OLPC 2.0: After Layoffs, One Laptop Foundation Reboots With New Focus and Big Plans

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being a regional thing,” he says. The foundation doesn’t have the resources to run a support infrastructure for the computers it deploys around the world. But in places like Uruguay and Peru, he says, various government or organizational authorities “want to take over that responsibility…That is a requirement, really, for it to be successful.”

Under the structure Kane foresees, OLPC will take orders and circulate them to the various operating regions for fulfillment. “That’s what I’m focused on right now, is establishing autonomous regions,” Kane says.

Meanwhile, the core of OLPC will focus on bringing XOs to new markets. Negroponte, who was on his way to a regional meeting in Amman, Jordan, after our session, says the foundation is poised for big payoffs in the Middle East, where he is exploring partnerships with a number of organizations to help get XOs into the hands of children—including Palestinian refugees—who otherwise have little opportunity for computer access. OLPC also has operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Negroponte is talking with officials in Iraq as well. “I expect it to gel over the next month,” he says of the overall Middle East effort. “This meeting this week is very important.”

Another big area of focus is Africa, especially Rwanda, where OLPC is deploying a full-time staffer. “Rwanda really is the poster child,” Negroponte says, describing President Paul Kagame as “very much behind” the OLPC program. The Rwandan leader initially ordered 10,000 XOs, then upped it to 100,000. The program now makes up a large fraction of the country’s education budget, according to Negroponte.

Here’s a link to a video about the Rwanda program.

OLPC OfficeThe successes in Uruguay, Peru, and Rwanda will breed other successes, Kane predicts. “Now we have visible proof of concept in these areas and very delighted projects, and so that of course drives other opportunity,” he says, pointing to a growing presence in India and China, both huge potential markets that OLPC moved into since he joined. “Amazingly we have a lot of deals that are starting to pop right now,” he says.

Of Mesh Networks, Sweet Words About Sugar, and 1M Digital Books

To date, OLPC has designed, developed, and manufactured its laptop largely on its own, and now has a 500,000-strong backlog at the manufacturing facility in Shanghai where the XO is assembled. It’s not exactly in a non-profit’s wheelhouse to be running such an operation, and “in a perfect world we wouldn’t have built this computer ourselves,” Negroponte says. Neither he nor Kane, however, think the basic situation will change in the near term. “As much as we’d love to I don’t think we can just get out of it,” Kane says. “It’s not clear who would partner in a not-for-profit scenario.”

That said, OLPC is changing the way it designs its machines, hopefully pointing the way to getting out of the manufacturing business farther down the road. The next version, XO 2.0, is some 18 months out. Rather than doing the whole design in-house, the new plan is to outsource as much of the work as possible. Ideally, “what we should do is build something akin to a reference design that other people can freely use,” says Kane. “The idea would be to hand off 2.0 so that … Next Page »

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Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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