XP on OLPC - a contrarian view

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Fri May 16 19:38:06 EDT 2008

On Fri, May 16, 2008 at 12:40 PM, Walter Bender <walter.bender at gmail.com> wrote:
> There is an underlying assertion in your post (and much of the press
> coverage of the Windows XP announcement) that the XO has not been
> selling well to date. I would assert that 600K units in the first 6
> months is pretty good by most measures.

I have gone much farther than that. 600K units @USD188 is an eighth of
a billion dollars. At the current run rate, we are looking at a
quarter billion dollars revenue for the first year. That would be
excellent for a commercial launch of any new product, and is unheard
of for a non-profit.

Furthermore, the success of the XO has inspired about two dozen
low-cost laptops (some shipping, some in sampling, and yet others that
I didn't count merely announced), most of them offering Linux, with or
without a Windows option. This is also unheard of in any product
category. When I was in the market research business we called this
"validation of a market segment by the competition". This level of
validation rarely occurs. We can be proud of the reaction we have

There is no longer much argument about whether children will get
low-cost laptops. Now the questions are whose? running which software?
for how much? and will they have mesh networking, collaboration built
in, and some of the other goodies our community has been working on?
There is almost no argument about Constructionism vs. traditional
teaching methods.

> It is a far cry from the 100M
> units that Nicholas predicted, but so what? It is a great start and
> there is every indication that laptop-for-learning programs on a
> variety of hardware platforms are springing up around the world--with
> or without Windows. To the extent that the community can work to make
> these programs successful, more children will be reached--our
> goal--and more laptops (XOs and others) will be sold.
> -walter
> On Fri, May 16, 2008 at 12:27 PM, Robert Myers <rmyers7 at mindspring.com> wrote:
>> There's a lot of discussion about whether OLPC is an education project,
>> or a laptop project. Many folks here think that recent developments show
>> that the balance is tipped to the latter rather than the former.
>> It's neither. It's a _sales_ project. If people don't buy them, it
>> doesn't matter how pure our hearts are.

For sales people, it's a sales project. NN is primarily a salesperson
at present. He is good at some parts of the job, but by no means all.

For developers, it is often a Free Software/Open Source project. This
is the most productive hardware/software project I have ever seen.

For educators, it is definitely an education project. We would like it
to be a Constructionist education project, but there aren't a lot of
people who know what that means. I'm trying to start that conversation
on OLPC-Open in order to learn more myself.

>> The folks that are buying them, Ministries of Education, governments,
>> charities all have their own agendas. They do not necessarily line up
>> with the agendas of our real customers - children and educators, or our
>> own. If we have to give them some of what they want, so that we can get
>> some of what we want to to the children, it's a fact of life.

If it turn out that Windows is a checklist item, and the schools
really use Sugar, I'll be quite happy. If at some age the children are
required to learn both, then they will form their own opinions of the
value of each. That sounds to me like a good Constructionist way to
present the issue to those who will have to make many of the practical
decisions in the next decade or two. What is Linux good for? Whatever
you can make it do, or others are willing to make it do for you. What
is Windows good for? Throwing money at a neo-colonialist corporation,
yes, getting outsourcing jobs, and...? Oh, did you hear that the US
military is researching how to create the largest possible botnet for

>> Selling constructionism is hard. The theory is attractive, but the data
>> is _not_ compelling.

Which data do you refer to? I haven't seen any convincing data for
Instructionism, except as a system of social control.

>> The buyers are probably not convinced going in that
>> it's something they want or need. OLPC would probably have an easier
>> time selling $100 Apple ][ clones with drill and practice software than
>> the XO as it stands.

I have run CP/M on an Apple ][ clone, but I'll be impressed if you can
get one to run Windows.

>>If the buyers demand a machine that can run
>> Windows, tell them that the XO can run Windows.
>> Look at the reaction of the general press to the announcement. It's
>> overwhelmingly favorable. To outsiders this looks like the feature that
>> can put the XO over.

Depends where you look. I also see wailing and gnashing of teeth, and
not just on SlashDot.

>> So put XP on as a dual boot. It won't fit in the flash, so buyers for
>> the foreseeable future will still get Linux, Sugar, and all the OLPC
>> activities. The Windows guys are talking about a 2G SD card to put XP on
>> for that $7 hardware point. That won't fly. I had an Win98 machine with
>> specs similar to an XO. It had a 8Gb drive.

Yes, when do any of us get to see what apps it can run? What's in the
$3 software bundle?

>> The buyer gets to tick Windows off his must have list. OLPC sells a
>> machine with XP on a card, a crippled and storage limited XP that still
>> doesn't run current first world productivity applications well. XOs get
>> out, still loaded with Sugar. Children get them. OLPC gets revenue that
>> can help its educational mission. What have we lost but some innocence?
>> That being said, I believe Bill G is a prime example of 'Daniel
>> Plainview' capitalism -- it's not enough for him to win, everyone else
>> has to lose. So OLPC has to be careful.
>> Bob
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Edward Cherlin
End Poverty at a Profit by teaching children business
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."--Alan Kay

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