Just seen part of an interview with Bill Gates on News24 where Microsoft’s educational projects were being discussed, and the One Laptop Per Child project was brought up. Bill sort of avoided trying to talk about it by claiming that hardware costs will continue to come down and the real problem is about educational content.
It is true that hardware costs tend to come down … to a point where prices stay fairly static but specifications increase. He has also glossed over the fact that the OLPC laptop is semi-ruggedised with features specifically intended to help with its use as a learning tool rather than a working tool; including the special display which has a special low-power black and white mode intended for reading eBooks. Not something found in a typical laptop!
The other thing that was totally ignored is that the Sugar user interface (running on a stripped down RedHat) is designed to be easy to use for children rather than rely on some conventional approach to desktop computing. For instance there is an easy way to see your local “neighbourhood” (press F1) … the local mesh of internetworked OLPCs.
However Bill hit the nail on the head by bringing up the content issue. It is the real problem and in fact the OLPC project highlights this and has a prominent area on their Wiki to deal with content. Perhaps Bill should put his money where his mouth is and help fund the content projects … it may not help Microsoft directly (although given that the content is intended to be “open-source” there is no reason why a Microsoft operating system could not use it as well as the OLPC laptops) but it would help education.