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One future possibility is a “dual-boot” version of the OLPC machine, in which either Windows or Linux can be launched at start-up. Activating the Windows option, however, would likely require OLPC’s customers to pay Microsoft a licensing fee of a few dollars per machine. If such a scheme were to materialize, Negroponte says, “I expect we will do a massive rollout in Egypt.”

Negroponte says that within OLPC, the open-source scrap had become a distraction. “I think that means and ends, as often happens, got confused,” he says. “The mission is learning and children. The means of achieving that were, amongst others, open source and constructionism. In the process of doing that, open source in particular became an end in itself, and we made decisions along the way to remain very pure in open source that were not in the long-term interest of the project.”

Other computer makers, including Intel, are now developing ultralow-cost laptops. Bender says that OLPC’s unique status as a nonprofit means that it should focus on developing educational tools that others can emulate. “I think what OLPC should be doing is demonstrating to the world that there is a scalable model of learning,” he says. “The fact that Intel and other companies are all trying to build hardware is great. That actually means, what OLPC could do, going forward, is focus on the learning and how you scale the learning models.”

“We aren’t working on the things I think we are uniquely positioned to work on, and not taking advantage of our position as a nonprofit to do so,” Bender adds.

Now an outsider, Bender says that he wants to continue his efforts to hone his educational-software model; he is actively trying to create a consortium of university researchers and students who will carry that research forward. “What comes part and parcel with open source is a culture, and it’s the culture that I’m interested in,” he says. “It’s a culture of expression and critique, sharing, collaboration, appropriation.” And this culture can and should spill into classrooms, he says.

Both Bender and Kane say that a near-term priority will be making sure that existing deployments of the laptop go smoothly, so that they can serve as a model for other nations. Bender says that he will remain in touch with Peruvian officials with whom he worked closely on what is the largest OLPC deployment yet attempted.

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Credit: David Talbot

Tagged: Business, Microsoft, open source, laptops, OLPC, Sugar, Nicholas Negroponte, Windows XP

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