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30th of November, 2020



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One laptop per child


Originally uploaded by ethanz.

The One Laptop Per Child Project promises to put an underpowered, ideology-driven computer into the hands of every child. Which certainly sounds noble, if I’m anyone to judge such things.

There are 2 billion children in the world; getting a laptop to each and every one of them is going to cost $200,000,000,000.00, assuming the cost of development and production are not being subsidized to reach the $100 price. Applying the first law of Rubean Mechanics, I’d like to ask a few questions to the people running this project.

Who’s going to pay for this thing, and who’s going to profit from it?

So, is this thing also going to be available for middle-class American kids, or is it another misguided “White Man’s Burden” attempt at European colonial guilt alleviation?

Is it going to be an open-source hardware design, with schematics etc. available to whomever wants to build it, or is it a government money-grab for a small consortium of ‘well-intentioned’ hardware and software players?



A quick pass at answers to your questions:

  • The machine is designed to be sold to the education department of governments in the developing world. It's being sold as a textbook replacement - buy one of these and use it as an ebook, for the cost of the books a kid would need to buy for three or four years of schooling. Obviously, the laptop can do more than just act as an ebook, but this is a salespitch for the government partners. Obviously, many of these governments are going to receive outside funding - World Bank, etc. - to support the project

  • Who's going to profit? Possibly the consortium building the laptop... but it's a nonprofit, so it's hardly a big fiscal win from them. Possibly Quanta, who has the contract to build the first edition of the machine.

  • Will be be available to middle class American kids? It's not the first target market, but quite possibly as the project matures. Is it misguided colonialism? Possibly, though there's certainly tremendous enthusiasm from many developing nations about the project.

  • Will it be open? The software is supposed to be entirely open, based around Redhat Fedora. The hardware specs have been widely published, but the current design includes a custom display IC - dunno if that chip design will be published. (I'll ask.) The idea is that, eventually, the design will be available and people can build it in their own nations - at first, to get economies of scale, the first 5m will be built by Quanta in Taiwan.

Hope that's helpful.

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