Gadgets: $100 laptop unveiled
The first demo of the $100 laptop was given in June at the Red Hat Summit Nashville, USA. The project, developed under the banner of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), is an ambitious and idealistic proposal aiming to provide laptops to children in the developing world.
OLPC is a non-profit organisation created by members of the MIT Media Lab to design, manufacture and distribute laptops that are sufficiently inexpensive to provide children in the developing world access to knowledge and modern forms of education. OLPC is based on a philosophy of education in which children learn by doing and experiencing. They explore and discover instead of being force fed information.
The $100 laptop will run an Open Source platform and software. Working on the design for Red Hat is Open Source developer Christopher Blizzard (developer of Mozilla). "We're building an environment around sharing and creating documents, talking to other people and expressing ourselves. One possible option is to just create a personalised home page that shows what you and your friends have done recently. Once of our stated goals is to create a social environment for the kids."
The laptops also have network capabilities, using the pioneering Mesh network system, where a peer-to-peer network is established as soon as more than one of the laptops in the same vicinity is turned on.
There are obvious questions about the viability of all this – power, for one. There have been a number of prototypes built to combat this problem. The first release of the laptop will include a foot pedal to charge the battery in areas where there is no available power source. Utilising state-of-the-art battery technology, it has a 1:10 charge-time versus running-time ratio.
Another obvious criticism of the project is that poor people need food and shelter, not laptops. "While it is true there are many people in the world who definitely need food and shelter, there are multitudes of people who live in rural or suburban areas and have plenty to eat and reasonable accommodations. What these people don't have is a decent shot at a good education." These are the environments that this laptop is designed for. It is also designed to contribute to other aid programmes. Participating countries so far are Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Greece, Nigeria, India and China.
The commercial potential of this product is also being considered. "In 2007 we plan to explore innovative ways of financing the laptops peer-to-peer, where kids in the USA, for example, buy them for kids in Africa." The commercial cost of the laptops will be about three times that of the OLPC releases, channelling funds back into the non-profit structure to fund further distribution in the developing world.
It will be interesting to see what happens when these laptops hit the ground. For a start, how many will end up on the black market? It is an ambitious idea that taps into the Open Source world. Who would have imagined that thousands of computer programmers from all over the planet would collaborate on developing software so it can be free, shared and continually improved upon.
More : A full website and wiki outlining the progress of the project can be found at www.laptop.org. A video of the demo is available at www.siliconvalleysleuth.com/2006/06/ first_video_of_.html. If you are interested in interface design and want to view the work in progress log onto www.oxdeadbeef.com for Christopher Blizzard's blog.
Open-source software is computer software whose source code is available under a copyright license that permits users to study, change and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified form.
A peer-to-peer network means computers that can talk to each other and can share files without having to communicate via a central server.
A Wiki is a type of website that allows users easily to add, remove or otherwise edit and change the content. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative writing.
A Blog is a type of website where entries are made as you would in a diary. It can contain text, images, video and audio.
Mozilla – Is the development name for the free internet browser Netscape. It became Mozilla Foundation, a not-for-profit organization which created Mozilla Firefox browser and Mozilla Thunderbird – which we love!
Podcast is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio or videos, over the internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers.