I’ve written in the past about the tragedy of the OLPC. Last week, there was news that the OLPC folks were moving forward with a new device, the XO-3, a new tablet initiative designed to bring a tablet to market. Forget about the fact that the XO-2 never emerged from vapor, now it’s all about the XO-3. It’s also not about laptops anymore it seems. The new XO-3 is a tablet because keyboards aren’t a good idea (perhaps the organization needs to be called the OTPC now?). Promising the best of devices such as the Kindle and high-end tablet features combined in one, the new device will be seen at CES 2011 for $75.
Call me skeptical. Very skeptical.
Over the years, the One Laptop Per Child Project has over-promised and under-delivered time and time again. Remember that XO laptop? It was supposed to go for $99. Oops, missed that one by a pretty wide margin. How about those cool dual-screen XO-2s? Well, they never made it past the Photoshop renderings. Even with the help of Marvell, it’s very hard to see how they’re hitting the price point of $75 and still delivering on the promised functionality. Maybe it’s just me but this is starting to feel an awful lot like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. Except the people who keet getting the football pulled away from them have neither the budget nor resources to make the same mistakes over and over again.
I can question the whole concept of the project and debate whether emerging markets need this device or anything like it. I can argue whether emerging countries that lack food, water, medicine and other basic services need devices that can connect to the Internet before they get the basics that developed countries take for granted. (One feature of the XO was the ability to secure it to make sure it wouldn’t work outside of the target network, discouraging people from selling the devices for things they might actually need.)
Even if you think the idea has merit, it doesn’t appear that the OLPC folks know how to deliver. Comments that the XO set the foundation for netbooks are just ludicrous. Sure netbooks came after the OLPC but the idea that the XO was responsible for that phenomena is silly. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is Latin for “after it, therefore because of it”. Except it’s almost never the case in reality and it’s amusing to see people pointing to the netbook as a positive result of the OLPC much like Tang was a byproduct of the US space program.
It’s hard not to appreciate what the OLPC folks are trying to do. It’s aspirational. It’s inspirational. It’s noble. They’re not in this for fortune, fame or glory but the desire to help people. It’s hard to criticize that. It is, however, perhaps time to realize that this is turning into a tremendous waste of time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere. I’m tired of the press reporting on one more initiative and program reboot as if there was something of substance. Perhaps I’m wrong and we’ll see come January, but as far as I’m concerned it’s time for the OLPC organization to be quiet for a change. When you’ve really got something real to deliver, let’s talk. Until then, this is just more hype and vapor of the worst kind.