I Miss the OLPC, a Little Laptop That Dreamed Bigger Than It Could Deliver

I remember the gadget “fondly”. It may have been done by corporate greed or stupidity (or a combination of both). The “rumoured” enemies are the same bunch- Intel and Microsoft who have a marketing budget of much more orders of magnitude than the one-laptop-per-child project.

It is also a reflection of how marketing shapes our attitudes. I have been a strong votary of open source but I disagree with the idea that everything should be “free”. Users won’t find value in a product unless they pay for it.

How much to pay? That’s a gentle balancing act.

Some believe the entire concept of the OLPC initiative was flawed to begin with, as students in developing countries needed access to clean water, medical care, and other basic needs long before they needed access to a computer. And features like the hand crank charger didn’t take into account that constantly cranking a handle burned calories that many kids wouldn’t be easily able to replenish. The OLPC could have been a great solution to a problem: just not the problem its creators were hoping to solve. But in a time when the only way you can differentiate laptops, smartphones, and tablets from each other is the corporate logo slapped on the back and when it’s almost impossible to discern how a gadget has been updated year to year, the OLPC still manages to stand out as something truly unique and wonderful: one of the tech world’s best failures.

Here’s something more instructive here: (emphasis mine)

Instead of Windows or Mac OS X, which were both rumored to have been offered to the OLPC team, the XO ran a lightweight Linux-based OS with an interface developed by the non-profit Sugar Labs. Those weened on Microsoft’s or Apple’s operating systems might find themselves a little lost when first trying to navigate the OLPC (myself included) but when you put yourself in the mindset of someone who is completely new to computers, it’s easy to understand why the OLPC’s front-end was designed the way it was. It seems over simplified at first glance, but it also encourages exploring, which quickly unlocks more advanced features.

I have become more attuned to “design” values. The idea is to simplify the operating systems. It is the reason why Mac OS wins hands down. They were incredibly lucky to hit on the user interface at the outset. Everything else from OSX downwards, though, has been a slow-moving train wreck (in terms of services speaking to each other).

We need to be mindful about the embedded systems- an overtly complex system interacting with the healthcare won’t help. Users like to have an illusion of choice but not the actual choice itself. It is here that Apple excels in marketing “minimalism”. That’s why most applications, for example, run aground because they overwhelm user interaction.

However, if the project (OPLC) had succeeded in the first instance, it would have changed the narrative for having curious learners.

via I Miss the OLPC, a Little Laptop That Dreamed Bigger Than It Could Deliver