OLPC is dead: design now “open source”

It would be fair to say that things haven’t gone exactly to plan for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative recently. From an auspicious beginning that hyped the idea of a “$100 laptop” recent months have seen the organisation lay off half of its staff and throw the development of its “Sugar”  GUI to the Open Source world.

Just days ago according to a leaked email referenced on Morgan Collett’s Feeding The Penguins blog even the option to strategically give hundreds (or even thousands) of XO laptops to a third world school of your choice has been discontinued in favour of larger more cost-effective deployments.

Now OLPC chairman Nicholas Negroponte has announced at the TED 2009 conference according to blogger Ethan Zuckerman that even the design of the OLPC will be going open source in an effort to increase production by getting existing PC companies to produce OLPC laptops for the organisation. Not that Negroponte’s a big fan of big PC companies; he’s reported as bemoaning the fact that the original OLPC design was seen as “silly” but now Netbooks make up 50% of the world’s market. “Commercial markets will go to no end to stop you. It’s sort of a tragedy.

The solution according to comments attributed to Negroponte is to go “from uppercase to lower case” by building “something that everyone copies.” Negroponte hopes that by releasing and open sourcing the hardware design within three years big manufacturers will be pumping out five to six million machines per month.

Most estimates suggest that around half a million OLPC “XO” laptops have been produced so far but it’s not exactly clear how (or why) big manufacturers would cut their already razor-sharp margins even further on netbooks by producing an even lower-cost alternative. Or if they’ll still come in lurid green.