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One Laptop Per Child: Labor Pains
I've been waiting for word on the shipping of One Laptop Per Child XO computers to the November donors. I'm not in a big hurry for my personal two machines. I know there's a November update to the software and I wouldn't mind waiting in order to receive an updated system. At the same time, I'd like my hands on a system so I could see how difficult it is for an adult to use because of the form factor and keyboard size. There are also projects I would like to promote.
As a developer, I am fascinated by the ways that the project is managed and that open-source contributors (and process transparency) are supported. I have some vague ideas about using the machines in social-networking applications and certainly as much-needed readers for hands-on educational materials.
It wasn't until I saw a complaint on Sam Hiser's PlexNex blog that I realized there is more going on around the One Laptop Per Child Program. After seeing other reports of the Wall Street Journal article on the topic, I checked it out.
As a booster of XOen and the OLPC, it is a little disheartening to see the kinds of difficulties that are being experienced in the effort to give birth to the computers, place them in the hands of students, and deal with the confusion created by alternative products promoted by commercial interests. Along with this we find the difficulties of organization and support in the developing world and the neediness of non-profits and of the societies they want to serve.
I am reminded of Machievelli's warning from The Prince: "It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them."
What remains is to maintain steadfastness of purpose and persistence.
I have no way to predict the future success and endurance of the OLPC program. Personally, I have nothing to lose in supporting it. I consider the time invested in exploring the machines and learning how they can be programmed and employed as social-network and learning appliances as effort well-spent. As an adherent to interoperability principles, I can ensure that any software development work I invest is transportable to other platforms, especially those built with the open-source and/or free tools used for the XO.
So I am resolved to wait patiently for my first machines. I do think that the arrival of machines and the development of a community around their application and support will be an important step toward providing a grounded reality around the OLPC program.
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