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$100 Laptop – A victim of $1 thinking?

Posted on | October 11, 2007 | No Comments

I was browsing Cognitive Daily today (which is a really good place to find things worth reading) and happened upon an interesting article about the $100 Laptop that is now called “XO”.

If you are not familiar with the XO, its a very simple laptop computer that was developed to enable better education in developing countries. The XO is built as cheaply as possible, loaded with free software and features super low power consumption. You could power the XO with a hand crank generator if needed, or other sources of energy.

A great deal of thought and engineering went into the XO architecture. Only $1 worth of thinking went into its marketing, this might mean bad news for the project.

Originally, the devices were slated for sale to Governments only, with a one million minimum quantity per purchase. What developing Government has $100,000,000.00 to spend on a pilot program? This minimum was later lowered to 250,000 (Perhaps lower, several sources contradict each-other when it comes to this). I can see the need for a minimum, makers need to secure special pricing to mass produce these gizmos (and funding). I wonder why this limit was not specified as over time instead of a mandatory initial purchase?

The XO device will debut in the US and Canada soon. This (I think) was a good move, however its sparked a rather heated debate. Many people are saying “This was supposed to be for developing countries!”, apparently they have never visited Appalachia. I have, I lived there as a small child. Domestic kids need those devices just as badly as children abroad. I’m sure that you don’t need to travel to the mountains to find poverty in the US, drive to the armpit of any major city. I lived in one of those armpits as a young adult. Debate, however, remains a product of differing perspective – that is as it should be.

Engineers get so ensnared in concept that reality fades to a bliss that only ignorance can provide. When the prototype and proof of concept is done, the devices need to be made.

Producing electronics on a large scale (even $100 laptops) costs money, more so initially. An over simplified example would be ordering pens that display your company logo .. or key chains, or anything of that nature. Setting up the manufacturing process for this stuff costs money, molds have to be made, circuit boards must be mass produced, all kinds of stuff. This means that yes, you must secure large initial orders in order to gain the capital that pays off the short term loans that allowed you to set up manufacturing.

Now, it seems we might have happened upon a race condition. Will these devices demonstrate their effectiveness before the wind no longer blows the sails of those financing production of XO devices? We’ll see.

I, would delight in seeing the IRS provide a check-box on upcoming returns, “Will you donate [] $10 [] $20 [] $50 [] $100 to the XO project (with a brief blurb explaining the project)” , then use the money to do exactly what they’re trying now : two-for-one. Buy one for domestic use, one to send abroad.

Google might be able to help with some kind of an advertising grant.

Thousands and thousands of free software developers are just waiting to get our hands on these things and improve them. I really hope that this project becomes successful. I remain concerned, but optimistic :)

Again, if you have the time, check out the article on Cognitive Daily, its a good read.


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