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The Failure of the $100 Laptop? 487

RobertinXinyang writes "MSN's MoneyCentral has an article on the possibility that the $100 laptop project fails to meet its goals, and the potential of the project to harm people in developing nations. The article goes on to liken the project to 'good-natured showboating', and cites the unreality of a family using the glow from the laptop's screen as the only source of light in their hut. Perhaps there are better things to do with our time and money in developing nations?" From the article: "The entire idea may be misguided and counterproductive. At least that's what Stanford journalism lecturer an Africa watcher G. Pascal Zachary thinks. The basic argument is that with $100 you could almost feed a village for a year, so why waste that sum on a laptop? What are they thinking? The fact that these people need electricity more than they need a laptop is only part of the problem. The real problem is lost mind share. The people are harmed because these sorts of schemes are sopping up mind-share time of the people who might be doing something actually useful."
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The Failure of the $100 Laptop?

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  • by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:14AM (#16895068) Homepage Journal
    The people are harmed because these sorts of schemes are sopping up mind-share time of the people who might be doing something actually useful.

    Computer engineers and software developers are just that - they can create software and build computers.
    They aren't molecular biologists or doctors or anything like that, so its not taking the mindshare from those kind of folks.
    • by vga_init ( 589198 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:28AM (#16895112) Journal

      Computer engineers and software developers are just that - they can create software and build computers. They aren't molecular biologists or doctors or anything like that, so its not taking the mindshare from those kind of folks.

      Mod parent up

      I previously discussed this topic on an older article about the $100 laptop. Yes, people need a lot of things besides laptops. Imagine the economy in the United States and its trade partners. Pick out all the elements besides money: labor/skill/organization, raw materials, facilities/tools. Now imagine all the money in that economy. We have a lot of money--more money than economic resources. Saying that we could throw more money into food for third world countries doesn't necessarily mean you will get the amount of food you valued your money at. Paying out money to have workers and facilities that are only able to produce computers and software gives third world countries a little something extra. Why? Because those economic resources could not have produced food, so they would otherwise be an untapped outlet. If all the money going into a project like that went into sending food over, you'd probably choke the food supply and incredibly diminish the value of the money you spent on it.

      • by griffjon ( 14945 ) <GriffJon&gmail,com> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @11:07AM (#16896006) Homepage Journal
        First, the mindshare they're worried about is not the developers', but the funding/loaning agencies and development agencies. But regardless, this is an old and tired criticism that's overshadowing more important ones involving the price tag. Most importantly, this is a technology that's never been field-tested for it's technological capability nor in pilot projects investigating its success, yet they are asking countries to go deeply into debt [] to purchase millions (minimum order is one million) of these to deploy in their countries. It's not that it's a bad design, it's not that it's money that could go elsewhere; it's a failure of project planning and testing at an enormous scale.
        • by gonzonista ( 790137 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @02:29PM (#16897594)
          Are we doing more harm than good by helping Africans by giving them things? I've only visited, and not lived there, so my impressions are limited. What I did notice was the sense of entitlement, and an underlying system of patronage, where people wanted help from others, rather than moving to help themselves. I suspect this was the product of several generations of colonialism, where there was always a white guy telling the locals how to live. The attitude in much of Africa is much different than that in Asia, which was the third world not that long ago. I never encountered so many people expecting a handout as I did in Africa. It was very common to have someone approach you and ask for something they wanted from you, like a jacket or t-shirt. If we keep providing goods like computers without a context on how to use them to make life better, are we really helping them at all?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by LoverOfJoy ( 820058 )
            I've never been to Africa or Asia but I suspect that it may be more a matter of spots you visited. I've been to Peru and Mexico and some places in each country have very much the mindset you describe in Africa but those places tend to be real tourist traps. Beggars know the places to go to get the best money. You'll even see this to an extent in the U.S. Go to Salt Lake City during the LDS church's conference time. I've seen similar hotspots in Colorado Springs. It's far from universal in the U.S. and it's
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by gonzonista ( 790137 )
              Actually, the tourist traps were the places where I saw the most entrepreneurial spirit. To clarify my point on giving something for nothing, I was near the border of Mozambique and Zambia, where I met the owner of a small campground. He said that the Mozambiquians (?) were twice as productive as the Zambians, even though they were from the same tribe. His theory was that the Portuguese were only interested in stripping Mozambique of any resources that were available, and did not bother to set up any sor
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      But nontheless, if you provide people with an outlet for feeling like they are making a difference to the world - be it correct or not - chances are they won't search for another one. This here is an example.

      These computer engineers and scietists you speak of are clearly so eager to use their expertise to help the people of Africa that they have missed the big picture. Making software for current charities would be vastly more useful.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        On the other hand, the fact that the OLPC project exists, and is generating such controversy (at least on /.), is likely to have the effect of increasing the amount of food money donated. People who don't like OLPC obviously won't donate anything to the cause, but because they have been asked to donate to one cause, and in particular one that has caught their eye, they will be more likely to donate to something that they consider more worthwhile.

        If you provide people with an outlet that they don't much c
    • by LoverOfJoy ( 820058 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @11:05AM (#16895998) Homepage
      We nerds drink lots of soda. If we just make sure the villagers get a coke bottle each then they won't fight over it like they did in "The Gods Must Be Crazy".
  • by Caesar Tjalbo ( 1010523 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:15AM (#16895072)
    The people are harmed because these sorts of schemes are sopping up mind-share time of the people who might be doing something actually useful.
    So true. I should've never gotten a computer; I might have accomplished something in my life.
  • Sure (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:16AM (#16895074)
    MSN's MoneyCentral has an article on the possibility that the $100 laptop project fails to meet its goals

          Considering that this $100 laptop does not come bundled with a Microsoft OS, we can really expect impartial reporting from MSN.

    a family using the glow from the laptop's screen as the only source of light in their hut.

          I wonder if this writer has ever been to the third world. This is simply disgusting. Yes sure, everyone in Africa still lives in huts, and Eskimos live in igloos, etc. Careful, you may be eaten by cannibals while you're out there, too! While there still are some few extremely poor indiginous communities who lack even electricity, I doubt they would have any use for a laptop - even as a source of light.
    • by human_err ( 934003 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:29AM (#16895116)

      Black and white thinking perceives the economic divide to be so immense that there is no middle ground of lack that can be alleviated. Unable to come up with a grand unified solution to the world poverty problem, they give up and distract themselves with a shiny new mp3 player.

      Of course there are many, many people who still don't have access to clean water. Let's put our minds together to work on that problem as well. There's room for our service on all levels of impoverishment.

    • Re:Sure (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rvw ( 755107 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:35AM (#16895132)
      So true! People only think of Africa and the Third World as if over there everyone is so poor they're starving to death, or they're fighting and killing eachother. This is the picture that's in the news. But this is only a small part of the truth. Many people in Africa have a good life, although maybe primitive in our eyes if they don't have proper roads and cable tv and microwaves and cell phones. But if they have a house, a proper meal, clean water and electricity, they have a good basis. Small businesses, students, schools, they all can profit from these laptops, whether they cost $100 or $150. So this laptop is not meant for homeless kids who sell it immediately for some food or glue, but it is a way of introducing kids and adults who have a basic standard of living with new technology that can really help them.
      • Re:Sure (Score:5, Informative)

        by beeblebrox87 ( 234597 ) <slashdot AT alexander DOT co DOT tz> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @11:34AM (#16896164)
        they don't have proper roads and cable tv and microwaves and cell phones.

        In Tanzania, where I live, at least in urban areas a large proportion of the population has cell phones. The $20 for a prepaid phone is large (about half the monthly minimum wage) but manageable expense. There is essentially no landline phone system so these are essentially the only means of communication available to most people, and are common even in areas with only unreliable electricy and little other infrastructure. IMHO mobile phones have greatly increased the standard of living of many, as well as facilitating commerce, medical care, etc.
    • Considering that this $100 laptop does not come bundled with a Microsoft OS, we can really expect impartial reporting from MSN.

      Having failed on a technology basis to have a Microsoft OS used, now Microsoft is going to play the role of the spoiled bully and try to cause the entire project to fail.

    • Re:Sure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wct ( 45593 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:55AM (#16895214) Homepage
      Yeah, it's a pretty dumb argument. I've been to East Africa a few times in the last couple of years (Kenya & Tanzania), and was quite surprised at how popular mobile phones are over there. In many areas they never got full wired infrastructure, so skipped a generation and went wireless. Anyway, the point is there's a large market for mobiles there, despite the fact that it costs a sizable chunk of their income. If mobiles can succeed, a sub-$100 notebook should find a market. The argument that the money could be better spent on relieving poverty could surely be applied to any country with a population under the poverty line.
      • Re:Sure (Score:5, Informative)

        by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:20AM (#16895302) Homepage Journal
        Nigeria is a typical example of skipping a generation - due partly to the cost of laying cable, partly to the incompetence of the public telco that until recently had a monopoly, Nigeria has somewhere between one and two million landlines. But they now have about 20 million cellphones. The landlines were rolled out over decades, while the cellphones almost all came within the last 4-5 years.

        Fact is, putting up cellphone towers to cover the urban areas is very cheap and provides high returns, while laying cable cost ridiculous amounts of money. Landlines are cheap in industrialized countries only because the telco's have had a hundred years to build their infrastructure and generate revenue to recoup their investments

      • Re:Sure (Score:5, Insightful)

        by stunt_penguin ( 906223 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @09:39AM (#16895590)
        "The argument that the money could be better spent on relieving poverty..."

        The thing about it is, the act of providing the laptop is the very thing that will help relieve poverty. These guys are playing the long game by providing an educational resource to people below the poverty line, and in doing so improving their chances of getting a job and being able to work their way out of poverty.

        There's the old line about 'you can give a man some grain, and he can feed his family for a day, but give him seeds and tools and he can do so for a lifetime'. It's this type of thinking that we're talking about.

        The person debunking the idea doesn't recognise the true value of the laptop, and it's his loss not ours.
    • Re:Sure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Marcion ( 876801 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:02AM (#16895238) Homepage Journal
      I think there is still a large a degree of colonial thinking left around, just under the surface, both in the subdued racism in Western societies (they do not deserve/will never understand laptops) but also in the 'victim mentality' of some ex-colonial states.

      Some people have a dislike to the laptop project for two reasons:

      1. FUD - They have not actually bothered to consider how revolutionary the laptop is, i.e. redesigning all the hardware, software and content.
      For these people, salvation can only come through becoming a fat out-of-shape office worker, typing in Word using a crumb covered keyboard.

      2. Paternalism - The laptop project is based on the idea that smart but poor kids can learn, create and program, for themselves.
      This conflicts with embedded western psychological beliefs about how you need a nice western strong man/organistion/society (i.e. 'Hilter') to go and sort those foreigners out.
      • ... subdued racism???
        salvation can only come through becoming a fat out-of-shape office worker, typing in Word using a crumb covered keyboard.
        embedded western psychological beliefs about how you need a nice western strong man/organistion/society (i.e. 'Hilter') to go and sort those foreigners out
        It seems to me *these* are the kinds of statements racists make.
    • Re:Sure (Score:5, Funny)

      by justsomebody ( 525308 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:18AM (#16895292) Journal
      Considering that this $100 laptop does not come bundled with a Microsoft OS, we can really expect impartial reporting from MSN.

      Yeah, and I can confirm that. I just got back from other reality. Up there OLPC is shipping with Windows and Gates just made a statement, where he said:

      "Yes, we know the problem with people lacking 100$, but just imagine how these kids will now have opportunity to achieve something what they wouldn't be otherwise. Computers were just dreams for those kids and now they just became reality which could potentially help them to secure their future.

      We at Microsoft were working hard to achieve this goal to help those kids... [bunch of blahblah how MS worked hard on that project, so I simply cut it out]

      This was a real win for us, because we helped world to understand that with commercial software there is opportunity for everyone to secure its future, intellectual property and other basic resources. This just shows that world is starting to understand that "Free Software" is nothing but promoting hunger to the future. We made sure to let them know that there is no payment if you do work for free. And they understood that fact almost without any questions.

      For my final word, I have to say thanks to [bunch of other blahblah about IP awareness and companies/governments that respect it]. This is one project to secure better future to the world and ease future relations between nations."
  • by Bob54321 ( 911744 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:16AM (#16895076)
    MSN's MoneyCentral has an article on the possibility that the $100 laptop project fails to meet its goals

    Did they miss that running Vista was not one of the goals?
  • Giving them a laptop might make them productive.

    Giving them food will make them dependent.

    However, the added value of a laptop is greatly degraded by the lack of electricity in most places and the lack of education. The laptop program should also focus on these things to be succesful.

  • Africa? (Score:5, Informative)

    by onion2k ( 203094 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:21AM (#16895092) Homepage
    Look at the list of countries that have expressed an interest so far:

            * Brazil
            * Thailand
            * Egypt
            * United States (specifically the states of Massachusetts and Maine)
            * Cambodia
            * Dominican Republic
            * Costa Rica
            * Tunisia
            * Argentina
            * Venezuela
            * Nigeria
            * Libya

    Firstly, the minority are african, secondly most of them have basic housing and a working power infrastructure. This laptop idea is something that countries come in on when they want to improve education. It is not, and never has been, an alternative to buying food.
    • Re:Africa? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by joe 155 ( 937621 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:42AM (#16895168) Journal
      Indeed, it seems like a small minority are first world (USA as the most obvious example), most are second world and a very small minority, if any (depending on how you define these things) are third world.

      These were never meant for people who are so poor they can't get water; these are for people who have established these and now want to get in on the big money act... I'm a little saddened that people would make these FUD claims against a good project based on either a lie or a lack of understanding. Sure there might be some criticisms you could legitimately level against it (like not thinking that computers help education, or the fear of cracking leading to massive bot nets) and then we could discuss them... but this is just terrible.
      • Re:Africa? (Score:5, Informative)

        by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:47AM (#16895188) Homepage Journal
        The term "second world" refers to states aligned with the Soviet Union, not with countries with economies between "third world" and "first world" countries.
        • by joe 155 ( 937621 )
          interesting, and you're right... I always thought that it was based around the level of development within the economy and socio-political relations. Still, appart from being slightly wrong, I'll stand by the spirit of what I said but addapt it slightly just to refer to the countries in between 1st and 3rd world
      • by udderly ( 890305 ) *
        Indeed, it seems like a small minority are first world (USA as the most obvious example)

        It would seem that the last thing poor people in the US need is another reason to be sedentary ( = Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=15177197&dopt=Citatio n [] ). What would be more helpful is a $100 exercise bike or something.
      • Re:Africa? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by kabz ( 770151 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @12:56PM (#16896820) Homepage Journal
        I live in Houston and I remember a piece about a black lady who's kids had died because they couldn't get medical care in time. She lived in what was basically a hut on the south-side of Houston, and I can remember in the report being able to make out roaches crawling around on the walls. They had power but not much else.

        Despite being nominally first world, even the US still has pockets of the third-world hidden away. Arguing that third world countries need to be brought up to a uniform standard of living before projects like this should be started is as stupid as arguing that the US doesn't need projects like this because we all live in clean, modern housing and have great jobs.
  • It seems (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:22AM (#16895094)
    Like the countries that has expessed interest in the $100 lappy are not the wretchedly poor but rather those that have basic necessities covered but are not yet industrialized. For them a cheap computer will come in very handy. For people being murdered in Darfur, not so much.
  • by Steeltoe ( 98226 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:22AM (#16895096) Homepage
    Not everyone can become a success by marketshare and hype alone, and then never deliver the actual promised products. For most of us, failure is just another step towards success. So even if this $100 laptop becomes a failure, it doesn't matter. More exposure towards the poorer countries, more exposure that the Western countries take more money OUT of such countries, than is going in, more exposure to corrupt leaders which makes any sudden fix unattainable, and lots and lots learned from the project, which can result in even cheaper laptops with higher specs.

    It's too easy to criticize when someone does good. That to actually do good in this world, you have to fight, and fight, and fight, and fight. And we get stronger every day.
  • Truth is (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That this laptop project is of benefit .. cause $100 would never have been spent on feeding the village. So this way at least their can use the plastic for something(fuel for stove?) if not educate themselves on farming and basic first aid techniques.

    Also how many times are imbeciles (John C.(for Cunt?) Dvorak I am opinionating on you), going to need to be told that THE LAPTOP IS FOR MIDDLE DEVELOPING NATIONS NOT LEAST DEVELOPED NATIONS YOU FOOL!

    This laptop aint for starving kids .. it's for POOR KIDS WHO
  • Microsoft way (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Pecisk ( 688001 )
    1. First step - denial - "Bullshit, you won't produce 100$ laptop, is a vaporware, etc. etc. Better use those nice PocketPC with newest Windows CE!"
    2. Second step (when real hardware is produced) - it won't work - "Yeah, nice hardware you have here...but know what, it won't help, it won't work for reasons it have been created. We know, we foreseen the future! They will sell it...emmm....(who would need such a crap anyway)...they won't find any use of it, they will trade it for food..."
    3. Third step will be
  • Nothing to see here (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:30AM (#16895118)
    This article was reported and written by John C. Dvorak for MarketWatch.
    • Dvorak has demonstrated that he is a blatant shill. His reporting is unbelievably amateurish (anyone notice that he only interviewed *critics of the OLPC program?) but he knows how to get slashdotted. So as long as we keep accidentally clicking on his articles he's going to keep getting paid.

      Editors, we need to know when TFA is by Dvorak, so that we can ignore it. Even better: quit approving his articles.
  • What bullshit! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arcite ( 661011 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:39AM (#16895154)
    I've been working in Africa for the last three years for several education development projects (Nigeria and now Kenya). I think the concept of the $100 computer is the best thing since the cell phone or wind-up radio.

    OFCOURSE the problem with any project that uses things like computers/radios/video ect... is that its hard to make these programs sustainable. Typical projects have funding for 3-5 years in which time they distribute thousands of the things and then bam! one day the money runs out, the project ends, ... and then what? That is a problem with ALL development projects. The trick is to build sustainability.

    Young people in a poor village in Africa are no different than anywhere else, and if you give them access to a networked computer with access to internet the possibilities are endless.

    There are many successful projects implementing cell phones to help farmers get better prices for their crops. There are radio shows that teach people about HIV with call in shows using text messaging. The possibilities are endless. The next step is to integrate computers and internet into the matrix.

    The truth is, you could probably buy a lot of flour for a single village for $100 for a year-- but once they have eaten it, they will still be hungry. Give a village a cheap device such as the $100 laptop and access to a network, the possibilities to exchange knowledge, generate ideas, and problem solve for THEMSELVES is limitless. This is how you create sustainability. Give them the tools and ideas, the rest can follow.

    • Great post. The world is full of people who simply want to give money and forget (Live Aid [], BandAid [], etc.), but the $100 laptop is a committed (and self-sacrificing) effort to help people help themselves.

    • Re:What bullshit! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by anticypher ( 48312 ) <anticypher@gmail. c o m> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @10:35AM (#16895838) Homepage
      I've also been working with developpement programmes in Africa for quite a few years now. Mostly francophone sub-saharan regions. I don't know of any area there where US$100 could feed a village for a year.

      There is a large "middle class" in Africa. Many people live in adequate homes, they have jobs, they have a reasonable level of education, electricity as reliable as the national network, basic levels of health care. They have money, not huge amounts by western standards, but enough to live well by local standards. Africans love to show off their wealth. After they have their neatly painted house, a car, some nice clothing, they look further down Maslow's hierarchy for where to spend their money. What every one wants are flashy consumer electronics. Most have mobile phones. Many have computers, TVs, VCRs and DVD players, and satellite dishes. What they are all screaming for right now is internet access. Just having access to email from their home is a way of not only showing off wealth, but showing a touch of modernity.

      I helped a group set up a wireless network a while back. Every time one of their guys came up to Europe for a meeting or vacation, they'd head back down with two suit cases full of Linksys routers. We had found them a good bulk rate of about 30 euros per box. They had good technicians back in Africa who would reflash with OpenWRT [], combined with some home crafted antennas, then they would set up relays across their country, radiating from the capital along major highways out to villages and wealthy sub-divisions. The wealthy would pay to get a flashed linksys box and an outside antenna setup, just to upstage their neighbors. Internet access outside the country would be just a trickle, but P-2-P inside the wireless network ran at reasonably good speeds.

      Young people in a poor village in Africa are no different than anywhere else
      You are right. There are cyber cafés everywhere with a small LAN, and every evening the places are full of kids playing counterstrike ;-)

      I'm constantly amazed at the perception in Europe and the U.S. that Africa is mostly mud huts. There is wealth there, much of it from petroleum and mining, and as the education level comes up, outsourcing/globalisation is adding to local economies. Yes, there are some extremely poor people in the rural areas, but as long as their farms don't fail they get by well enough with sustenance levels.

      I came to this thread hoping to get in a flamingly indignant post about the wrongness of the article, but I'm glad that many other slashdotters have already covered it for me. Kudos.

      the AC
  • give a fish... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus poet> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:41AM (#16895162) Homepage
    fed for a day, teach to fish ...

    The goal is not to give kids toys. It's to give them the means to explore education.

    Obviously "feeding a village" isn't solving the problem, it's just keeping uneducated poor masses alive.

    I'd rather educate them so they can help themselves.

  • by gnufied ( 942531 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:43AM (#16895178) Homepage
    "The basic argument is that with $100 you could almost feed a village for a year"

    Ok I am from India so $100 = 4500 Rs, now I would be really delighted to learn how one can feed a village for a year with that much of money. No,I really would like to know...considering the fact that villages in developing countries are genrally big( I can speak for India here, I spend half of my childhood in the most backward region of India, :) )

    I really appreciate intelligence of Mr.John C. Dvorak, but wait...

  • "Perhaps there are better things to do with our time and money in developing nations?"
    Should read: "Perhaps there are better things to do with our time that reading 'analysis' on the success of a product firstly, before it's released, and secondly, from a company with it's own low-cost computing ambitions in the very same regions as the $100 laptop seeks to reach."

    An article about the OLPC on 'Microsoft Network Money Central'. Give me a break.
  • by Wooky_linuxer ( 685371 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:48AM (#16895190)

    I am brazilian. As such, I've seen that most foreign people simply don't understand the socio-economics of developing countries.

    An anedoctal evidence: I have some relatives in Italy, and I visited there once or twice. They live in the most developed and well-fared north, somewhere near Brescia, not too far from Milano. Brescia itself has some 200k habitants, and the city they lived in should have some 20-30k. One night, after showing me around, they asked me (quite seriously) if I was distressed from the "big cities", seeing so many people and cars and so on. I looked back at them nonplused, I suppose. I grew up in Sao Paulo, go look in wikipedia how big is that. But I understand that people from Europe and US mostly believe that all Brazilians live either in huts around the Amazon forest or in very poor "favelas" around Rio de Janeiro, where they can conveniently get dressed up (or down?) for Carnaval. Well, I am not trying to say there is a large percentage of the population in Brazil and other developing countries that is indeed very poor and has not access to technology (a recent survey says around 40% of brazilians never used a computer, and 60% never entered "the Internets"). But most people here have some kind of access to school, however poor and lacking resources they might be, and they are not naive helpless savages as you might guess. People need opportunities to grow. Sending US$100 worth of food to poor people might do some well to those that indeed do not have enough to eat, and I'd urge responsible people to donate (or even better, get engaged in) reliable organizations that do that task. But giving away food won't put the poor people around here, India or Africa in the right way, where they can build a self-sustainable industry and technology to compete with today developed countries. So, either some people are simply ignorant or naive enough to understand this, or perhaps they are beginning to get worried that someday the countries that supply food and raw materials to them today at bargain prices won't be there anymore.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by swb ( 14022 )
      I read an article recently on Microcredit and, while its too early to say if it will be as successful as its proponents claim, the early experience seems to make it seem like its a phenomenal tool for fighting poverty through the initiative of the poor themselves.

      That fact that its taken so long for something as successful as Microcredit to come about underscores how little we know about the people we are trying to help -- and how difficult some of the problems are to solve.

      I think most Americans would cons
  • by CPE1704TKS ( 995414 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:50AM (#16895202)
    What lost mind share??? This laptop isn't stealing "mind share" away from other ideas. If other ideas fail it's because no one cares about them. What these people in this article are whining about are that they think that their way is the best, and anyone else not solving the problem their way is wrong. It's just plain bullshit. This isn't a zero sum game... There's a huge portion of the population that isn't even playing or caring. A new idea won't steal mind share, it will bring new players to the table that otherwise wouldn't be interested.

    It's like the lame argument that people blame Ralph Nader for stealing votes from the Democrats. Again, bullshit. A good part of the people who voted for Nader didn't want to vote for Gore OR Bush, so without that alternative, they probably wouldn't have voted. It's not Nader for screwing over Gore, it's Gore's fault for not making himself a more viable candidate.
  • by trinomial ( 945550 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:52AM (#16895206)
    From the article: "And in today's world the real value of a computer is it being networked," says Zachary. "Finding a network in the poor areas is either impossible or very expensive." Obviously, the writer missed the point that these laptops are capable of forming wireless mesh networks in the classroom. Also, Squeak is being bundled with OLPC. See k-in-extremadura/ [] for a nice video about what is already being done with Spanish school children.
  • Poor XOR Rich (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arevos ( 659374 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:52AM (#16895208) Homepage
    The MSN article is completely correct. Everyone knows that people are either poor, and thus live in mud huts with only a single goat to keep them company; or they are rich, in which case they can afford to buy as many computers as they can fit inside their trendy apartments.

    The creators of the $100 laptop are under the delusion that wealth is not a binary condition. For some strange reason, they seem to think that there are poor people in this world that have enough money to feed themselves and buy essentials, but not enough money or infrastructure to support buying the latest Pentium from Dell. This is clearly ridiculous, and I applaud MSN Money for reminding us that the world really is black and white (no pun intended, ahem).
  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:57AM (#16895222) Homepage
    A flaw in his thinking is to assume that there is a fixed amount of help available. Another flaw is to assume that the laptop actually costs money. If used as an electronic book, then it substitutes for hundreds of dollars worth of books (over the course of its lifetime). Another flaw is to suggest that all expenditures are the same, blurring the difference between spending for investment and spending for consumption.

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
      If used as an electronic book, then it substitutes for hundreds of dollars worth of books (over the course of its lifetime).

            There are not too many "Free" electronic books around. You have to subscribe, and a lot of these subscriptions expire over time. Now why would I do that, instead of photocopying my friend's book like we do here in the third world. Third world = no enforcement of copyright laws, so I get a "hard copy" a lot cheaper than the "electronic" version.
      • by Marcion ( 876801 )
        >There are not too many "Free" electronic books around. You have to subscribe, and a lot of these subscriptions expire over time.

        Well actually this is not the case, the OLPC project is specifically providing freely redistributable content and helping local people and institutions to set up systems to generate more. The idea is to not use these crap electronic books, but to create a whole new wave of educational materials in local languages, rather than imported textbooks from the west, a small pile of wh
  • by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:06AM (#16895256) Homepage Journal
    Nigeria is one of a small minority of African countries on the list of countries that have expressed interest. While Nigeria is certainly poor - a lot of people live on next to nothing - it is not a country with much starvation. Food isn't the first priority. It's got a GDP of $1400 - low, but far above the poorest countries. It's also got a GDP growth rate of 6.9% - far above most first world countries these days (the US recently was at around 3.2%, for example)

    Nigeria is also a country with reasonable cashflow - they're one of the largest oil exporters in the world. They also recently finished paying off $10 billions in loans and negotiated debt relief for another $18 billion. The $10 billions were paid off with increases in their oil revenues thanks to the rising oil price, and was paid off as a requisite for the $18 billion in relief. So thanks to the oil price they've got billions more tax revenues AND they've massively cut their interest rate payments.

    They are paying for these machines themselves because they think it is useful to improve education, and they can afford a million or two with just a month or two worth of the increased revenues.

    It is also a tiny investment compared to what Nigerians themselves are spending on cell phones: Currently there are more than 20 million cellphones (population of 130 million). Practically ALL of those have come in the last 4-5 years, and Nigeria has one of the highest cellphone growth rates in the world - miles ahead of the US for instance - and is rapidly catching up to the cellphone penetration in more developed countries.

  • The fact that these people need electricity more than they need a laptop is only part of the problem.

    You might think a lecturer at Standford whould know better than to use the phrase these people when referring to Africans. Not everyone in Africa is without electricity and living in mud huts. Most people in Africa are not starving. Many countries on that continent are developing and at the stage where such low cost technology could actually beneficial.
  • The subtext is that a $100 (or $130, or $170) laptop running Linux with an AMD processor would rapidly undo the business models of some entrenched "interests" in the G7. Maybe it's fud now, or have the possibility it will "leak" into their current volume sales markets. Well, I know i'd buy one (or a couple - my wife would like one with Cath Kidston paintwork if her fingers weren't too big for the keyboard - if it was commercially available here).

    I seem to recall Negraponte naming two companies who were p

  • by psymastr ( 684406 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:17AM (#16895288) Homepage
    Why does everyone think that every single human being in developing countries lives in mud huts and is starving to death? Reality check: being poor doesn't mean that you're starving to death or that you're living in a mud hut.

    There are hundreds of millions of people in those countries that don't starve, but they're far from wealthy enough to afford a computer. A $100 computer could be a help to them, and it introduces them to computing which is a very valuable skill.

    Is it so hard to understand?
    • by vidarh ( 309115 )
      Can't you see it's just mud huts []

      (Thats the skyline of Lagos, Nigeria)

      More mud huts... or not

      Of course there are lots of people living in appalling conditions in countries like these, but you are absolutely right. Nigeria is one of the countries interested in the OLPC, and as the pictures should show, Lagos, their largest city, isn't exactly the small mud-hut village with starving people waiting for aid that some people apparently expect "those poor Africans" to live in.

    • by vidarh ( 309115 )
      Posting again, as my second link was broken...

      Can't you see it's just mud huts []

      (Thats the skyline of Lagos, Nigeria)

      More mud huts... or not []

      Of course there are lots of people living in appalling conditions in countries like these, but you are absolutely right. Nigeria is one of the countries interested in the OLPC, and as the pictures should show, Lagos, their largest city, isn't exactly the small mud-hut village with starving people waiting for aid that some people apparently expect "those poor Afric

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:21AM (#16895306)
    As a French citizen living in the third world (british midlands), I can tell you those people have no idea of what a computer is and how to use it. You'd better send cans of lager beer if you want to do something useful
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      No, give em real British ale, brewed from hops. A couple of months to readjust (because drinking eight pints of ale won't kill you, but by god you'll wish you were dead the next morning) and they will become civilised, moderate imbibers of a healthy amount of proper, nutricious, healing beer. And a new dawn will rise, flowers will blossom in the streets, yea verily Wolverhampton town centre shall become as a garden of paradise.
  • MSN, a subsidiary of Microsoft, has a vested interest in seeing third-world kids using not an OLPC laptop, but the new Microsoft Xbox Live Learning Edition, with a 6-omegahurtz quad-core CPU, 64 dedicated DirectX fragment shaders, Windows Embedded and DirectX, .NET framework, and Media Center and Zune connectivity.

    Don't laugh -- it could happen [].
  • Alright, why do everybody drool over FUD written by Microsoft certified moron John C. Dvorak ?

    Watch Nicholas Negroponte on TEDTalks [].

    In this talk, he outlines some of the challenges of getting the laptop produced, and explains why he stepped down as Media Lab director to focus on the initiative full-time, "for the rest of my life." (Recorded February 2006 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 18:21)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:36AM (#16895362)
    he eats for a week.

    but give him the ability to learn and give him nearly unlimited access to information and knowledge and he can grow crops/produce food/orginize business/etc etc for a life time.

    This isn't about solving the problem for a week. A temporary solution at best, training people to depend on foreign aid in the worst, but about empowering people to create real solutions for themselves.

    Despite what people want to beleive, that african aid will save the world and make them heroes, the only people in a position to help Africans (and other third world nations) perminately is Africans (and natives to those same third world nations)

    That's how it's going to happen. Africans helping Africans. Education and giving people the tools to learn to figure out solutions to their own problems is what is going to solve problems. (that and economic trade)

    Not 'mister white european rich guy' coming around every few months and giving handouts of food and vaccinations. THAT is the real feel-good-happy-bullshit. Not saying it's not needed and people shouldn't be doing it. I am saying it's a bandaid, that's all. Your nursing the wounds (which in itself is valuable), not healing them.
  • if you dont spend it on a laptop.

    one of my acquintances had worked in a peace mission for unicef in africa. she has informed me that the warlords (tribe leaders) there were confiscating the food at the distribution point, and selling it to the highest bidders or export it. only a token amount of it reached the hands of the intended needy targets.

    its worse for the money - you cant track it easily. transfer some money to some local authority, and its gone.
    • by vidarh ( 309115 )
      Eh.. Which country? You are making the same mistake as the article writer and grouping Africa together as a single place (never mind that most countries interested in the OLPC are not African countries). Africa includes 54 distinct countries, and 7 territories of various European countries, at varying stages of development and political stability, ranging from stable and reasonably developed democracies like South Africa to countries with no functioning government like Somalia.

      Many places in Africa food d

  • If you check the bottom of the MSN article, you'll see that it was hacked out by none other than our favorite random-babble-generator, John Dvorak.
  • Sometimes I think we need a good kicking. People sit in their comfy houses, with reguler electricity and their WholeFoods store nearby, and forget that for some people, life's damn hard, and getting harder.

    You can indeed say they should have food instead of a laptop, however all that truckloads of food does is extend their dependence on the people who screwed them over to start with, by slaving them, stealing their resources, and more recently by causing pollution induced famines in Africa.

    No, the best way
  • by tnewsletters ( 1000187 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @09:53AM (#16895632)
    I work for an NGO in Yemen, and $100 will not feed 4 houses of 5 persons for 2 months in a rural area, much less a village for a year. I cannot believe that such an outrageously inaccurate statement can be made.
  • by Gadren ( 891416 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @10:27AM (#16895792)
    Why do people still have this image that all poor people live in mud, and each what little grass they get? Maybe they have little grass skirts and spears? Until the West gets rid of the idea that the majority of the poor in the world have completely nothing, things won't get fixed.

    The purpose of the Laptop isn't to be sent to the areas of the world where food and water are the biggest and most desperate needs. They are to be sent to places where most basic needs are taken care of, but the people could use an extra boost to educate themselves and get better jobs and raise themselves out of poverty. The idea that "there are worse problems, so if you don't help with the worst one, then you can't do any good" is one of the most flawed and disgusting ideas. It's the same argument that we shouldn't have gone into space until we feed every person on the planet. Some people have strengths other than giving hygiene kits or delivering rations to starving areas of the world. Why can we not use what we're best at (programming skills) to help out the poor in another way?

    May I ask what the writer of this FUD has been doing to help the starving? You shouldn't be wasting your time writing anything, after all -- it's taking time away that you could be donating food to the hypothetical mud-hut-dwelling Africans.
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @10:27AM (#16895796) Homepage
    Criticizing a do-gooder on the basis that the critic would prefer to use the do-gooder's resources in a different way is fundamentally flawed. That way lies paralysis and doing nothing. It's just a complicated way of saying "be reasonable--do things my way."

    It's like criticizing the space program on the basis that it would be better to use the same resources to fight poverty in the U.S. That point is arguably true, but it's silly, because if we didn't have a space program the political reality is that those resources would not be used to fight poverty.

    The altruistic impulse is not fungible. If you say to Negroponte "we don't want your laptops," he's not going to say, "Great, I'll just fold up the Media Lab and send all its funds to Oxfam."

    I've faced this problem in deciding how to make personal charitable donations. How can one decide when there are so many worthy causes? How can one justify donating to the American Cancer Society when perhaps the American Heart Association would be a better use of resources? Is it frivolous to donate to the EFF instead of sending that money to UNICEF? The only answer is: these are the charities I donate to, you donate to whatever charities you wish.

    Nobody knows how to solve the world's problems. If it were simple and obvious we'd just solve them. The $100 laptop is an interesting idea and it might do some good.

    If not, I'd wager the amount of resources and "mind share" it's diverting from anything are utterly negligible compared to, say, the amount of resources and "mind share" being used in the U. S. to launch the PlayStation 3, or fulminate about O. J. Simpson's new book, or pursue the war in Iraq.
  • How Does He Know? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @10:28AM (#16895806) Homepage Journal
    No one can know what will work to help Africa, with its many, and now many ancient, basic problems.

    What has G. Pascal Zachary actually done to help? He's been an academic/journalism/lecturer Africa expert watcher for a long time, but Africa is even worse in most ways than when he began his career. Where's the evidence that his opinions, part of the "help Africa" status quo, are any more likely to work than a new project that focuses on a quantum leap in empowering a new generation of Africans?
  • by satch89450 ( 186046 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @10:55AM (#16895958) Homepage
    It's unfortunate that Mr. Dvorak didn't talk with the proponents of and contributors to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. He admits he depended on information on a Web site. Normally, this isn't a problem, but...unlike an organization with a for-profit motive with which Mr. Dvorak is used to dealing, there are no PR flacks in this small group of people doing the work. There isn't an army of copywriters keeping the OLPC web site up-to-the-minute. The focus of the OLPC army, about a platoon in strength, is getting the laptop built and distributed, to a price, to a performance level, to a quality level. There are no information officers here.

    As a consequence, Mr. Dvorak's factual basis for his opinions appear to be flawed. That's the problem with fast-moving, lean projects that don't have a profit motive: the worker-bees don't budget time to spoon-feed journalists.

    I base this critique on the facts shown at a presentation I attended last week on the project and its current status. During that presentation, many of Mr. Dvorak's criticisms were answered in full. I'll run down the factual points, based on the information I gleaned from that presentation. I don't vouch for absolute accuracy, as I wasn't taking notes, and I'm not part of the project. Keeping those caveats in mind:

    * Justification: Mr. Dvorak doesn't touch on this issue at all, except in the negative and through the words of another person. He missed the one reason this project is interesting to the governments of the developing nations: it saves money in education.

    Mr. Dvorak, have you looked at the price of school textbooks these days? How much does your local school spend, per year, on books for their kids? In developing countries, the textbook cost may be lower than here but it's still high compared to, say, food.

    (N.B.: The situation in college is even worse. I leave research on that issue as an exercise to the reader, as most of the hits on Google about textbook pricing focus on higher education.)

    You say, Mr. Dvorak, "with $100 you could almost feed a village for a year" but that same $100 doesn't cover educating ONE child for ONE year. You want to fill their stomachs, but starve their brains?

    The OLPC project got the facts from the horse's mouth, the governments who have to somehow educate their children in order to raise the standard of living in their country. The cost of the laptop, roughly $20/year for the five-year life of the laptop, is less than the cost of the books needed to teach the kids. Throw in the infrastructure costs (development of electronic textbooks, "libraries", access points and their connections to a country-wide network) and the country still sees a savings.

    Interestingly, like most "problems", it comes down to money.

    * Manufacturing cost: While the presenter didn't provide a complete bill of materials for the laptop, the cost projections for building the laptop in million quantities falls well below $100 at the current time. Further cost reduction is possible as the laptop matures. The cost projection shown by the presenter was verified by members of the audience who have been on the front lines of manufacturing products like this laptop.

    How much lower can the price go? You know as well as anyone the cost curve over lifetime of a computer product. Is $50 possible?

    * Maintenance: Photos of the prototypes shown at the presentation show a modular approach very similar to that used by IBM in making the PS/2 Model 50 personal computer (and *not* used in virtually every PC made today). The only tool required to service the machines is a single screwdriver. Kids in the US, UK, Canada, and other developed countries have no problems servicing computers *not* designed to be serviced easily by untrained personnel. So the only infrastructure required is a way to get spare parts to those who need them.

    * Networking: The laptops use mesh networking to communicate with each other, and to access points provided as part of the
  • their hut? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cheeze ( 12756 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @11:00AM (#16895986) Homepage
    Can the article be any more condescending? Why try to reinforce the 3rd world stereotype. There are cities, with cars, buildings, offices, airports, etc in just about every 3rd world country.

    What about those families that are cram packed into an apartment and barely make ends meet?

    Even if one of them ends up in a hut like the article suggests, this will probably be a turning point in their culture, much like a renaissance.

  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) * on Saturday November 18, 2006 @11:41AM (#16896224) Homepage
    Sure - you can give a village $100 worth of food - and if they ever actually get the food - and if it's not stolen by the local warloads - or the cash skimmed off by some corrupt politician - or eroded by all of the administrative overheads - then they'll be much better off for a year. They'll probably also stop planting crops too. If you keep it up for enough years - they won't even know how to plant crops. What happens the next year and the year after and for the next 100 years?

    You could build them a generator - but who will service it? Where will they get gas to power it? OK - make it a windmill - but still, who will fix it when it breaks?

    You can go on propping up these failed third world economies by paying 'welfare' - or you can try to fix the root problems and let them support themselves.

    In the long term, what these countries need more than anything else is better education. With education, they can pull themselves out of mire that currently drags them down. That's a long term, sustainable, solution. $100 doesn't buy many text books - but it does buy Wikipedia, Project gets them keyboard skills. You can sit in a little hut in the middle of a drought blasted desert and so long as you have Internet access, a clockwork laptop and the right skills, you can earn vastly more money than you could ever earn any other way. You can earn enough buy your own generator - or you can learn enough to realise that in your environment, a windmill would be a better choice (or not) - you can learn how to service it. Even if you are a farmer in Kenya - you can learn what the current price of coffee in various markets - you can negotiate prices directly with StarBucks instead of being paid 1% of the value by some sleazy middle-man.

    But they can't do that without education and a way to reach out to the outside world.

    So - give a man a fish or teach him to fish?
  • OMFUG (Score:3, Interesting)

    by knewter ( 62953 ) <`josh.rubyist' `at' `'> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @12:09PM (#16896442) Homepage

    "The real problem is lost mind share. The people are harmed because these sorts of schemes are sopping up mind-share time of the people who might be doing something actually useful."

    What the hell? Why does he get to say what the people on that project are doing? I have no idea if it will end up being a good idea, and neither does he. All I know is that the amount that I was able to learn on a given day became basically unbounded on the day that my family got their first computer, and it's probably been the single most important learning tool I've ever used. That's why I became a programmer. That and because I get to make a lot of money for very little effort.

    Still. This complaint is that the people making the OLPC could be doing something better. This coming from a guy who's spent HIS mindshare in life writing a bunch of occasionally-pointed articles (yeah, that's going to provide electricity more quickly, good thinking). It's easy to complain.

    Now if it weren't Dvorak complaining - if my idol, Paul Graham, came out talking about how bad of an idea it was - I'd at least start to examine it. But if I listened every time Dvorak said something, I'd end up quite the idiot.

    The economy will tell us whether this is a good idea. Not immediately, and it'll be an interesting example of a quasi-free market, since the only people involved in the market are about forty potential governments. Still, time will tell a lot better than MarketWatch.
  • gun vs butter (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ikeleib ( 125180 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @01:12PM (#16896898) Homepage

    the people are harmed because these sorts of schemes are sopping up mind-share time of the people who might be doing something actually useful.

    This is the guns vs butter economics analogy. Like it, this argument is flawed. As cows can't make guns, most hackers aren't equiped to solve the hunger problem in poor villages.

    Although I don't disagree that hunger is a greater problem than the lack of information technology, to say that work on both uses the same scarce resources, is perhaps a stretch.

  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @01:25PM (#16896966) Homepage
    I have doubts about this project of my own - in sufficient volume, the real cost of books is about $2 each, so you're trading 50 books for the gadget; but there's just no question that while some places could use 50 almost infinitely rugged (by comparison) books more than a laptop, there are also many, many places that could use the laptop.

    A very small percentage of the world is actually unable to feed itself - and which percentage keeps shifting, that's more about drought, war and other temporary emergencies than a permanent condition.

    Required reading is this very sharp, short column by historian / columnist Gwynne Dyer: 0article_%20%20Human%20Development.txt []

    We are constantly bombarded with the comparison between our own wealthy fifth of the world and the poorest fifth, most of them in Africa. In the above column, he reminds us that most of Africa had a fairly good standard of living as recently as the 60s and has declined in recent decades because of apalling governments, not "natural" problems like more people than the land can feed.

    And the "middle three-fifths" of humanity are a success story, recently - China and India get the press for their economic rise because they are so large, but all over the world (Dyer writes the above from Turkey) people of this generation have risen from subsistence to a level of comfort that most of our grandparents would recognise - or even envy. (See the series "1900 house" to realize how far we've come since our grandparents day.) That middle 3/5ths don't need the laptop for light, they have food, clothing, shelter, some light and water at least at the end of the street. What they need are opportunities to earn more cash so they can get water to the house and sewer that isn't the gutter.

    Three-fifths of six billion is quite a "market". And the sooner they migrate up from $10/day to $50, the sooner we'll have *help* with the tough problem of the poorest fifth. Reviewing the recent economic changes, there's no reason to imagine this can't happen in a generation.
  • by mysticgoat ( 582871 ) * on Saturday November 18, 2006 @02:10PM (#16897396) Homepage Journal

    By the time I had gotten to the end of the article, it was no surprise to find John C. Dvorak was the author. The man made some useful contributions to connectivity technology in the late '80s and early '90s. In the last ten years or so, he has been demonstrating that he can make a good money by being a highly visible troll. I cannot imagine that he actually believes half the stuff he writes; mostly he just seems to like to keep the pot boiling.

    His argument against OLPC is basically a recycling of the old "White Man's Burden" argument, which was used to justify european colonialism in the late 1800s and neo-colonialism in the middle 1900s. In its current form it strongly implies that individuals who grew up in third world cultures are incapable of managing new technologies or making decisions about implementing these technologies in their native lands. It is up to us, who were fortunate enough to be born into the high tech cultures, to develop a Gantt chart for bringing these poor peoples up to speed (and we can do so without regard to cultural or logistic issues we know nothing about). And we should raise our voices in protest against anyone who suggests that there might be another way of doing things.

    I also have some serious concerns about the "facts" presented in this product of Dvorak's imagination. He keeps referring to Africa for his examples. Since when are Brazil, Argentina, or Thailand in Africa? Yet these are the three nations that have expressed the most serious interest in deploying OLPCs.

    I suggest that when you see Dvorak's name in the byline, you should use all your critical reading skills when absorbing his words. And since the man has a sizeable ego, this is even more important when he buries his name at the end, as he did in this article.

  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:33PM (#16898672) Homepage Journal
    An opinion piece should never be labeled an "article". Especially when the piece is by John Dvorak, who's the absolutely the most ignorant computer pundit in the business. Which says a lot, given how sloppy computer pundits are with the facts.

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