Saturday, January 5, 2008

Seduced and Abandoned by Intel: My Poor Sad XO Laptop

It does tricks too

When I saw the chance to get my hands on one of the XO laptops when One Laptop Per Child offered a 2 month "Give One Get One" deal where for $400 you get one and so does some kid in the third world, as a tech freak, I jumped at it.

Mine arrived last Thursday and it is so cute - little green and white thing with a 7 inch screen. And so light and rugged. Just toss it into a bag and go. I took it to a meeting the other day and when we needed a bit of info I found a wi-fi link in the restaurant and googled it. It comes with a bunch of stuff that kids will get a kick out of but we shouldn't expect the tech savvy kids in this country to love it more than the stuff they already have. But to a kid in Combodia, it is way cool. You can even charge it up like a windup toy. Check out the OLPC web site for info.

Kids in the Andes in Peru using the XO.
Photo from the NY Times article

Enter the Evil Empire
Saturday's business section of the NY Times has a very informative article written by John Markham, titled "Intel Quits Effort to Get Computers to Children."

"The project has been a lightning rod for controversy largely because the world’s most powerful software and chip making companies — Microsoft and Intel — had long resisted the project, for fear, according to many industry executives, that it would compete in markets they hoped to develop."

Maybe it was all pie in the sky when former MIT Media Lab boss Nicholas Negroponte started the One Laptop Per Child in an effort to bring inexpensive technology deep into the third world by producing and inexpensive laptop that costs $200. I'm a fan of MIT Media Lab because of the work they've done with tech ed, including developing the prototype of the LEGO brick we use in robotics. And I love the constructivist ideas (ok, I'm out of the closet) of Seymour Papert and was a big fan of the Logo programming environment he developed at MIT.

The XO laptop uses a processor from Advanced Micro Devices instead of Intel's chips and the Linux open-source operating system. Microsoft’s Windows and Office software are nowhere to be seen.

Is this idea a threat to industry giants Microsoft and Intel? You bet it is. Intel wants to sell their own $350 version and it's sales force around the world has been trashing the XO. And of course, Bill Gates, that paragon of virtue when it comes to ed reform (in many cases with the twist that Windows and Office are part of the package) – well, don't expect any of the Gates money to go to places where the XO is used. A $200 laptop with software for schools in the US where you could equip an entire classroom for about $5000 instead of 5 or 10 times as much? What kind of ed reform is that where the business world can't make a buck or 2?

One of the hidden costs of the BloomKlein takeover of the NYC public schools has been the catastrophe visited upon whatever tech program existed in the schools before they came on the scene and the enormous amount of money Intel and Microsoft have walked away with. I know where too many bodies are buried to go into depth on this and won't write much about it until everyone I know is clear.

Markham writes:

“They played another dirty trick in Peru,” [Negroponte] said. “It’s a little bit like McDonald’s competing with the World Food Program.”

In Peru, where One Laptop has begun shipping the first 40,000 PCs of a 270,000 system order, Isabelle Lama, an Intel saleswoman, tried to persuade Peru’s vice minister of education, Oscar Becerra Tresierra, that the Intel Classmate PC was a better choice for his primary school students.

Unfortunately for Intel, the vice minister is a longtime acquaintance of Mr. Negroponte and Seymour Papert, a member of the One Laptop team and an M.I.T. professor who developed the Logo computer programming language. The education minister took notes on his contacts with the Intel saleswoman and sent them to One Laptop officials.

In a telephone interview Friday, Mr. Tresierra said that his government had asked Intel for a proposal for secondary-school machines, and it had responded with a proposal offering the Classmate PC for primary grades.

“We told them this is a final decision, we are running the primary-grade project with the XO,” he said. “She wasn’t very happy.”

He said the decision to purchase the XO had come after the government had run a pilot project with the computers. “We were very happy with the results,” he said.

I think I will be too. The XO even has a little camera that can take stills and short videos. Last night me and the guys were watching the football games at my friend's house with the XO logged on to a neighbor's wi-fi. Need to know who Joe Namath's backup was when the Jets won the Super Bowl? Babe Parilli. And the XO took pics of all the chips, dip and Chinese food we consumed. I won't share and gross you out. Urp!


Geoffrey said...

i remember reading about the $100 laptop concept a few years ago and about how the developer wanted to tackle the digital divide. this seems like a feasible alternative to buying overpriced dell laptops (although i believe dell is the best laptop choice amongst the big names) that my school purchased and will purchase. although i do enjoy having a "personal" dvd burner at work. maybe someone has to inform the DOE the beauty of machines like these and open source pieces of software like Open Office and how cost effective it will be. just curious; hows the weight/shape of the machine? how long can you go without cranking it?

ed notes online said...

I'm still playing around with it. They say the battery can last about 5 hours. I am taking it along with me to check out how it works with wi fi spots. T-mobile provides a 1 year free wi-fi access but I haven't activated it yet.