Western consumers buying XOs for themselves or their children.

About 500,000 of the XO laptops have been sold, below previous targets of millions by the end of last year. Because of the lower-than-anticipated volume, the XOs have been sold for about $200 each, or double its ambitious initial price target of $100 each.

Moving to Windows could also remove the competitive barriers put up by both Microsoft and Intel Corp., which offers the rival Windows-based Classmate PC.

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A source close to the OLPC said the group is still only showing off laptops running Sugar and Linux to prospective customers, but has indicated its willingness to offer XP if large educational customers deem it necessary for application-compatibility reasons.

Outgoing president Walter Bender told the blog OLPC News via e-mail on Monday that he didn't know of any plans to create a Windows XP-only version of the XO.

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