Whatever happened to the $100 laptop? It became the $75, one watt laptop, that's what. Ever since Intel ended its involvement in the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, the whole idea seemed to have gone quiet. So we thought we'd get in touch with the organisation to find out what's happening – and whether it has reached its golden pricing goal of the $100 laptop.
Turns out that it's better than that: the organisation is moving forward with its plans for the 'XO-2' – a laptop that will aim for an $75 (£42) price point.
Last year was a particularly controversial one for the OLPC organization and its outspoken founder Nicholas Negroponte. Created by Negroponte and others from the MIT Media Lab, the idea was to "design, manufacture and distribute laptop computers that are sufficiently inexpensive to provide every child in the world access to knowledge and modern forms of education."
The company announced and launched the XO laptop, which ran an AMD processor (one of the rare moments of cheer for AMD during 2007) and an open source operating system. Set in early 2005, the original target price of the XO laptop was $100 – it is now at $188.
The laptop went into production last Novemeber and despite many doubters, 600,000 units have since been shipped. Countries benefitting from the project are Peru, Uruguay, Mongolia, Haiti, Rwanda, Mexico, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq and Afghanistan. The organisation is also pushing into China and India – home to 40 per cent of the world's children.
Also back in May, OLPC announced preliminary details of the XO-2 laptop that will eventually debut in 2010. "We are aggressively working to lower the cost, power and size of the XO laptop so that it is more affordable and useable by the world's poorest children," said Negroponte at the time.
So what else will the XO-2 offer? The current XO uses a very low 2-4 watts of power, but the OLPC claims this will be down to just one watt. Lowering the power consumption will reduce the amount of time children will spend generating power themselves via a hand crank or other manual mechanisms.
It will also be smaller: "about half the size of the first generation device and will approximately the size of a book," says the organisation. It also hopes that "dual-touch sensitive displays will be used to enhance the e-book experience."
Here we start to get a bit sceptical, as we don't believe for a minute that all this can really be produced for $75. But OLPC says the dual-touch display is being designed by Pixel Qi, founded in early 2008 by Mary Lou Jepsen. She's former chief technology officer of OLPC.
There will be an interim version, too. XO-1.5 will be released in the spring of 2009 with the same design as the first generation but with fewer physical parts and at a lower cost than the first-gen laptop.
As we reported back in May the OLPC has also reached an agreement with Microsoft to use Windows XP. "The Red Hat OS and the suite of programs to run on it – called Sugar – have not proved a sweeping success and the prospects of an OS choice and eventually a dual-boot machine now seems inevitable," we said at the time.
However, XP does not support the mesh networking technology that the organisation has been using and there's no evidence to suggest that XP will be a fixture of all later-gen OLPC notebooks.
So what happened with Intel? Originally, Intel had been a foe of the OLPC project with its own plans for a Classmate PC. But in July 2007, the two organisations stunned everybody by agreeing to work together – probably as a result of AMD's involvement in the OLPC project.
"Intel joins the OLPC board as a world leader in technology, helping reach the world's children. Collaboration with Intel means that the maximum number of laptops will reach children," said Nicholas Negroponte at the time.
However, the relationship was short-lived, and on 4 January, Intel resigned from the organisation. "We at OLPC have been disappointed that Intel did not deliver on any of the promises they made when they joined OLPC; while we were hopeful for a positive, collaborative relationship, it never materialised," the organisation said at the time.
"Intel continued to disparage the XO laptop in nations that had already decided to partner with OLPC (Uruguay and Peru), with countries that were in the midst of choosing a laptop solution (Brazil and Nigeria), and other countries contemplating a laptop program (Mongolia)."
The OLPC project said that Intel's contributions would only have resulted in a laptop that would be "more expensive and consume more power – exactly the opposite direction of OLPC's stated mandate and vision." It was reported that Negroponte had asked Intel to stop developing the more expensive Classmate PC.
Controversy indeed, but OLPC has many fans as well as many doubters. "One Laptop per Child and the XO laptop are crucial to the fulfillment of the proposed UN Ninth Millennium Goal: to ensure that every child between the ages of 6 and 12 has immediate access to a personal laptop computer by 2015," says Nirj Deva, Member of the European Parliament.