ingo's OLPC site home

The moment I heard of the OLPC project, I was fascinated both by the social implications (closing the digital divide by providing laptops to children in developing countries) as well as the technical aspects (a mobile device with new technical ideas that provides robustness and reliability under difficult operating circumstances and at low cost).
I was bitterly disappointed when the enrollment options of the first Give One, Get One (G1G1) program at the end of 2007 made it virtually impossible for me to obtain a device. (I needed a credit card and a shipment address in the U.S.) In October 2008, I acquired a second-hand system via eBay (and snapped up a second device in August 2009). I spent a lot of time in tailoring the system, focusing on the low-level Sugar environment running on top of the customized Fedora Linux kernel. The openness of the system (Sugar is written in the Python programming language) makes it easy to look under the hood; in addition, an active community maintains a forum and a wiki. I contributed some tips, fixes and enhancements back, too. (I even had to dig into hardware repairs, as my first XO was affected by the "sticky keys" problem.)

In my opinion, the idea behind OLPC is really revolutionary; unfortunately, the real-world implementation has been messy and difficult. Despite the great vision and the hard-working idealists behind it, I am disappointed by the execution. The launch of the XO and the G1G1 program had the potential of riding the first wave of the Netbook-craze, and (together with the original Asus EEE PC) could have fostered a mainstream alternative to the current monoculture of Microsoft Windows. I believe that if schools in the industrialized world had jumped on this unique movement (and for example governments had equipped every pupil in the U.S. and Europe with an XO), a culture of joint learning and understanding could have been established. Imagine German children video-conferencing with some African twin-school (in English), exchanging stories and insights into their respective cultures! Imagine a first contact with computers through a device that is fully open (down to the firmware), adaptable and free! (I still sort of had that kind of experience through the C64 home computer.) A device that puts an end to antiquated user interface concepts (hierarchical file system, the traditional desktop), yet keeps a solid (Unix-based) foundation, and has collaborative features designed in from the start.

Ingo Karkat, 03-Jan-2009