Recently, the One Laptop Per Child project announced that it was going to include Microsoft’s Windows XP alongside the Linux-based Sugar OS it had previously been shipping as the only operating system option for the XO Laptop.
There has been a lot of buzz in the Linux community about how this is a sellout on the part of Negroponte and the OLPC project, and rebuttals have been that it’s about the government’s choice to use an operating system (Windows) it wants, the project’s always been about getting computers into the hands of kids (not necessarily open source operating systems), and people who think OLPC has sold out are just Linux fanboys upset because Linux lost out.
No, the definition of sellout in this case isn’t “Went with an operating system we don’t like.” It’s “Went with an operating system it deliberately did not go with before on principle.”
Seymour Papert, a professor emeritus at MIT and one of the project’s founders, said the scheme had refused Jobs’ offer on the grounds that Mac OS X is a proprietary system.
Papert told the WSJ: “We declined because it’s not open source,” adding the $100 laptop creators will only choose an operating system where the source code is open and can be altered.
He said: “AMD is our partner, which means Intel is pissing on me. Bill Gates is not pleased either but if I am annoying Microsoft and Intel then I figure I am doing something right.”
Microsoft allegedly offered to build the operating system for the machine but was rejected by the OLPC project. Negroponte added that the project required an extremely scaled-down OS to enable the eventual machines to run at a decent speed, while using very little power. “About 25 per cent of the cost of a laptop is there just to support XP, which is like a person that has gotten so fat that they use most of their muscle to move their fat,” he said.
I’ve added emphasis in both excerpts. The project started out being about allowing children the freedom to explore and have no licensing or proprietary code restrictions. Now, suddenly, it’s become about spreading Microsoft to even more developing nations. That isn’t choice. That’s oversaturation.
If you have an obesity epidemic, and one of the few efforts to encourage a healthy lifestyle gets co-opted by a pro-obesity program, those people aren’t being offered the choice to continue to be obese; they’re being denied the choice to experience a healthy lifestyle. The choice for Linux has continually been co-opted by Microsoft Windows. And now they are well on their way to extinguishing the emerging (previously Linux-dominated) netbook / subnotebook market by also putting XP on the Asus Eee PC and Vista on the HP Mini-Note.
Yes, OLPC sold out. Might it be good for those kids in developing countries to have a weather-proof Windows laptop? Maybe. But that wasn’t really the original goal of the OLPC project at all. Boy am I glad I didn’t participate in the “Give one, Get one” campaign in November.