Over the last two years in working with the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project I’ve had the opportunity to strategize, choreograph and execute on several major announcements. This week however, was a bit different from the rest. We’ve worked with major corporations as part of this project. AMD, Google, eBay and Nortel are all represented on the One Laptop per Child board of directors. This week though we had the pleasure of working with Microsoft and the folks from Waggener Edstrom in officially announcing the availability of Windows on OLPC’s XO laptop.
A major announcement in the eyes of Microsoft and the folks we work with at One Laptop per Child. It was an announcement that took an amazing amount of collaboration and professionalism on both sides of the table to make it “real.” Given where One Laptop per Child has been and how its roots grew from the open source community, it also took a bit of juggling to clearly explain the intentions of creating a dual-boot XO laptop that will still offer a Linux operating systems in addition to the $3 Windows Student Innovation Suite.
But don’t be fooled by all the technical speak. In the end of the day, this agreement really comes down to both organizations realizing that they can work together to reach and help educate the children of the world. It has been a long strange trip over the last three years.
Nicholas (Negroponte) has known Bill (Gates) his entire adult life and a little over three years ago they first talked about collaborating in getting laptops in the hands of children across the world. Of course it was Gates who later would publicly tell Negroponte to “Get a decent Computer.” At that time Microsoft was not interested in pursuing any collaboration that promoted or even seemed to promote open source software. Of course, at the time, One Laptop per Child was also little more then Nicholas’ vision and didn’t have a working machine. Three years later, it was a chance encounter between Nicholas and Bill that got the sides working towards a collaboration again as the astute David Kirkpatrick describes in his story on the announcement for Fortune:
“It was a chance meeting Negroponte had with Bill Gates at last year’s Clinton Global Initiative that enabled today’s news to happen. Negroponte suggested the two organizations restart talks that had fizzled earlier, and Gates was receptive.”
I was with Nicholas at CES in January when the discussions really took off and Nicholas met with Microsoft’s Craig Mundie to discuss how One Laptop per Child could incorporate windows into a machine that would still offer the sugar interface that the open source community had created.
I’m not going to get into the debate over open source or windows. But it’s obviously where a lot of the attention and dialogue has been since reports started surfacing after CES that One Laptop per Child was close to an agreement with the folks from Redmond. The intention of a making available a dual-boot laptop should officially end that debate all together in my mind.
Let’s let the governments (ministers of education) decide what works best for the children of their country and work jointly with them in making sure this technology is correctly deployed and implemented into their school systems.
As James Utzschneider of Microsoft echoed several times in interviews on Thursday, what they have been asking for is the XO Laptop with windows on it.
“A lot of Ministries of Education would like to see Windows running on that cute little green-and-white laptop.”
Steve Lohr from the New York Times quipped this to me in a side conversation after being pre-briefed on our announcement Thursday:
“The one truly global language is Windows and more people speak it than English.”
If One Laptop per Child has to speak Windows to truly reach the children of the world, then so be it. As Kirkpatrick sums up nicely, OLPC has made the industry titans take notice of the need and demand for laptops in developing world and with Microsoft supporting its efforts it has a better chance to reach children across the globe.
“There’s no question OLPC has had a catalytic effect on the industry so far. With its partnership with Microsoft, it could finally start having the effect Negroponte has always wanted it to have – on kids.”
David should have specified that “it could finally start having an effect in masses,” because as you can tell by the video I imbedded above (Courtesy of OLPC President Chuck Kane), the project is already having an effect on hundreds of thousands of children across the world (especially in Peru and Uruguay).
Microsoft and Windows will make it possible to potentially affect hundreds of millions.
Disclaimer: Although I represent One Laptop per Child, the views reflected in this blog post reflect my personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of One Laptop per Child or Microsoft.