And once we teach the villagers how to compile, we'll be good to go

The One Laptop Per Child foundation unveiled the first working prototype of its $100 laptop at the Seven Countries Task Force Meeting on Tuesday. It looks more like a Fisher-Price toy than a notebook computer, but superficial design isn’t likely to matter a whit to the intended market. The machines run Fedora Linux with a 500MHz processor and feature a color screen, Wi-Fi, and 1GB of flash memory. A passable little box for its purposes and a far more attractive computing option than Microsoft’s rent-to-own FlexGo devices (see “BSOD in this case stands for Blue Screen of Debt“).

Still, some wonder if it’s the right solution to the developing world’s needs. Speaking at the LinuxWorld Johannesburg conference last week, Linux International executive director Jon “Maddog” Hall wondered if it might be a better idea to use refurbished computers loaded with free and open source software. “If some of the banks, financial institutions, engineering organizations [etc] decided that they, when they upgrade their computer systems, were going to allow them to be taken apart, refurbished and put back together, and employ people in South Africa to do that and then sell them for $100 a piece, you might find that will generate a huge number of jobs for people and the money will stay inside of South Africa,” Hall said. “I’m not saying that the One Laptop per Child project is bad; what I’m saying is that you should think about where the money is going to be going, because I can almost guarantee you that the money for those laptops will not stay here in South Africa. … And the thing is, when you keep that money inside of South Africa, that money generates more jobs, which generates demand for more software, which generates demand for more jobs. But once it leaves South Africa, it’s pretty much gone. I don’t think Bill Gates wears that much gold.”


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  • S Tokoloshi

    AFAIK, old PCs are not shipped from Europe to South Africa because they will be stolen in the ports. And can’t be insured.

  • Mary

    Not a big money maker, I know, but what about sharable networks on which a family or community can buy time? The one per person concept is straight from an isolated American mind.

  • Sam

    The program is aimed at children’s education, jobs and revenue generation is secondary if not irrelevant.

  • Nick

    It’s best to RECYCLE the old junk that to build new junk. How much does it really cost us to bury yesterdays computer in a landfill? In the long run, it costs us more than $100 that’s printed on a tiny piece of paper. I’m all for reusing our parts not building new ones where it’s not needed.

  • Arun

    The Customs authorities may not like the idea of importing used computers. They may think it is creating cyber pollution. Besides, after paying for shipping the old computers, one finds only less than half of it is refurbishable. I tell this from real life experience.

  • Jon D.

    I think some of the important points are being missed here. I agree with Maddog’s points, for several reasons:

    1. The whole point is to get a computer into the hands of kids. It is easier to put something that exists NOW into thier hands than to have to wait on something that is yet to be designed and yet to be manufactured. Its the bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush principle.

    2. There are probably warehouses in every country with “obsolete” computers in them gathering dust. Nothing should need to be imported. The only thing that really makes a computer obsolete is the software, not the hardware. Just because a computer cannot run Windows XP does not mean it cannot do anything. These computers can be locally refurbished like he said, and there is the added benefit of job production. I am absolutely in favor of everything staying local, and not lining the pockets of a multi-national courporation. (As an aside, if the $100 computer is manufactured, those jobs are going to someone. And probably not in Africa either.)

  • Used computers could still be used. There are probably some institutions (public and private) who have those and I think that what might be done is when people junk their old units already, they could donate them to schools instead. They could be used as thin clients.

    Whatever would be best for the students should be done.