Cheap laptops for all children

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization’s goal is to provide an ultra affordable laptop called the XO to children in developing countries for “learning through cooperation and participation.” Elias Makos, Technical Instructor in the Journalism Department at Concordia, tried an XO last week.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization’s goal is to provide an ultra affordable laptop called the XO to children in developing countries for “learning through cooperation and participation.”
Elias Makos, Technical Instructor in the Journalism Department at Concordia, tried an XO last week. He gave The Concordian a preview on the machine that, according to its makers, will change the way children learn in less developed countries.
Makos explains why he thinks the XO is a step in the right direction when it comes to closing the gap in education between countries. “The whole world is digital and runs on computers. If these nations are left behind on that path, that could lead to an even wider gap between the rich and the poor nations in this century.”
OLPC started in 2005, when MIT Media Lab Chairman Nicholas Negroponte announced to a UN Internet summit that his team would design and produce a $100 laptop for educational purpose in developing countries. Since then, the cost of production has risen to $188.
Keeping costs down meant using an open-source operating system instead of using Microsoft or Apple’s offerings. The hardware specs have also been cost-consciously selected, using only a fraction of what current computers employ. “It’s a 433 megahertz processor, there’s one gigabyte of hard drive space,” explained Makos. “This computer really works the best with one program opened at a time. It’s really not a great computer for multi-tasking.”
It does come with several features extra features including a wireless networking, a built-in microphone and camera, internal speakers, a flash expansion bay for different memory cards, along with the usual input/output jacks for external microphones and headphones and three USB ports.
It’s most unusual feature is its mesh networking support. Mesh networking is a relatively new technology that allows every XO computer within a certain range to interconnect and form an ad-hoc network.
While his unit came with an AC adapter, Makos says different units will use different method to power up.
“There are additional attachments that would let the unit run by simply pulling on a cord – like a lawnmover without the gas engine – and by solar power.” Different methods will be used depending on the destination country. He also thinks a single charge could last for up to five hours.
The laptop is expected to resist hard hits and abuses. Makos says it’s meant to be durable: “There’s only two moving parts: the rabbit ears [antennas] for networking and the monitor that goes up and down.”
When he first started using the XO, he said, “[I thought] this is interesting.. but when I was told it was for a five to eight year old child, [I thought] it was perfect,” said Makos,
“It’s durable, it’s rugged, you can pour water on that … it’s super-intuitive.”
Makos believes that the XO is a success for what it’s set to accomplish. “This computer can’t be judged against others. This is really a perfect computer for the developing world … the OLPC foundation went to great lengths to create a PC with a tactile, textured design that invites touching and exploring.”
The XO will retail for $199 and will only be available in developing countries. Between Nov. 12 and Nov. 26, people in North America can buy an XO for $399, which will also buy a second one for a child in a participating country.

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