Has OLPC jumped the shark? OLPC News seems to think so. In
a recent (and controversial) post on the blog, Wayan Vota wonders if there’s any point to OLPC anymore. Vota contends that the XO-1 laptop is 7 years old—ancient technology in Internet time—and that Sugar, its operating system, is “history.” (Though he doesn’t mention the more recent XO-1.75 that came out in 2012.) It’s closed down its Boston office and its founder, Nicholas Negroponte, has long since moved on the global literacy X-Prize project.
Yet let us be honest with ourselves. The great excitement, energy, and enthusiasm that brought us together is gone. OLPC is dead. In its place, is the reality that technology is a force in education, and we all need to be vigilant about when, where, and how it’s used.
But not so fast, says the OLPC foundation in a post to its own blog. OLPC is still around, still distributing laptops in Central and South America and Africa, and sending 50,000 XO-4 Android tablets to Uruguay.
OLPC also has outsourced many of the software and development units because the organization is becoming more hardware and OS agnostic, concentrating on its core values – education. As an example, we’ve partnered with the Smithsonian Museum to bring feature-rich, interactive and more targeted content to our young learners.
It’s worth noting that, in the 8 years since the OLPC project started, one of the core issues OLPC was trying to address has itself been addressed by the march of progress. You can now get a fully-functional Android tablet for under $100. Maybe not necessarily a very good one, but even a beater tablet can unlock a lot of educational potential—especially since the new OLPC tablet is effectively the same sort of tablet with some custom software on top.
This is probably the very reason OLPC has shifted its focus away from custom-built inexpensive hardware to commodity hardware so as to focus on education. But commodity hardware just isn’t as exciting as the old days when OLPC was creating its distinctively Fisher Price-like wowie-zowie super-budgetary-laptop, with crankable power, mesh networking, and all that. Just the idea of such a ruggedized, cheap, educational laptop was far more exciting on its own than the reality of the device turned out to be. It was more of a story.
A more modern OLPC relying on slightly customized bog-standard hardware just doesn’t have the same pizzazz. But it gets the students educated just as well, which is the important thing.