Penguins and Netbooks – Budget Education Solutions Born Through Innovation!

One of my podcasting co-hosts, Mark Gura, and I have been talking about the $100+ laptop project intermittently for the last two years in our popular bi-weekly series. If you are unfamiliar with the $100 Laptop Project; it was spearheaded by Nicholas Negroponte, formerly of MIT. The importance of this is the way it has harnessed the tidal wave of adoption of open source software and forced computer manufacturers to create low-cost netbooks. This educational project has really changed the expectations of the computer industry and tech users!


Negraponte’s project is now called One Laptop per Child Project (OLPC) because the main goal is to provide affordable, durable laptops to children in developing countries. The prototype of these laptops has gone through many variations and garnered a lot of criticism in recent years, and they are never meant to be computers that can do everything.

These are basic models, yet quite revolutionary in more ways than one. On the one hand they are very small, have alternative energy sources, such as e.g. B. manual operation, can be connected to an intranet (wireless broadband that can link networks) and most importantly do not suffer from what the founder calls “Microsoft bloat”. ” In a dedicated effort to keep costs so low, the software used is open source, requiring a much smaller footprint for hardware installation and operation.

The original prototype 2007 details in brief: Linux-based operating system, a dual-mode display, a 500MHz processor, 128MB DRAM and 500MB flash memory. No hard drive, four USB ports, and the wireless broadband that creates a mesh network.

Enter: Wider public acceptance of open source software!

In several episodes of the teacher podcast, we discuss the merging of another of my favorite technology trends with the OLPC phenomenon – open source development and software. Open source development occurs when groups of people openly share source code when developing programming languages, operating systems, or other applications. The purpose is that the community will be able to test and collaborate on the project globally, with many minds and perspectives available that otherwise might not be able to meet and collaborate. It is truly a community and this keeps the content and product “open” to be used freely. Very often a Creative Commons code license is used to describe use and attribution of the software.

The most well-known current example is the Linux operating system (recognizable by its mascot, the penguin aka Tux). Related to Linux, which numerous programmers around the world are working on, there are also other Linux-like operating systems including Apache, Ubantu, Linspire and more. In the education sector, open-source software lags far behind, with schools geared mostly towards PCs and a small number towards Macs in the younger grades. However, after attending a few educational technology conferences over the past two years, I’ve seen another trend finally catching interest, and the OLPC project could take it much further! let me explain.

At Ed-Tech conferences we have seen hands-on demonstrations of Linux or Ubantu network labs, which are “dumb terminals” plugged into a server and get all internet access and applications from the server. This first-hand experience provides an entry point for many teachers, ed-tech specialists, and school administrators who might otherwise never have considered these options. In these cases, participants will see that there is not a large sacrifice in functionality with this configuration, while the cost of this equipment is a fraction of that of a traditional school lab. This is due to two main obvious factors: 1) the hardware is not a standalone computer and 2) the operating system is open source. Hardware and upgrade costs are also greatly reduced, as is the fact that software licenses and upgrades are eliminated.

Open source software is no longer just for the tech heads. These platforms are point and click similar to most other programs. And there are thousands of open source programs freely available to us to meet our business, educational, graphics, music composition, media design, and application needs, just to name a few. As some K-12 superintendents introduce open source networks (they call them open technologies) into their schools, we see the march of penguins, pencils and laptops strutting their stuff for education! I anticipate that 2009-2010 will be a time of increased school budget scrutiny and accountability when open source software, dumb terminals, virtual terminals (discussed in an upcoming e-zine article) will be driving ahead at double or triple speed.

May 2009 update

The massive wave of netbooks (Asus, Acer, HP, Dell and more) that have swept the computing market in the last 16 months has been a welcome relief to consumer and school budgets alike! we have dr Credit to Negroponte for almost single-handedly transforming the computer industry by propelling his OLPC project to the top of the company’s competitive list. The details unfolded close to the healings of progress from Negroponte were the Asus group and the release of the ee pc with Linux on board (originally).

Not just for technicians, these were released in the standard gray and black, but also in shocking pink and green and white – we can see the market was broader than the standard computer industry had addressed). Their product was enthusiastically received and had such an impact on the public market that the major computer manufacturers had to react quickly. Now, as of June 2009, we have netbooks from all major manufacturers under $500. The resulting smaller, much cheaper (about 77% off), and robust hardware selection that we now see everywhere in computer and office stores originally came about because OLPC shook up a sanguine, overpriced system.

A related wave of adoptions continued in the spring of 2009, and that means open source, from to Linux, has had a very good year so far. Not only are we seeing more ads for these products in mainstream publications, but lay people (non-technical) people are asking, demanding and using them. What does this mean for Microsoft? Will there actually be a backlash against steep upgrade prices? We’ve talked about frustration for years, but is it time it made a significant impact? These are exciting times for the voice of the people!

The connection

As more and more people grasp the vision of netbooks and realize that they don’t need high-end computers for all the students’ classrooms, but could even provide computers for the children’s way home; it will also be open source software penguins leading this march. It has taken a long time for our education system to realize that this is a much more economical way of serving teachers and students and thereby being able to serve ALL.

An important side note – well worth reading and exploring – Negroponte is so open source that he now publishes a wiki where he openly displays the technical production notes, technical requirements, software, participating countries, photos of the prototypes and much more (see : www Putting such tools in the hands of multitudes of schools and students around the world, near and far, can really change who the voices will be and who will be taking part in the global conversations in just a few short months and into our global political future.

Providing such a tool and access to the outside world not only for students but also for their families as it is part of the purpose can create a growing wave of social change through many forms of literacy and understanding. If the walls of justice and access are broken down in even this small way, there are many opportunities for people to grow into new opportunities. Penguins, open source, education and a $100 laptop have a lot of potential for the world’s children, adults and nations.