Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

$100 laptop prototype is here

From the article "First pictures of the $100 laptop", some excerpts:

...Nicholas Negroponte heads up the One Laptop Per Child organisation which hopes to get massive orders from third world governments in order to put the devices into production. The idea is to provide every child in some developing countries with one of the machines...

...The machines look like rubberised children's toys and include covers which swing over connection plugs. The three designs are slightly different - some include speakers and four-way controllers around the screen and some do not...

...But will they ever be anything more than working prototypes? For OLPC's calculations on the bill of materials to add up, production has to kick off with a minimum run of five million units. Until this target has been achieved, manufacturing won't begin. OLPC is pinning its hopes on massive orders - up to a million units a pop from the big economies of the emerging world - Brazil, India, China, Nigeria. And it needs for these countries to pay for the units in advance.

As the head of one NGO told us: "To achieve this production run elected politicians in China, Brazil, India, Nigeria etc. will need to put their reputations and political careers on the line and gamble millions of dollars from already over-stretched education budgets on an unproven, Beta Ver 1.0, non-standard technology being produced by an outfit with no prior track record. I don't really expect experienced politicians to do this."

While the concept is great and the product possibly worthwhile, I think it's unrealistic to expect massive orders for a beta product that is untested, with no track record.

I couldn't agree more with that assesment. IMO, this project needs some BUSINESS people involved. There has been a great deal of interest from individuals who are interested in purchasing these, so why not sell them first in more affluent countries, and TEST market them? Also test them out in American Schools. Even American schools need to save money, and even American kids don't need really fancy and expensive laptops for schoolwork; in fact, many can't afford regular laptops. A computer like this would likely be the only laptop option available to American kids from low income families.

When the devices have the bugs worked out, and a proven track record, THEN approach poorer nations and try to sell them something that is actually known to work.

What is the $100 Laptop, really?

The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, with a dual-mode display—both a full-color, transmissive DVD mode, and a second display option that is black and white reflective and sunlight-readable at 3× the resolution. The laptop will have a 500MHz processor and 128MB of DRAM, with 500MB of Flash memory; it will not have a hard disk, but it will have four USB ports. The laptops will have wireless broadband that, among other things, allows them to work as a mesh network; each laptop will be able to talk to its nearest neighbors, creating an ad hoc, local area network. The laptops will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data.

Source: OLPC Frequently Asked Questions

Also, I see that these prototypes are running an altered version of Linux Fedora Core as their operating system. That might be fine, but there is already a free Linux operating system with a small memory footprint, that would be perfect for running on these machines. It's called Puppy Linux:

The whole operating system is only 60 megs! It can be launched from a USB storage chip, and run entirely in RAM, it doesn't require a hard drive. It's very capable, and can even handle multimedia functions. And it's free to download and use.

It can be configured in any number of ways, extra programs are available, most of them free of cost. It's ideally suited for a computer like the $100 laptop, but is also well suited for running on older PC's that don't have a lot of memory. It can be run off a portable USB chip, which is very convenient for people who travel a lot but don't want to lug a laptop with them. You can plug the USB chip into any computer with a USB port, and run the whole thing in RAM, without touching the host computer's hard drive. You save your work to the chip, just like you would with a hard drive.

I hope the $100 laptop and Puppy Linux will join forces one day. There is already talk that it may happen, I read somewhere that Puppy Linux has approached the OLPC project about the possibility.

Related links:

One Laptop Per Child Homepage

More photos of the $100 laptop

More photos of Puppy Linux



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