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Penguins & Netbooks – Budget Solutions For Education Birthed by Innovation!
One of my podcast co-hosts, Mark Gura, and I have been discussing the $100+ laptop project off and on for the past two years in our popular bi-weekly series. If you happen to be unfamiliar with the $100 laptop project; it was led by Nicholas Negroponte formerly of MIT. The importance of it is the way it exploited opened the wave of adoption of open source software and forced computer manufacturers to develop cheap netbooks. This education-related project has truly transformed the expectations of the computer industry and tech users!
Negraponte’s project is now called the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project because the basic goal is to provide low-cost, durable laptops to the children of developing countries. The prototype of these laptops has gone through wide variations, and brought a lot of criticism over the last few years and they are never meant to be the “do everything” computer.
These are basic models and yet quite revolutionary in many ways. First, they are very small, have alternate energy sources, such as manually operated, can be connected together to form an intranet (wireless broadband that can network a network) and above all do not suffer from what the founder calls “Microsoft bloat”. ” In the dedicated efforts to keep the cost so very low, the software used is open source, which requires a much smaller installation footprint and hardware operation requirements.
The Original Prototype 2007 Details in brief: Linux-based operating system, dual-mode display, 500MHz processor, 128MB of DRAM and 500MB of Flash memory. No hard drive, four USB ports and the wireless broadband that creates a mesh network.
Enter: Wider Public Adoption of Open Source Software!
In several episodes of the Teachers Podcast we discuss the merging of another of my favorite technology trends with the OLPC phenomenon – open source development and software development. Open source development occurs when groups of people openly share source code in the development of programming languages, operating systems, or other applications. The goal is that the community will be able to test and work collaboratively globally on the project with many minds and perspectives available that would otherwise not be able to meet and work together. It really is a community and thus the content and the product remain “open” which is free to use. Very often a Creative Commons code license is used to describe use and attribution of the software.
Probably the most famous current example is the operating system Linux (identified with its mascot the penguin aka Tux). As for Linux, which has many developers working on it around the world, there are other Linux-like operating systems available as well including Apache, Ubantu, Linspire and more. For the education sector open source software was far behind in adoption, as schools remained introduced mainly on computers and a small number on macs in the younger grades. However, after visiting a number of educational technology conferences the last two years, I saw another trend finally paid interest and the OLPC project could push it back even more! Let me explain.
At ed-tech conferences we have experienced hands-on demonstrations of Linux or Ubuntu web labs, which are “dumb terminals” connected to a server and all getting internet access and applications from the server. This first-hand experience provides a point of entry for many teachers, ed technicians, and school administrators who may never have otherwise considered these options. In these cases, participants see that there is no great loss of function with this configuration, while the cost for this equipment is a small fraction of a conventional school laboratory. This is due to two obvious important factors 1), the hardware is not standalone computers, and 2) the operating system is open source. Hardware costs and upgrade costs are also greatly reduced, as is the fact that software licensing and upgrades are eliminated.
Open source software is no longer just for the techies. These platforms are point and click similar to most other software. And there are thousands of open source programs freely available for us to meet business, educational, graphic, music composition, media design, application needs to name just a few How some K-12 inspectors bring open source networks (they call them Open). Technologies) into their schools we see the march of the penguins, pencils and laptops strain their things for education! In a time of increased scrutiny of school budgets and greater accountability, I expect that 2009-2010 will be a time when open source software, dumb terminals, as well as virtual terminals (to be discussed in an upcoming web-resin article) will be a time. charging forward at a double or triple pace.
May 2009 update
The massive wave of netbooks (Asus, Acer, HP, Dell, and more) that have flooded the PC market in the last 16 months has been a welcome relief for consumers and school budgets alike! We have Dr. Negroponte to thank for transforming the computing industry almost single-handedly, pushing his OLPC project to the forefront of the corporate table of competition. The details unfolded closely on the cures of the progress of Negroponte were the Asus group and the release of the ee pc with Linux on board (originally).
Not only for technical people these were released in the standard gray and black colors, but also shocking pink and green, and white — we can see that the market was wider than the standard computer industry addressed). Their product was enthusiastically received and so impacted the public marketplace that the major computer manufacturers had to respond – quickly. Now in June 2009 we have netbooks available from every major manufacturer available for less than $500. The resulting smaller, much less expensive (about 77% reduction in price) and robust hardware options we now see around us in computer and office stores, is originally due to OLPC shaking up a bloody, overpriced system.
A related wave of adoption also continues in spring 2009, and that is Open source, from Open Office.org to Linux, has seen a very good year so far. Not only are we seeing more ads for these products in mainstream publications, but lay people (non-techies) are asking, requesting 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 the time here for it to have a major impact? These are exciting times for the voice of the people!
As more and more people catch the netbook vision and realize that they don’t need high-end computers for all student classrooms and instead they could even provide computers to take home with children; it will be open source software penguins leading that march as well. It has been a long day for our education system to see that this is a much more economical way to serve the teachers and students and thus be able to serve EVERYONE.
An important aside – well worth the reading and research – Negroponte is so open source that he now publishes a wiki where he openly shows the technical production notes, technical requirements, software, participating countries, photos of the prototypes and much more (see: www.laptop. org). Bringing such tools into 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 in the global conversations in just a few months and in our global political future.
Providing such a tool and entry to the outside world for not only students, but also for their families, as that is part of the goal, can build a growing wave of social change through many forms of literacy and understanding. When the walls of Equality and Access are broken down in even these small ways, the opportunities are many for people to rise to new possibilities. Penguins, open source, education and a $100 laptop have a lot of empowering potential for the world’s children, adults and nations.
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