Open Sugar & Microsoft: End of OLPC As We Know It?

However great an idea it might have seemed when it was first conceived, the One Laptop Per Child project has never been something I’ve been able to wrap my head around. I’ve always felt, despite the backers’ good intentions, that it was being shoved down the throats of emerging economies with more dire needs, such as food, clean water and schools. I was dismissed as a naysayer by many, mostly for not grokking how computing can revolutionize nations. But I haven’t changed my mind. This project comes off like a vanity play for the elite, who perhaps can’t grok the meaning of living within minimal means.

That personal opinion aside, OLPC has also had its share of teething problems, as we have chronicled time and again. First it was met with strong opposition from folks like Intel, who went on to create their own rival platforms, mostly to disrupt the whole OLPC movement. At the same time, Moore’s Law brought about the rise of low-cost Internet devices like the ASUS EEE PC, which I think are only going to get cheaper as time goes by.

The biggest blows, however, are proving to be self-inflicted. Today OStatic notes that OLPC’s Open Sugar platform is going to be adopted for new hardware platforms by Sugar Labs, the new effort of OLPC former president Walter Bender and one where he is joined by many of the core Sugar developers.

I can’t help but wonder if there’s a link between Bender’s efforts at Sugar Labs and yesterday’s announcement that Windows XP is going to be available on OLPC machines and that Sugar will be ported over to Windows. (Yeah, right…not with most of the people off doing Sugar Labs.) The availability of Windows XP is different from what the people behind OLPC had set out to do — build a truly open, low-cost connected computing device for kids around the world. The press materials don’t make it clear how much Microsoft is going to pocket.

There are some who might point to the low-cost hardware — $180 a pop — as reason for people to buy OLPCs for kids in emerging economies, but how will these machines compete with low-end computers and Internet devices that will run using Intel’s Atom devices?

I think this is the end of OLPC as we know it, even though I’m sure that almost all of you would disagree with me.

Bonus Reading:

* What you can learn from the sad state of OLPC.
* The unintended consequences of OLPC