A Laptop in Every Hut?

by on August 11, 2006 · 14 comments

On Tuesday, government officials in India rejected an offer to participate in a much-hyped project to distribute laptops costing US$100 each to the world’s impoverished children. A closer look reveals this scheme to be little more than open source evangelism in the Third World.

The laptop project is part of the One Laptop per Child initiative, an ambitious nonprofit effort endorsed by the United Nations to “revolutionize” education by providing every child on the planet with access to a computer. OLPC backers assume there is a universal need for every child to have a laptop, which they view as the gateway to a rosy future.

Read more here.

  • Lewis Baumstark

    I doubt if the laptops contained Windows that you would be criticizing them as “little more than Microsoft evangelism in the Third World.”

    It’s sad to see an article containing many valid criticisms of the $100 laptop initiative sullied by unsupported accusations of “open source evangelism.”

    open source zealots are looking to export their ideological crusade overseas, creating a need for their commercial services by tying a new generation of young consumers to laptops running on Linux software

    Assuming this is a correct conclusion (again, you provide no supporting evidence that it is), this is an industry-honored way of building a customer base. Microsoft does it with academic initiatives all the time. Why should open-source be any different?

    Furthermore, no consumers are being tied to anything. If they can use an open-source OS, they can easily transfer that conceptual knowledge to a propriety, closed-source OS. The only real difference is that with an open-source OS, they have a huge advantage in teaching themselves programming skills, skills that, again, will readily transfer to closed platforms.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    You use a lot of pejorative phrases in your article (“little more than evangelism,” “sputtering,” “sneak,” “ideological crusade”) that indicate a dislike for open source software, but you don’t really explain what the problem is supposed to be. Don’t computers need operating systems? And isn’t Linux a good choice, given that cost is an important factor?

    It seems a little bit far-fetched to think that Red Hat is subsidizing these computers so that 20 years from now there will be more demand for their support services. African peasants are unlikely to be wealthy enough to afford Red Hat support contracts any time soon, and the vast majority of that support would likely be provided by indigenous Africans. But if that is their plan, so what? Don’t libertarians support entrepreneurship and for-profit enterprises?

    I don’t think this $100 laptop idea is necessarily a good idea, but if the program has problems, its operating system isn’t one of them.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    I think the program is a great idea.

    The govt of India, the one trying to globalize, that houses some of the best math and science schools in the world, the foreign research center for successful American companies; yet it has one of the lowest percentages of Internet penetration of any country, its rural population (a pretty big part of the country) is extremely far removed from some sucess stories you hear.

    Don’t get me wrong about India. I have a lot of friends from India who made socio-economic mobiligy look like a natural process when they came to American. They would probably agree with me however that India missed on a good opportunity.

  • Lewis Baumstark

    I doubt if the laptops contained Windows that you would be criticizing them as “little more than Microsoft evangelism in the Third World.”

    It’s sad to see an article containing many valid criticisms of the $100 laptop initiative sullied by unsupported accusations of “open source evangelism.”

    open source zealots are looking to export their ideological crusade overseas, creating a need for their commercial services by tying a new generation of young consumers to laptops running on Linux software

    Assuming this is a correct conclusion (again, you provide no supporting evidence that it is), this is an industry-honored way of building a customer base. Microsoft does it with academic initiatives all the time. Why should open-source be any different?

    Furthermore, no consumers are being tied to anything. If they can use an open-source OS, they can easily transfer that conceptual knowledge to a propriety, closed-source OS. The only real difference is that with an open-source OS, they have a huge advantage in teaching themselves programming skills, skills that, again, will readily transfer to closed platforms.

  • http://crescatsententia.org PLN

    Indeed, it seems like the biggest problem with the program is how tied to governmental decision-making it is. It would be a shame if a single decision by a set of bureaucrats prevented all of India from participating. “One Laptop Per Child” sounds great, but it seems silly to go all-or-nothing.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    You use a lot of pejorative phrases in your article (“little more than evangelism,” “sputtering,” “sneak,” “ideological crusade”) that indicate a dislike for open source software, but you don’t really explain what the problem is supposed to be. Don’t computers need operating systems? And isn’t Linux a good choice, given that cost is an important factor?

    It seems a little bit far-fetched to think that Red Hat is subsidizing these computers so that 20 years from now there will be more demand for their support services. African peasants are unlikely to be wealthy enough to afford Red Hat support contracts any time soon, and the vast majority of that support would likely be provided by indigenous Africans. But if that is their plan, so what? Don’t libertarians support entrepreneurship and for-profit enterprises?

    I don’t think this $100 laptop idea is necessarily a good idea, but if the program has problems, its operating system isn’t one of them.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    I think the program is a great idea.

    The govt of India, the one trying to globalize, that houses some of the best math and science schools in the world, the foreign research center for successful American companies; yet it has one of the lowest percentages of Internet penetration of any country, its rural population (a pretty big part of the country) is extremely far removed from some sucess stories you hear.

    Don’t get me wrong about India. I have a lot of friends from India who made socio-economic mobiligy look like a natural process when they came to American. They would probably agree with me however that India missed on a good opportunity.

  • http://crescatsententia.org PLN

    Indeed, it seems like the biggest problem with the program is how tied to governmental decision-making it is. It would be a shame if a single decision by a set of bureaucrats prevented all of India from participating. “One Laptop Per Child” sounds great, but it seems silly to go all-or-nothing.

  • Walter E. Wallis

    CDs and DVDs are much cheaper to publish than books.

  • Walter E. Wallis

    CDs and DVDs are much cheaper to publish than books.

  • http://www.olpcnews.com/ wayan

    While I did a deep critique of Sonia’s article on OLPC News, I’ll just leave my favorite snippet in this comment:

    Bad is forgetting your own words. In 2005 Ms. Arrison said “the open source (OS) community is finally coming of age” and “evolving in a positive way.”

    Ms. Arrison, stick to critiquing the OLPC implementation, not its open source software, and be consistent. “Irresponsible and self-serving” would be forcing Microsoft Windows or Office on the developing world, not FOSS.

    As to the OLPC, we’ll have to see.

  • http://www.olpcnews.com/ wayan

    While I did a deep critique of Sonia’s article on OLPC News, I’ll just leave my favorite snippet in this comment:

    Bad is forgetting your own words. In 2005 Ms. Arrison said “the open source (OS) community is finally coming of age” and “evolving in a positive way.”

    Ms. Arrison, stick to critiquing the OLPC implementation, not its open source software, and be consistent. “Irresponsible and self-serving” would be forcing Microsoft Windows or Office on the developing world, not FOSS.

    As to the OLPC, we’ll have to see.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I think the problems are much more systematic. As I pointed out here, the OLPC program has yet to make a case for what exactly it really provides. For example, why does the average child in these countries need a computer? What work are they doing that couldn’t be as easily done on *gasp* pen and paper? How are you going to justify it for “research purposes” if they don’t have internet access?

    A lot of good typing skills are going to do if the economy is still largely agrarian or manual labor-based. This will be about as effective as donating a single drop of blood to someone who needs a massive blood transfusion to survive because of the myriad other issues that are involved in these countries. China and Thailand are probably the only countries that will really benefit from this at all.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I think the problems are much more systematic. As I pointed out here, the OLPC program has yet to make a case for what exactly it really provides. For example, why does the average child in these countries need a computer? What work are they doing that couldn’t be as easily done on *gasp* pen and paper? How are you going to justify it for “research purposes” if they don’t have internet access?

    A lot of good typing skills are going to do if the economy is still largely agrarian or manual labor-based. This will be about as effective as donating a single drop of blood to someone who needs a massive blood transfusion to survive because of the myriad other issues that are involved in these countries. China and Thailand are probably the only countries that will really benefit from this at all.

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