Damn disheartening news from OLPC

The subtitle of this Computer World report quotes Nicholas Negroponte as saying that insitence on Open Source scares people away.


I believe that without open source, the fundamental purpose of OLPC will fail, because it will create another generation of slaves to proprietary technologies and corporate largesse. In other words, it will perpetuate the status quo, rather than rearrange it.

The book The End of Poverty explains that there are several core capabilities that must be functional in order for those in poverty to reach the first rung of the economic improvement ladder. Like human beings, whole societies are not dependent upon one single factor, but are dependent upon a variety of factors, and sub-minimal coniditions in any one can create catastrophe. An all-out focus on clean water means nothing if there is no food, and vice-versa.

The great goal of OLPC was to provide a generation of children with an opportunity to become techincally self-sufficient–something that I have seen happening in the OLPC pilots, for real! In the framework of The End of Poverty, this goal aligns with the essential capability of creating intellectual capital. So what is happening? Why this talk of abandoning the seeds of technology freedom, and instead preparing to plant invasive proprietary technologies that the children will never be able to make their own?

I don’t know.

Perhaps Negroponte has lost sight of his own original visionary statement, which was

This is not a laptop project. It’s an education project.

I have no idea what pressures Negroponte is under. I have no idea what failures of leadership, vision, or courage have occurred, are occurring, or are at risk of occurring at the OLPC project today. It would be irresponsible to jump to too many conclusions based on a single article. But if OLPC abandons its open source roots, then I do not see the project accomplishing any of its goals. And while I can afford to throw away the three XO laptops I bought, the world cannot afford to throw away the goal of ending poverty in favor of preserving monopoly control of technology.