I have been a soft-spoken critic of the OLPC project; it is hard to critique something that gets technologies into the hands of children. Yet, I’ve had two main issues. First, I have my own XO and I have complained from the day I received it that I felt the machine to be a piece of junk. I never got the machine running well, although I know others have reported much more positive experiences. But, I thought, what should I expect for
$100 $200. Second, I voiced the opinion that the project is a type of techno-colonialism, and although well-intended, it instills particular values and tools on cultures we patronizingly regard as “developing”. Yet, on this second point, there was something that made me feel a bit better when I knew that these machines would be loaded with free and open source software. At least then, we could avoid exporting even more of our corporatism. But that OLPC goal began to fall apart earlier this year when Negroponte confirmed that Windows XP was to be available on the XOs. For myself and others, this move marked the end of the OLPC as an educational project and it simply became just another laptop project.
I just came across this article by Richard Stallman in Boston Review. Stallman, once a proponent of the project, rejected it once “the project backed away from its commitment to freedom and allowed the machine to become a platform for running Windows, a non-free operating system.” For those of you who do not know Stallman’s work, this article is a good backgrounder that includes Stallman’s four essential freedoms that should be available to all users of software, as well as the distinction between “free as in beer” and “freedom of knowledge and action”. And my favourite quote from the article has to be, “Teaching children to use Windows is like teaching them to smoke tobacco—in a world where only one company sells tobacco. Like any addictive drug, it inculcates a harmful dependency.
These are important issues to think about. Learn more about free software at the Free Software Project.