Finally, 5 years after the idea was proposed, the “$100 Laptop” (also called the XO Laptop) is in its final stages. Manufacturers are on the verge of plunging into mass production for at least 3 million Cheaptops, which ex-secretary general of the UN Kofi Annan believes “will open up new fronts” for children’s education in poor countries. The initiative, called One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) was met with praise and criticism when founded by Nicholas Negroponte in 2002. XO Laptop fans such as Annan were excited at the prospect of a new technology that could potentially revolutionize Internet access, education and technological literacy. The XO Laptop has been hailed as the future of computing, helping usher developing countries into the 21st century by providing a valuable resource at an affordable price. Some of the critics of the OLPC are skeptical of the laptop’s cheap design, small screen and lack of hard drive. Furthermore, some activists question the relevance of introducing laptop technology into countries that have other priorities such as electricity, clean water, health care, genocide and food.
It is difficult to ignore the incredible potential of the XO Laptop, but can it really help breach the digital divide? As we discovered in our July Interview with Firoze Manji, less than %2 of the African population has access to the Internet – and the speed of that Internet is still extremely slow. What good is a laptop (even a cheap one) while discrepancies in connection speeds and bandwidth still exist? The Laptop does, however, offer other innovative features. The XO uses open source software and has 1GB of memory without a bulky, energy draining hard drive. It is designed to survive the harsh conditions of the developing world with a waterproof case, and has options for solar powered, foot pump powered, or pull-string powered battery chargers. It also has a sunlight readable display, making the XO one of the most advanced laptops, while still remaining the least expensive.
As exciting as this new laptop seems, will it do enough to bridge the digital divide, or it is just a band-aid to cover the wound of extreme poverty and under development? Also, what (if any) training is being implemented to supplement this tool? Without knowledge of the laptop’s capabilities and operational systems, it is useless. Is the XO the savior we’ve all been waiting for, or a waste of time and money?