More troubles for children’s laptop

10 Jan 2008

Following the departure of Intel from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project earlier this week, the scheme is running into further roadblocks to success as former chief technology officer Mary Lou Jepsen has started a spin-off company called Pixel Qi, which is aiming to do what the OLPC cannot: create an affordable laptop for developing nations.

While the OLPC project’s XO laptop was originally dubbed the US$100 laptop, it soon increased in price to US$200. However, Pixel Qi aims to keep the cost under the $100 mark.

Jepsen exited the OLPC over two weeks ago, bringing with her the rights to new technology she developed while working there. The former CTO was listed as inventor of the low-power screen, which is part of the laptop.

Although the OLPC is a non-profit organisation, Jepsen will be providing Pixel Qi technology to the scheme, at a cost.

While Intel’s departure was initially seen as a move by a large corporation favouring profit over people, it soon revealed deeper-lying problems: the failure of the scheme to bring global technology companies together to work in harmony.

The XO currently runs on the free open-source Linux operating system but Microsoft has developed Windows XP to run on the machine as well. Presumably this would rise the cost of the XO given that licensing would have to be paid for and if the machine were to run both systems it would need to dual boot, thus requiring improved hardware.

Bill Gates however seems to think the ubiquity of Windows worldwide would benefit the OLPC and said earlier this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that the scheme has not being doing well and is “nowhere compared to where we are on this thing”.

The XO may be a philanthropic effort on founder Nicholas Negroponte’s part but it does face competition from similar schemes such as the one under development by Intel. Added to this pressure is the fact that some countries such as India and Nigeria do not want to use the OLPC’s low-cost laptop.

By Marie Boran