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One Laptop per Child

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The XO-1, previously known as the $100 Laptop or Children's Machine, is an inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to children around the world, especially to those in developing countries, to provide them with access to knowledge. The laptop is developed by the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) trade association. OLPC is a U.S. based, non-profit organization created by faculty members of the MIT Media Lab to design, manufacture, and distribute the laptop and its software.

These rugged, low-power computers contain flash memory instead of a hard drive and use Linux as their operating system.[1] Mobile ad-hoc networking is used to allow many machines Internet access from one connection.

The laptops can be sold to governments and issued to children by schools on a basis of one laptop per child. Pricing is currently expected to start at around US$135–175 and the goal is to reach the US$100 mark in 2008. Approximately 500 developer boards (Alpha-1) were distributed in summer 2006; 875 working prototypes (Beta 1) were delivered in late 2006; 2400 Beta-2 machines were distributed at the end of February 2007; full-scale production is expected to start in mid-2007.ummer 2006; 875 working prototypes (Beta 1) were delivered in late 2006; 2400 Beta-2 machines were distributed at the end of February 2007; full-scale production is expected to start in mid-2007.[2] Quanta Computer, the project's contract manufacturer, said in February 2007 that it had confirmed orders for one million units. They indicated they could ship 5 million to 10 million units this year because seven nations have committed to buy the XO-1 for their schoolchildren, including Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Thailand and Uruguay.[3]

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The OLPC project has stated that a consumer version of the XO laptop is not planned.[4] However, Quanta will be offering machines very similar to the XO machine on the open market.[5] Emerging competitors in the category include the ASUS Eee PC.

One Laptop per Child association

The One Laptop per Child association (OLPC) is a Delaware based, non-profit organization set up to oversee The Children's Machine project and the construction of the XO-1 "$100 laptop". Both the project and the organization were announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2005.

OLPC is funded by a number of sponsor organizations, including AMD, Brightstar Corporation, eBay, Google, Marvell, News Corporation, SES Global, Nortel Networks, Red Hat,and most recently Intel. Each company has donated two million dollars.[6]

The organization is chaired by Nicholas Negroponte and its CTO is Mary Lou Jepsen. Other principals of the company include former MIT Media Lab director Walter Bender, who is President of OLPC Software and Content, and Jim Gettys, Vice-President of Software Engineering.[7]


OLPC is based on constructionist learning theories pioneered by Seymour Papert, Alan Kay, and also on the principles expressed in Nicholas Negroponte’s book Being Digital.[8] The founding corporate members are Google, News Corp, AMD, Red Hat, Brightstar and Nortel, each of whom donated two million dollars to the project. All three individuals and six companies are active participants in OLPC.

Manufacturer Quanta Computers
Type Subnotebook
Connectivity 802.11b/g /s wireless LAN
3 USB 2.0 ports
MMC/SD card slot
Media 1 GB flash memory
Operating System Fedora Core-based (Linux)
Input Keyboard
Camera built-in video camera (640×480; 30 FPS)
Power NiMH battery pack
CPU AMD Geode LX700@0.8W + 5536
Memory 256 MB DRAM
Display dual-mode 19.1 cm/7.5" diagonal TFT LCD 1200×900

The organization gained much attention when Nicholas Negroponte and Kofi Annan unveiled a working prototype of the CM1 on November 16, 2005 at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia. Negroponte showed two prototypes of the laptop at the second phase of the World Summit: a non working physical model and a tethered version using an external board and separate keyboard. The device shown was a rough prototype using a standard development board. Negroponte estimated that the screen alone required three more months of development. The first working prototype was demonstrated at the project's Country Task Force Meeting on May 23, 2006. The production version is expected to have a larger display screen in the same size package. The laptops are scheduled to be available by early 2007.

At the 2006 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced it would back the laptop. UNDP released a statement saying they would work with OLPC to deliver “technology and resources to targeted schools in the least developed countries”.[9]

The OLPC board of directors announced on December 13, 2005 that Quanta Computers had been chosen as the original design manufacturer (ODM) for the $100 laptop project. The decision was made after the board reviewed bids from several possible manufacturing companies. The company emphasized that there was a lot of work that remains to be done: “We still need to put a large amount of research and development into this, and will then hopefully be ready to make a finished product in the second half of next year 2006”, according to Quanta. Over the next six months, a team at Quanta Research Institute is going to be focusing on the $100 laptop.[10]

The project originally aimed for a price of 100 United States dollars. In May 2006, Negroponte told the Red Hat's annual user summit: “It is a floating price. We are a nonprofit organization. We have a target of $100 by 2008, but probably it will be $135, maybe $140. That is a start price, but what we have to do is with every release make it cheaper and cheaper— we are promising that the price will go down.”[11]

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Participating countries

The following states have already “committed” to the project in various ways. However, the commitment is not binding. The laptops will be sold to governments, to be distributed through the ministries of education willing to adopt the policy of “one laptop per child”. The operating system and software will be localized to the languages of the participating countries.

  • Argentina
  • Brazil[12]
  • Cambodia
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Egypt
  • Greece
  • Libya
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Rwanda[13]
  • Tunisia
  • United States of America (specifically the states of Massachusetts and Maine)
  • Uruguay

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney submitted a bill to the legislature to deliver $100 laptops to all children in the state.[14] Nigeria was the first country to order one million laptop computers.[15]

On October 11, 2006 The New York Times reported that OLPC had reached an agreement with the government of Libya to supply laptops to all of its 1.2 million school children. The $250 million deal includes satellite Internet access, one XS Server[16][17] per school and technical support.[18][19] Muammar al-Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi has talked of turning the country into the first E-democracy, with citizens participating electronically in government decision-making.[20]

India has rejected the initiative, saying “it would be impossible to justify an expenditure of this scale on a debatable scheme when public funds continue to be in inadequate supply for well-established needs listed in different policy documents”.[21]

Thailand under prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had committed to the project, however after the 2006 coup d'état the new education minister called the project "not urgent and not in my education reform plan".[22] According to a spokesman for the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, the laptop will be evaluated with pilot projects before proceeding cautiously.[23]


Mary Lou Jepsen, Alan Kay and Nicholas Negroponte unveil the $100 Laptop.



The XO-1 will be low-cost, small, durable, and efficient. It will be shipped with a slimmed-down version of Fedora Linux and a GUI called Sugar that is intended to help young children collaborate. The XO-1 includes a video camera, a microphone, long-range Wi-Fi, and a hybrid stylus/touch pad. Human power is planned, allowing operation far from commercial sources of power.

Mary Lou Jepsen has stated the design goals of this device as:

  • minimal power consumption, with a design target of 2–3 W total power consumption;
  • minimal production cost, with a target of $100 per laptop for production runs of millions of units;
  • a ‘cool’ look, implying innovative styling in its physical appearance;
  • e-book functionality with extremely low power consumption;
  • the software provided with the laptop should be open source and free software.

Various use models had been explored by OLPC with the help of Design Continuum and Fuseproject, including: laptop, e-book, theatre, simulation, tote, and tablet architectures. The current design, by Fuseproject, uses a transformer hinge to morph between laptop, e-book, and router modes.


The hardware specifications as of March 2007 are:

  • CPU: 433 MHz AMD Geode LX-700 at 0.8 Watts, with integrated graphics controller
  • 1200×900 7.5" diagonal LCD (200 dpi) that uses 0.1 to 1.0 Watts depending on mode. The two modes are:
    • Reflective (backlight off) monochrome mode for low-power use in sunlight. This mode provides very sharp images for high-quality text.
    • Backlit color mode, with an effective resolution that is asymmetrically reduced in complicated ways. See below for details.
  • 256 MiB of Dual (DDR266) 133 MHz DRAM (in 2006 the specification called for only 128 MiB of RAM[24])
  • 1024 KiB (1 MiB) flash ROM with open-source Open Firmware
  • 1024 MB of SLC NAND flash memory (in 2006 the specifications called for only 512 MB of flash memory[25])
  • Internal SD card slot[26]
  • Wireless networking using an “Extended Range” 802.11b/g wireless chipset run at a low bitrate (2 Mbit/s) to minimize power consumption.
  • Marvell 8388 wireless chip, chosen due to its ability to autonomously forward packets in the mesh even if the CPU is powered off. An ARM processor is included.
  • Dual adjustable antennae for diversity reception.
  • Water-resistant membrane keyboard using a fairly conventional (QWERTY in the US International localization) layout. The multiplication and division symbols are included.
  • Dual five-key cursor-control pads; four directional keys plus Enter
  • Touchpad for mouse control and handwriting input
  • Built-in color camera, to the right of the display, VGA resolution (640×480)
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • Built-in microphone
  • Audio based on the AC97 codec, with jacks for external stereo speakers and microphones, Line-out, and Mic-in
  • 3 external USB 2.0 ports.
  • Power sources:
    • DC input, ±10–25 V
    • 5-cell rechargeable NiMH battery pack, 22.8 watt-hour (82 kJ) capacity
    • External manual power options include a pull-string generator designed by Potenco (www.potenco.com)

Intentionally omitted features

In keeping with its goals of robustness and low power consumption, the design of the laptop intentionally omits all motor-driven moving parts; it has no hard drive, no optical (CD/DVD) media, no floppy drives and no fans. An ATA interface is unnecessary due to the lack of hard drive. There is also no PC Card slot, although an SD slot will be available.

Printers, hard disks, CD drives, DVD drives, USB drives, and many other peripherals can be connected via the USB ports. Further expansion is available through an internal SD card slot.

A built-in hand-crank generator was part of the original design, but Negroponte stated at a 2006 LinuxWorld talk that it was no longer integrated into the laptop itself, but optionally available as a hand- or foot-operated generator built into a separate power unit.[25]

Power consumption

The laptop will consume about 2 W of power during normal use, far less than the 10 to 45 W of conventional laptops.[2]

In e-book mode, all hardware sub-systems are powered down except the monochrome display (including any display backlighting). When the user moves to a different page the system wakes up, draws the new page on the display and then goes back to sleep. Power consumption in e-book mode is estimated to be 0.3 to 0.8 W.


The first-generation OLPC laptops are expected to have a novel low-cost LCD. Later generations of the OLPC laptop are expected to use low-cost, low-power and high-resolution electronic paper displays.

The display is the most expensive component of the OLPC Laptop. In April 2005, Negroponte hired Mary Lou Jepsen—who is expected to join the Media Arts and Sciences faculty at the MIT Media Lab in September 2007—as OLPC Chief Technology Officer. Jepsen is developing a new display for the first-generation OLPC laptop, which is derived from the design of small LCDs used in portable DVD players, which she estimated would cost about $35.

Jepsen has described the removal of the filters that color the RGB subpixels as the critical design innovation in the new LCD. Instead of using subtractive color filters, the display uses a plastic diffraction grating and lenses on the rear of the LCD to illuminate the colored subpixels. This grating pattern is stamped using the same technology used to make DVDs. The grating splits the light from the white backlight into a spectrum. The red, green and blue components are diffracted into the correct positions to illuminate the corresponding R, G or B subpixels. This innovation results in a much brighter display for a given amount of backlight illumination: While the colour filters in a regular display typically absorb 85% of the light that hits them, this display absorbs little of that light.[27]

beta test 1 unit


One of the first beta test 1 units.

The remainder of the LCD uses existing display technology and can be made using existing manufacturing equipment. Even the masks can be made using combinations of existing materials and processes.

In color mode, the display is lit from the back with a white LED. Normal LCD displays use cold cathode fluorescent lamp backlights which are fragile, require a high voltage power supply, are relatively power-hungry, and account for 30% of their cost.

In monochrome (grayscale) mode, the display is lit only by ambient light such as the sun.

Mode change may normally occur with a change in use of the device. The color display is expected to be used in laptop mode, whereas the portrait format monochrome display is expected to be used in tablet mode for reading pages of text. This is the so-called “curl-up-in-bed mode” to enable reading of e-books for an extended time in bright light such as sunlight.[28] Negroponte has said at the Technology Review’s Fifth Annual Emerging Technologies Conference that the monochrome display has four times the resolution of the color display.

In color mode, the display does not use the normal pixel geometry for LCD computer displays, which makes each pixel contain tall thin rectangles of each primary color. Instead, the display provides only one color for each pixel. The colors align along diagonals that run from upper-left to lower right. (see diagram) To reduce the color artifacts that this pixel geometry causes, the image is blurred as it is sent to the screen. Despite the blurring, the display will still be decently sharp for its physical size; normal displays as of February 2007 put about 588×441 to 882×662 in this amount of physical area and support subpixel rendering for a tad more. A conventional LCD display with the same number of green pixels (green carries most brightness information for human eyes) as the OLPC XO-1 would be 693×520. Unlike a normal 693×520, resolution varies with angle. Resolution is greatest from upper-right to lower left, and lowest from upper-left to lower-right. Images which approach or exceed this resolution will lose detail and gain color artifacts. There exist arguments that the color display gains resolution when in bright light; this comes at the expense of color (as the backlight is overpowered) and can never reach the 200 dpi sharpness of grayscale mode because of the blur which is applied to images in color mode.

Wireless mesh networking

IEEE 802.11b support will be provided using a Wi-Fi “Extended Range” chip set. Jepsen has said the wireless chip set will be run at a low bit rate, 2Mbit/s maximum rather than the usual higher speed 5.5Mbit/s or 11Mbit/s to minimize power consumption. The conventional IEEE 802.11b system only handles traffic within a local cloud of wireless devices in a manner similar to an Ethernet network. Each node transmits and receives its own data, but does not route packets between two nodes that cannot communicate directly. The OLPC laptop will use IEEE 802.11s to form the wireless mesh network.

Whenever the laptop is powered on it will participate in a mobile ad-hoc network (MANET) with each node operating in a peer-to-peer fashion with other laptops it can hear, forwarding packets across the cloud. If a computer in the cloud has access to the Internet—either directly or indirectly—then all computers in the cloud are able to share that access. The data rate across this network will not be high; however, similar networks, such as the store and forward Motoman project have supported email services to 1000 schoolchildren in Cambodia, according to Negroponte. The data rate should be sufficient for asynchronous network applications (such as email) to communicate outside the cloud; interactive uses, such as web browsing, or high-bandwidth applications, such as video streaming should be possible inside the cloud. The IP assignment for the meshed network is intended to be automatically configured, so no server administrator or an administration of IP addresses is needed.

Building a MANET is still untested under the OLPC's current configuration and hardware environment. Although one goal of the laptop is that all of its software be open source, the source code for this routing protocol is currently closed source. While there are open-source alternatives such as OLSR or B.A.T.M.A.N., none of these options are yet available running at the data-link layer (Layer 2) on the Wi-Fi subsystem's co-processor; this is critical to OLPC's power efficiency scheme. Whether Marvell, the producer of the wireless chip set and owner of the current meshing protocol software, will make the firmware open source is still an unanswered question.

Keyboard and touchpad

Negroponte and Jepsen have said the keyboard will be changed to suit local needs to match the standard keyboard for the country in which it is used. Some versions of prototype were shown at World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) with a detachable keyboard (tethered by a cord); however, the working prototype demonstrated in May 2006 had a conventional built-in keyboard.

Negroponte has demanded that the keyboard will not contain a caps lock key, which frees up keyboard real estate for new keys such as a “view source” key.[29]

Beneath the keyboard is a large area that resembles a very wide touchpad that Jepsen referred to as the “mousepad”. Negroponte has said that this device can be used for “calligraphy” presumably to support languages that use ideograms. The central third is a capacitive sensor that can be used with a finger, while the full width is a resistive sensor that can be used with a stylus. The trackpad was not operational in the WSIS prototype.


The enclosure is dirt- and moisture-resistant and is constructed with 2-mm thick plastic (0.7-mm thicker than typical laptops). It features a pivoting, reversible display, movable WiFi antennas, and a sealed rubber-membrane keyboard.


All of the software on the laptop will be free and open source.[29] The projected software as of November 2006[30] are:

  • A pared-down version of Fedora Core Linux as the operating system, with students receiving root access.[31]
  • A simple custom web browser based upon the Gecko engine used by Mozilla Firefox.
  • A word processor based on AbiWord.
  • Email through the web-based Gmail service.[2]
  • Online chat and VoIP programs.
  • Several interpreted programming languages, including Forth[32], Logo, JavaScript, Python, Csound, and the eToys version of Squeak.[31]
  • A music sequencer with digital instruments: Jean Piché's TamTam
  • Audio and video player software: Mplayer or Helix.

The laptop will use the Sugar graphical user interface, written in Python, on top of the X Window System and the Matchbox window manager.[32] This interface is not based on the typical desktop metaphor but presents an iconic view of programs and documents and a map-like view of nearby connected users. The current active program is displayed in full-screen mode.[2]


Children in a remote Cambodian school where a pilot laptop program has been in place since 2001.

Steve Jobs had offered Mac OS X free of charge for use in the laptop, but according to Seymour Papert, a professor emeritus at MIT who is one of the initiative's founders, the designers want an operating system that can be tinkered with: “We declined because it’s not open source.”[33] Therefore Linux was chosen.

Jim Gettys, responsible for the laptops' system software, has called for a re-education of programmers, saying that many applications use too much memory or even leak memory. “There seems to be a common fallacy among programmers that using memory is good: on current hardware it is often much faster to recompute values than to have to reference memory to get a precomputed value. A full cache miss can be hundreds of cycles, and hundreds of times the power consumption of an instruction that hits in the first level cache.”[24]

On 4 August 2006, the Wikimedia Foundation announced that static copies of selected Wikipedia articles would be included on the laptops. Jimmy Wales, chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, said that “OLPC's mission goes hand in hand with our goal of distributing encyclopedic knowledge, free of charge, to every person in the world. Not everybody in the world has access to a broadband connection.”[34] Negroponte had earlier suggested he would like to see Wikipedia on the laptop. Wales feels that Wikipedia is one of the “killer apps” for this device.[35]

In a Slashdot forum post on March 8, 2007, Don Hopkins announced that he is creating a free and open source port of the game SimCity to the OLPC with the blessing of Will Wright and Electronic Arts, and demonstrated SimCity running on the OLPC at the Game Developer's Conference in March 2007.[36]. The free and open source SimCity plans were confirmed at the same conference by SJ Klein, director of content for the OLPC and longtime Wikipedia contributor, who also asked game developers to create “frameworks and scripting environments—tools with which children themselves could create their own content.”[37]

The laptop's security architecture, known as Bitfrost, was publicly introduced in February 2007. No passwords will be required for ordinary use of the machine. Programs are assigned certain bundles of rights at install time which govern their access to resources; users can later add more rights. Optionally, the laptops can be configured to request leases from a central server and to stop functioning when these leases expire; this is designed as a theft-prevention mechanism.


Though generally well received at early stages, the project has been criticized on several fronts.

Technological aspects

On November 10, 2005, Lee Felsenstein criticized the centralized, top-down, “imperialistic” design and distribution of the OLPC. Lee Felsenstein, currently of the Fonly Institute, draws upon his previous experience with distributed collaboration and open source hardware in the Homebrew Computer Club.[38]

On December 9, 2005 Intel Chairman Craig Barrett criticized the project for being a “$100 gadget”: “... The problem is that gadgets have not been successful... It turns out what people are looking for is something that has the full functionality of a PC. Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown-up PC .... not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them.”[39] However, on December 5th 2006, Intel announced[40] that they intend to produce a similar laptop, the Classmate PC. On July 13th, 2007, Intel and OLPC announced[41] that they would work together through collaboration on technological and educational content. Intel has since joined the OLPC board.

Environmental concerns

The project has also received criticism due to possible environmental and health impacts of hazardous materials found in computers.[42] Many nations and organizations are working towards the development of “Green Electronics” (e.g. European Union with Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive).[43] While any project on this scale will have environmental impact, OLPC has asserted that it is aiming to use as environmentally friendly materials as they can; that the laptop and all OLPC-supplied accessories will be fully compliant with the EU's Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS); and that the laptop will use an order of magnitude less power than the typical consumer laptops available as of 2007, minimizing the environmental burden of power generation.[44]

Good use of money

At the UN conference in Tunisia, several African officials, most notably Marthe Dansokho of Cameroon and Mohammed Diop of Mali were suspicious of the motives of the project, and claimed that the project was using an overly American mindset that presented solutions not applicable to specifically African problems. Dansokho said the project demonstrated misplaced priorities, stating that clean water and schools were more important for African women, who, he stated, would not have time to use the computers to research new crops to grow, and Diop specifically attacked the project as an attempt to exploit the governments of poor nations by making them pay for hundreds of millions of machines.[45] Additionally, the price of $175/unit does not include the cost of setup, maintenance, training of teachers, and Internet access. Countries adopting the XO-1 must budget for these costs as well.


$100 Laptop prototype

One criticism has been that the money of purchasing the laptops could be more favorably spent on libraries and schools. John Wood, founder of Room to Read, has emphasized what is affordable and can scale over high-tech solutions. While in favor of the One Laptop per Child initiative for providing education to children in the developing world at a cheaper rate, he has pointed out that a $2000 library can serve 400 children, costing just $5 a child to bring access to a wide range of books in the local languages (such as Khmer or Nepali) and English; also a $10,000 school can serve 400–500 children ($20–$25 a child). According to Wood, these are more appropriate solutions for education in the dense forests of Vietnam or rural Cambodia.[46]

Price - HRD India

The Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry of India has rejected Nicholas Negroponte's offer of $100 laptops for schoolchildren. The Ministry is planning to make laptops at $10 for schoolchildren. The two designs submitted to the ministry from a final year engineering student of Vellore Institute of Technology and a researcher from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; have come to an estimated production cost of $47 per laptop, but they expect the price to become lower when volumes rise.[47] No technical specifications have been released.

Theft and resale

The OLPC originally planned to restrict the sale of the laptop to governments, meaning that private individuals would not be able to purchase it. This led to the fears of arbitrage. If XO-1 is only made available in certain areas and to certain parties, a parallel black market for the laptops may develop. An arbitrageur could find a way to obtain the laptops for the going rate and resell them in the black market for a higher price.

The presence of a black market could also encourage the intended owners to sell their laptops. Negroponte addressed this concern during his presentation in the Emerging technologies Conference in September 2005:

The grey market is a very serious issue. I don't want to be dismissive of it for a moment, and there are three ways of addressing it. Way number one is to have no market at all for it. I mean you can't sell it, who could buy it, and that isn't bullet proof. That's a little bit dreaming, but it's part of the equation. The second is to put the technologies into the device that help stop that. [The laptops distributed to middle schoolers in Maine are Apple iBooks] so they are not only great stuff to steal and we don't necessarily have corruption of that kind, but it's pretty transferable technology. They've put little things so the machine disables itself after a while if it hasn't connected to the school. You can put GPS in it, you can put all sorts of stuff. But then the third one, which I'm doing and I like is to make this machine so distinctive that it is socially a stigma to be carrying one if you are not a child or a teacher. Now you can obviously take it down to your basement, but I hope your spouse will even say: “Oh God! Honey! What did you do?” [...] So those three combined will I hope at least limit this to one percent or two percent.[48]

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