OLPC throws in the towel

In Monday's IT Blogwatch, Richi Jennings watches the One Laptop Per Child project give up on making laptops. Not to mention Ice Invaders...

[Updated Feb 9 7.40am EST to add tweet from OLPC PR -rj.]
[Updated Feb 9 8.30am EST to add Wayan Vota's analysis -rj.]

Liz Gannes reports:

OLPC logo
Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop for Child, today at the TED Conference claimed credit for instigating the rise of netbooks. He said we can thank OLPC, which he proposed three years ago, for estimates that netbooks will be half the market in 12 months.

But he decried the influence for-profit companies have had on OLPC, saying commercial markets have competed with the project mercilessly. And OLPC’s hardiness and specialization for children have not been replicated in netbooks, whereas they are some of the most important aspects of the product.

Jack Loftus adds:

The embattled OLPC program, already reeling from job cuts and salary decreases, is making one final attempt to stay afloat: Open source everything and hope enough companies copy the design to make it profitable ... According to Negroponte, the open design will lead to companies worldwide creating 5 to 6 million machines, per month, in three years time.

That's a lot of little mean green machines with those weird alien wifi antennas. And while this technically sounds like more of a licensing deal than true "open source," it will be interesting to see what companies cook up using the OLPC design over the next few years. If it catches on, that is.

Ethan Zuckerman liveblogs from TED:

Nicholas Negroponte takes the TED stage for the first time in three years ... Netbooks can’t do everything - he throws laptops on stage and encourages us to try that with our netbooks. Or try using them underwater. Or in a dusty African village - “they won’t work.”
With half a million machines in use, NN is seeing children teaching their parents both to use the computers and to read and write. Teachers see discipline problems go down - their main complaint is that they get too much email from students.

“Commercial markets will go to no end to stop you. It’s sort of a tragedy,” Negroponte tells us.

Brad Linder ponders how this will work:

The OLPC XO Laptop may have sparked the netbook revolution ... but there are a few things the OLPC team did that have yet to be imitated, including the group’s advancement in cheap display technology and the innovative Sugar OS which packs a whole bunch of educational tools into an open source desktop environment.

But a few of the founding members of the OLPC project have moved on to new enterprises, where they’re hoping to bring their innovative ideas to the masses. Mary Lou Jepsen’s Pixel Qi is expected to begin producing low cost, ultra low power, high quality displays this year. And Sugar OS creator Walter Bender has moved on to Sugar Labs, a group which hopes to bring the Sugar interface to additional devices. The goal is to bring the Sugar OS to any computer, not just the OLPC XO Laptop. And as step one, the team released Sugar on a Stick a while back.

But Tom Chamberlain still thinks the OLPC design is "useless":

OLPC is a system that doesn't focus on it's actual users.  All it's "biodegradable this" and "solar powered that" are buzz words used to sell to politicians.  But the project itself is simply targeted at some phantom "poor kid" and because of that lack of specificity it isn't adequate for anyone.
If you are a child in a poor country that does have ready access to electricity than we as Americans should be trying to get you laptops that work and act like the computers the rest of the world uses.  Not ones that have interfaces that look like children's toys.  In that way you can join the world community as opposed to being a lower class subset of it.

While Michael W. Jones is cautiously optimistic:

When the OLPC laptop was first envisaged, the foundation’s original design became known as the “$100 laptop” (that was the target price) but as time went on the unit price nearly doubled. The economies of scale that would allow the $100 price tag did not materialize because not enough of the machines were being built.
The original OLPC idea had some validity and probably still does ... If the release of the original OLPC designs could spur a marketplace already tantalized by the netbook, perhaps the original vision of the OLPC is one step closer to reality.

OLPC's Seth Woodworth thinks bloggers have read too much into NN's talk:

OLPC hasn't stopped building anything. Careful what you say. Manufacturing has enough to run until June at least.

Wayan Vota is excited, kinda-sorta:

But I temper my joy with the nagging feeling that this is another Negropontism - spin and hype that has little relevance to what is or will actually happen. OLPC's history is full of grand pronouncements, from string power to a view source key that have not come to pass.

And I suspect we'll soon find the "Open Source hardware" idea is not as open as we would hope ... while I hate to dim people's enthusiasm, an XO-2 laptop reference design is not the same as open source XO-2 hardware. Nicholas Negroponte may have been looking for another way to justify local assembly rather than GNU hardware.

And finally...

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

Buffer overflow:

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 23 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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