OLPC aims for free laptop, lays off staff

The One Laptop Per Child organization on Wednesday said that it wants to make its XO laptop free in developing countries in order to boost adoption. And on the same day, it laid off half its staff.

"OLPC will be dedicated to bringing the cost of the laptop down to zero for the least developed countries -- the $0 laptop," OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte wrote in a blog entry.

The organization set the bold goal on the same day that OLPC announced it had laid off half of its staff to cope with tough economic times. OLPC cut 32 employees as part of an effort to streamline operations, and the remaining OLPC employees are taking salary cuts as part of the restructuring.

The group has been dogged by problems since it launched its effort to develop a $100 laptop for children in developing countries. It sells its XO laptop on Amazon.com, where a consumer donates $400 for two laptops, with one of them delivered to a child in a developing nation. The organization has struggled to fulfill its vision, facing delays and rising costs. In addition, orders from developing countries have waned, and commercial vendors have introduced competitive products.

OLPC was hit by internal strife when three top executives resigned last year after the nonprofit started overhauling its operation to focus on distributing laptops more effectively. The executives protested OLPC's decision to change its focus from economic development to laptop distribution.

However, Negroponte remains confident about his ability to continue delivering laptops to children in developing countries.

"The future brings with it some uncertainty, some difficulty, but also the excitement that comes with the re-dedication to a cause, and a new path that will allow us to realize the moral purpose of OLPC," Negroponte wrote.

As part of the new effort, OLPC will focus on the creation of a new XO laptop, dubbed XO-2, and on handing off development of the Sugar user interface for its laptops to the developer community, Negroponte wrote.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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