Spring 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 2
Laptop initiative targets children in developing countries
Green, white, and plastic, the XO laptop looks like a toy. This specially designed computer is not a toy — but it is for children. Built to withstand dust and high temperatures, the laptop is part of an initiative by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization to provide laptops to children in developing countries. The laptop costs less than $200. In February, lead build engineer Dennis Gilmore came to Bradley to speak about the power of the project.
Built to withstand dust and high temperatures, the laptop is part of an initiative by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization to provide laptops to children in developing countries.
Gilmore is from the Peoria area and was asked by Monica McGill, faculty advisor for the BU Linux Users Group (BULUG), to present the program at a BULUG meeting. BULUG president Mark Overholt ’09 said Gilmore’s presentation addressed many of the computer’s design obstacles. “He brought to light a lot of the challenges of creating a laptop that is usable in rugged environments, cheap, and easy to maintain.”
During the presentation, Gilmore noted the project focuses more on providing education to children in developing nations than it does on technology itself. The idea is that if children have access to the rest of the world via the Internet, they’ll have a springboard for furthering their own education. An interest in the educational benefits of the OLPC program inspired Laura McCormack ’09 to attend the presentation. “I thought it was neat that the computer was designed so students could teach themselves about computer programming,’ McCormack said.
While praised for its philanthropic approach, the OLPC laptop has received some criticism for the small keypad, slower processor, and lack of Windows software. However, David Pogue of The New York Times gave the computer a glowing review, calling it a “technological breakthrough.” Pogue referenced the computer’s ability to charge using solar power, and the outdoor setting that allows the computer screen to be readable even in direct sunlight. Click here to read the article.
Gilmore brought three of the laptops with him for students to test. Overholt said that although the computer uses an older processor, the machine still booted up in less than a minute, similar in time to his own personal desktop. “What you have to think about is the PC is meant as a learning tool for children who don’t have proper books or supplies. To them, it is the most functional PC they have ever seen. And because the parts were not high-end, it was able to be made inexpensively.”
Overholt said BULUG regularly meets to discuss problems, calling it a “support group” where students can trade stories and advice about Linux. Gilmore’s presentation doubled BULUG’s attendance, and Overholt said students seemed very interested in the laptop. “It was amazing to see how they took a version of Linux and customized it for a low-powered laptop. I think people got really excited about that, and realized just what Linux is capable of.”
For more information on the project, visit One Laptop Per Child at laptop.org.
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