Wednesday, April 23, 2008

tragically, I was right

A little while after I first heard about the "one laptop per child project" I wrote this cynical comment (March 2006):
Reality check: The philanthropist Negroponte is paving the way for the bigger philanthropist Gates to make some more money
I then rethought and became an ardent supporter. But tragically it turns out that my initial gut reaction was correct.
For about a year, however, Microsoft has been working to get a slimmed-down version of Windows to run on XO laptops. As a result, Negroponte said Tuesday that he expects XOs to soon have a "dual-boot" option, meaning users would be able to run Windows or Sugar.

One current hang-up is whether the necessary hardware would add $7 to $12 to an XO's cost, taking the project even further away from its eventual goal of producing the machines for less than $100. Eventually, Negroponte added, Windows might be the sole operating system, and Sugar would be educational software running on top of it.
- source
So, the OLPC will become the vehicle for expanding Microsoft's market share in the Third World. And don't forget Intel's undermining role in all of this too. Step by step, the childlike drama of bringing the OLPC to the poor has turned into an ugly reality play of monopoly capitalism's ceaseless greed for profit.

No. I don't think that is what the supporters of OLPC were hoping for.

Am I one of those open source fundamentalists that Negroponte talks about here:
"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."
No, I'm not. But at times like this I would kiss the ground that Richard Stallman walks on.

I'm not saying this is the end of the world or the end of my support for the OLPC. Actually, I'm not sure so the logo is still up there for the time being while I think about it. I like Tom Hoffman's positive approach - Mary Lou Jepson does the hardware and Walter Bender does the software.

I just wish I had been wrong in my initial estimate.

update (24th April):
clarification from Negroponte: "perfection is the enemy of good"
Sugar is a very good idea, less than perfectly executed. I attribute our weakness to unrealistic development goals and practices. Our mission has never changed. It has been to bring connected laptops for learning to children in the poorest and most remote locations of the world. Our mission has never been to advocate the perfect learning model or pure Open Source. I believe the best educational tool is constructionism and the best software development method is Open Source. In some cases those are best achieved like the Trojan Horse, versus direct confrontation or isolating ourselves with perfection. Remember the expression: perfection is the enemy of good.
I may be able to live with this, through my gritted purist teeth - good that it is now out in the open - one of those issues that puts the head and the heart in conflict

Tom Hoffman's blog has good commentary on sugar, spread out over a few months - do a search using keyword "sugar" (results)