New Strides on Affordable Laptops
Fair is fair. In the past I have harangued the likes of Dell and HP for not making a computer that is affordable for our nation's inner city and community college students, hoping that the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) effort by Nicholas Negroponte would, at a minimum, provide the competitive impetus for those companies to do so.
So now that progress has, in fact, been made in this nation on affordable laptops, it is only fair to give credit where it is due.
According to the Economist Technology Quarterly, June 7th 2008, Intel's Classmate PC has emerged as a "full-fledged but cheap laptop (it costs $300-500) that runs standard Windows software" and has been gaining ground. One practitioner and blog reviewer noted "...there are few of us in education who couldn't find a lot of uses for cheap, highly portable, really rugged computing devices that get kids online, collaborating, and creating content. Frankly, there are a lot of adults (me included) who would rather toss a $300 semi-ruggedized netbook into my bag to take everywhere than always carry around my $1400 MacBook."
Just making cheaper hardware doesn't do the trick. The product site shows that "providing quality educational tools at a low cost requires the interaction of many factors," including a "unified vision" of electrical power sources, hardware, connectivity to the Internet, relevant software applications, training support and maintenace and cost structure and financing. Intel recognizes it must build collaborative "ecosystems" involving multinational, regional and local companies as they expand distribution.
Perhaps less encouraging is the fact that OLPC has made only measured progress. According to the Economist article, "sceptics argued that it would make more sense to spend the money on other things -- water, sanitation, health care, teacher training -- rather than laptops. Two-and-a-half years after it was unveiled, the machine, now officially know as the XO Laptop, still costs nearly $200 to make and only about 300,000 of the things have been distribute. And in recent months several senior figures have departed from OLPC, casting doubt over its ambitious goals." It's original goal of $100 per laptop and millions of users is still far away.
Yet as the article notes, "the $100 laptop has been a success -- just not, so far, in the way its makers intended." But very much in the way I had hoped. Dell and HP, there's still room for you.