Thursday, January 10, 2008

OLPC skepticism grows

I have been a big fan of the One-Laptop-Per-Child program. I love the idea of empowering third world learning with cheap computing power, and the idea of what kinds of creativity can be unleashed by bringing a rugged computing device to places where the average "computer" previously was an abacus. There were a number of skeptics up-front - mostly those who believed it was useless to give a computer to a child who was uncertain where her next meal was coming from. But that chorus mostly faded away before the excitement of many developing nations about a new way to educate children without having to buy obsolete textbooks.

I bought an OLPC on the Give1Get1 program and received it shortly after the New Year. I have been playing with the device for about a week now, and am starting to have doubts. It is not that it is low-powered - I expected that - but that the OLPC program has forgotten a number of things including easy-to-use documentation and a focus on a bug-free experience. I am finding the machine crashes very easily (it won't even load the Wikipedia article on Fred Thompson without crashing), and the docs that supporting sites are as slow as the machine itself. I am starting to wonder if the skeptics are right. My remaining hope remains in the fact that what I received is essentially a beta and that fixes and updates will be coming quickly.

I am still hopeful, but starting to truly wonder if the long-term legacy of OLPC will not the XO-1, but the many competitors it has forced into the marketplace, like the highly-popular Asus Eeepc.

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