Friday, 23 June 2006

Is $100 laptop project flawed?

By Andrew Donoghue

This is the question raised by Tony Roberts, chief executive and founder of U.K. charity Computer Aid International.

Even for charity work, there is a competition for "attention" as pointed out:

the OLPC project is also distracting from other worthwhile technology projects in the developing world.

So the $100 laptop project is a competition for Tony's own Computer Aid effort which has just celebrated shipping its 70,000th PC to the developing world.

Any project of such scale has impact beyond the immediate consequences.

First of all, the $100 laptop project will use Linux and hence will have an impact on distribution of OS of the installed computers. Together with China adopting Linux and distributing its own laptop to their students nation-wide, the installed OS in computers will shift significantly towards Linux.

As the installed base change, the focus of software development will shift as well. At the moment, it seems that most new ideas and software are oriented towards web-based, hosted solution (Web 2.0 applications) making the issue of installed OS more a non-issue. So I don't buy into Tony's argument that Nicholas Negroponte has misunderstood adoption of technology in poor country.

Some comments on the post argue that when millions are dying from hunger, the poor countries do not care about technology.

Again, this is not a black and white issue. While there are lots of people under the poverty line are struggling just to get food, many want to improve their livelihood and want to contribute to the well being of humanity. Education will make a difference and the $100 laptop will be important.

Technology, in fact anything else, is not cultural neutral. Introducing laptops into poor countries will also imply importing the cultural values into such countries. I also wonder if there is anyone who has looked at the impact from this angle. Please enlighten me.

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