April 4, 2006 8:22 AM PDT

Negroponte: Slimmer Linux needed for $100 laptop

BOSTON--The One Laptop Per Child organization will use Linux on its inexpensive machines, but the operating system suffers the same code bloat as Windows, the project's leader said Tuesday.

"People aren't thinking about small, fast, thin systems," said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the One Laptop Per Child nonprofit association, in a speech at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here. "Suddenly it's like a very fat person (who) uses most of the energy to move the fat. And Linux is no exception. Linux has gotten fat, too."

$100 laptop

The association hopes to distribute 5 million to 10 million of the systems to children in India, China, Brazil, Argentina, Thailand, Egypt, and Nigeria in the first quarter of 2007, somewhat later than the late 2006 launch Negroponte predicted at the World Economic Forum last year. He hopes the project will help supply the world's billion children with an education that undertrained teachers often can't supply. "At least 50 percent of those children don't get anything that even approximates what you and I would call an education," he said.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates criticized the initiative's products earlier this year, saying they should use more powerful machines with better displays, though Gates subsequently offered a warmer opinion. Negroponte chafed at Gates' view nonetheless.

"It's not about a weak computer. It's about a thin, slim, trim, fast computer," he said. Not only that, Microsoft is even involved in the effort. "We are also talking to Microsoft constantly. We are going to ship them development boards. They are going to make a Windows CE version (that supports the hardware). So jeez--why criticize me in public?"

System specs
The system will use a 500MHz processor from Advanced Micro Devices with 128MB of memory. It will use 512MB of flash memory and no hard drive, he said. The biggest remaining cost is the display.

The system will use a dual-mode display with a black-and-white, 1110-by-830-pixel mode in sunlight and a 640-by-480-pixel color mode otherwise.

Negroponte said one meeting with an unnamed display manufacturer spotlighted the importance of high-volume manufacturing.

"I said, 'We'd like to work with you on the display. We need a small display. It doesn't have perfect color uniformity, it can have pixel or two missing, it doesn't have to be that bright," Negroponte recounted. "The manufacturer said, 'Our strategic plan is to make big displays with perfect color uniformity, zero pixel defects and to make it very bright for the living room.'"

"I said, 'That's too bad, because I need 100 million a year.' They said, 'Well, maybe we can change our strategic plan.' That's the reason you need scale," Negroponte said.

As initially envisioned, the laptops sported a hand crank on the side to generate power, but Negroponte has scrapped that idea because the twisting forces that would be bad for the machine. Instead, some form of power generation device, likely a pedal, will be attached to the AC power adapter, he said.

"I was the longest holdout for the crank being on the laptop. I was wrong," he said, adding, "If you're a 10-year-old, maybe you can get your four-year-old to pedal for you."

The organization's goal is to sell $135 laptops in 2007, then cut the price to $100 in 2008 and $50 in 2010, he said.

The machines will consume 2 watts of power when running, 1 watt for the display, Negroponte said.

He's not worried about connecting the machines to the Internet because networking will develop on its own, he said, but later added that the vision relies on a built-in "mesh" network that links all the machines, even when the rest of the computers are shut down.

"I think between WiFi, WiMax and 3G, that's going to happen," Negroponte said. "We're heading to the point where 50 percent of the world will have a cell phone or some kind of (communication device) within 18 months. It's too voice-centric, and I could campaign to make it more data-centric, but that's going to happen, too."

The laptop's mesh networks will be anchored by data cached locally on $100 servers to be housed at schools, he added.

Once children have the laptops, they'll teach themselves, he predicted, making teacher training beside the point. "Teachers teach the kids? Give me a break," he said. "Give any kid an electronic game and the first thing they do is throw away the manual and the second thing they do is use it."

See more CNET content tagged:
OLPC, power generation, Bill Gates, display, Linux


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
"At least 50 of those children..."
Misquoted as 50 instead of 50 percent? Otherwise 50 out 5-10 million ain't too bad.
Posted by grantdavis (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Best OS for these types of devices is...
Best OS for these types of devices is Windows CE, not many people know about this OS but it certenly the best OS for small devices. and it also virus free(only 4 virus in 12 year history).

and best this about this is it even work on low end hardware, 300 Mhz with 16 RAM, and 128 ROM is enough for it.

thank you MS for giving us a wonderful OS,
Posted by (128 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Might as Well Bring Back GEOS
See if they can make a deal with Breadbox. Almost nobody uses it anyway, so I bet they organizers could get a good price. One benefit is that the few pieces of software available is geared for learning anyway, so you won't have to worry about kids using it for non-educational means. I wish the group good luck if they are doing for humanitary reasons, but I sense that more issues like this will arise in the near future.
Posted by Bookerman (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Window 3.1 would be blazing fast! Will Gates donate it?...
Have you ever loaded the old Windows 3.1 OS on a newer machine - if you can get past that it is a painful paradigm shift, then you will find it to be incredibly fast!

People want their modern OS but can't accept the hardware needed to run it!

Joke: Maybe Microsoft will donate the old OS for free as an upgrade path for the poor of the world...They have crippled versions of Windows for countries where people are not wanting to pay full price, so why not throw in Windows 3.1
Posted by hackian (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Regarding Crank
I just bought..at <b>retail</b> prices...a 1.8w solar trickle charger for $10

If you got these in bulk for say $7.5 a piece and bumped the power to 2w they would be powerful enough to recharge the battery or even run this laptop directly.

Why bother with the foot pedal?
Posted by KsprayDad (375 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Instead of complaining about bloated Linux, customize it
The 80/20 rule applies whether it is Linux or Windows. Linux is bloated because people wants more feature. Instead of complaining about it, why not customize it to fit his (Negroponte's) needs. (There is no such thing as one size fits all.) Since Linux is OSS, there should be no legal problem there. If resources is a problem, why not create an OSS project. Plenty of developers will sympathize with the cause and pitch in.
Posted by thanhvn (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OpenEmbeded or Maemo
I realize this isn't exactly an embeded device, but it shares a lot of same goals of handheld pc's (which are considered embeded deviced). low power, not much flexability as far as hardware choices or exansion goes, and no bloat. This is exactly what projects like OE and Maemo have going for them. Familiar linux, which comes in Opie (QT) and GPE (GTK+) flavors is built on OE and runs on many, many, handhelds including all the Sharp Zarus models as well as many iPaqs, the Nokia 770, and x86 based systems with specs far below what the OLPC boasts. The 770 for instance is 200Mhz, 64Mg RAM, and 128Meg Flash and on mine I have a browser with Flash plugin, media players, RSS reader, PDF reader, spreadsheet, word processor, PIM suite, a handfull of games, IM and IRC tools, and I still have plenty of free space. So, what's the OLPC project doing wrong? Oh, right, using RedHat. it's like saying "we're going to have Ford customize a vehicle for us because GMC doesn't offer an economy car", well duh, you are looking in the wrong division.
Posted by chrwei (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Puppy Linux
It's incredibly small. It's amazingly fast. It runs very comfortably in 128 Mb of RAM. It's got all the basic software a user needs.
Did I mention it's free?
Posted by (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
whata buncha crap!
With the kind of specs this computer is supposed to have you can have VERY fast GNU/Linux. Here is how:

Install Debian GNU/Linux. Get rid of all non-needed services &#38; files. Re-complie the kernel if you want more speed. If you want to go even slimmer, use an older version of Debian and Fluxbox as a desktop.

But even the regular Debian-Sarge runs very well on a 300MHz/128k machine. I know - this is what I do on my main desktop.

I suspect that Negroponte is only talking to coporate Linux companies like RH or SuSE. This is why he has the wrong impression.
Posted by MamaduMamadu (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe they should change their goal to one laptop per two kids
There is little sense in giving separate laptops to two kids since one of them would be to be sitting there pedaling. Might as well have them share one :-)
Posted by Chung Leong (111 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You want a SMALL OS, here it is
MenuetOS is a hobby Operating System for the PC written entirely in 64bit assembly language, and released under License. It supports 64 and 32 bit x86 assembly programming for smaller, faster and less resource hungry applications.

Menuet has no roots within unix or the posix standards, nor is it based on any particular operating system. The design goal has been to remove the extra layers between different parts of an OS, which normally complicates programming and create bugs.

Menuet programming is fast and easy to learn.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.menuetos.net/" target="_newWindow">http://www.menuetos.net/</a> fits on a floppy!
Posted by M0dK1nG (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Negroponte is dillusional or he is sucking up to MS
Negroponte is dillusional or he is sucking up to MS for a
handout. Linux is already used in small devices. Many distros
include a lot of software. That can sometimes make using a
particular distro seem like drinking from a firehose, but it's not
bloat. Bloat is software with an unnessarily large memory or
storage footprint. Linux can easily be pared down to fix on a cd,
and runs small compared to MS Bloatware. He is mistaking many
software choices with bloated MS code. Any linux distro can be
forked and pared down to any degree of smallness he might
want. The idea of using Windows CE is just stupid. And, of
course, I like how CNET spins things for MS: "Linux Has Bloat,
just like Windows!" Pure shizite.
Posted by cnetsuxalot (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hook'em while they are young
Thats the key here, forget all of this, lets educate people nonsence, there is a very practical purpose for it, which is, keep the computer industry out of asian hands. Imagine if Japan or China came out with a $50 laptop, well, they sell 800 million, well, ok, they made no money, but it means that 800 million people, for the rest of their life, will use an asian computer. I guess luckily for the American PC industry, their manufacturing processes are not good enough to make a cost effective PC.

So, what they are doing now, is making sure these people grow up on AMERICAN PC's, and making sure that a smaller conglomerate cannot get a hold on that large of a market share.

I imagine that is a huge blow to Microsoft, too bad MS couldn't come up with a decent OS to rival Linux, now you have half of the world growing up on a Linux platform, how many of them are going to pay $300 for Vista? None, lol, pitty for Microsoft, they are screwed now.
Posted by jzsaxpc (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
First hands-on preview of Negroponte's 100$ PC
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mustseeblog.com/?p=58" target="_newWindow">http://www.mustseeblog.com/?p=58</a>
Posted by g4e (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
First hands-on preview of Negroponte's 100$ PC
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mustseeblog.com/?p=58" target="_newWindow">http://www.mustseeblog.com/?p=58</a>
Posted by g4e (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
First hands-on preview of Negroponte's 100$ PC
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mustseeblog.com/?p=58" target="_newWindow">http://www.mustseeblog.com/?p=58</a>
Posted by g4e (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How Does This Guy Suck Them In?
This has to be the most misguided venture ever.

Do they even bother to hold a survey and visit a third world country to see the actual conditions, or are they sitting in their comfortable offices thinking that they will save the world one child at a time?

The actual quote of having a 10 year old use it while getting a 4 year old to pedal it for the power is absolutely too funny. Does this guy have kids? He should know that this is almost an impossibility (for two kids to work together so one can have "fun" and the other "works").

The more I hear about this initiative the more I have to laugh at this guy.

No poor person can afford a $100 computer, and donating it will just end up with people scavenging it and selling it for component parts.

Visit a poor country Negroponte, maybe then you'll have a clue on how to help the people in these countries.
Posted by ehui (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Looking for a small OS look here 50mb OS
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/</a>

DSL is a very versatile 50MB mini desktop oriented Linux distribution.

Damn Small is small enough and smart enough to do the following things:
Boot from a business card CD as a live linux distribution (LiveCD)
Boot from a USB pen drive
Boot from within a host operating system (that's right, it can run *inside* Windows)
Run very nicely from an IDE Compact Flash drive via a method we call "frugal install"
Transform into a Debian OS with a traditional hard drive install
Run light enough to power a 486DX with 16MB of Ram
Run fully in RAM with as little as 128MB (you will be amazed at how fast your computer can be!)
Modularly grow -- DSL is highly extendable without the need to customize

With these apps built in.

XMMS (MP3, CD Music, and MPEG), FTP client, Dillo web browser, links web browser, FireFox, spreadsheet, Sylpheed email, spellcheck (US English), a word-processor (FLwriter), three editors (Beaver, Vim, and Nano [Pico clone]), graphics editing and viewing (Xpaint, and xzgv), Xpdf (PDF Viewer), emelFM (file manager), Naim (AIM, ICQ, IRC), VNCviwer, Rdesktop, SSH/SCP server and client, DHCP client, PPP, PPPoE (ADSL), a web server, calculator, generic and GhostScript printer support, NFS, Fluxbox window manager, games, system monitoring apps, a host of command line tools, USB support, and pcmcia support, some wireless support.
Posted by tazfanatic (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Use Gentoo Linux (Or any custom build)
You can customize just about everything in linux to suit you. Sure, the default kernel will be bloated -- but that's why we can customize what gets compiled into the kernel. Take out what you don't need/want and add other stuff should you feel like it.

With Gentoo, you do all this from the start -- you boot from a linux disc, build your filesystem, customize your kernel, compile your kernel and other source packages, and when you're done the ONLY things on your computer are the things you told it to put there. Additionally, since everything got custom compiled for your PC, everything should run a bit faster thanks to being optimized at compile time for your machine. You could say the same for any Linux source distribution. (Note: Most linux distributions are binary distributions).
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
A wish, for something better.
Well, they could answer emails from people who can actually help them achieve what they want to do, so I am not surprised.

Yes, Linux can be done in 50MB, Linus was even doing a portable version for the Transmeta deal, Palm is doing Linux for smart phones, not to mention how many times it has been done on PDAs/phones before. But, an OS on the functional level of the real Windows XP (drop middleware etc) with apps, is possible under 10MB. But, the sort of GUI OO OS they need has been done before at under 1MB, maybe with a word processor included. One such OS was GEOS Ensemble, and it is an good lesson in efficiency and accuracy of coding (not that it has kept up with the times) to find out what can be done, rather than running to bloatware like Linux and Windows CE. There are so many good options out there, I'm sure they can come up with better ones, even donated, or one off fee commercial solutions. Even if it requires drivers and Apps to be written, they only require to be written for their own computer models. I also have been doing a lean optimised OS design.

Here is some: QNX, Taos Intent, www.menuetos.org, or Java2ME.

The power consumption is also incredible. What was that, 2 Watts, that is not really low power, but a reflection of the power hungry PC processing technology used, and display technology. Even if you look at PC technology, PSION had a laptop out in the early 90's that can do 100 hours battery life, and Poquet had a pocket computer that could do similar battery life. Why, obviously the extra processing requirements have consumed more power, but the issue is design, and there are far better processors for low power out there. ARM is a good place to start, and they are quiet hungry compared to what could be done. For displays, the design I am considering might average 100-500mw. But all together you could look at average power consumption of 10-100mw, plus display consumption, by choosing a different design. When you get to those power levels, even opening and closing the case, typing on the keyboard, or using a trackball, moving the case etc, or a small solar cell, offer significant accumulative charge levels. Also, at these power levels, a crank does not need to be used as much.

There are already options out there to build upon, if you are willing to accept some compromises from the 'glory' of PC usage. Look at what the mobile phone industry has said, about using mobile phone platforms for third world computers, is also a valid option. Even the chip-sets, some of which are setup to run program applications, offer enough processing power. Even a $100 retail portable DVD player is also close to being a laptop. The Sony PS1 or PSP chips, and the Nintendo Gamecube based GBA2 project are also possible mass produced platforms, that could be donated, or supplied cheap. Also, if you look at a company like Psion, it has the low power and OS technology to do a cheaper low end solution.

The options out there are many, and when they announced it was going to be PC Linux based, I am sure that a number of people in the low-cost third world computer development community expressed a bit of surprise with me. I prefer to think in terms of devices with 1000 hours battery life and $10 production costs myself. In the end of the day, that is worth much more as a use anywhere computer for the average person, in those communities, the $100 laptop can be relegated to the classroom/office desk.
Posted by waynemm (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who about Damn Small Linux
Only 50 mb, It fits on a CD business card or a flash disk and can be installed :)
Posted by wakizaki (44 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Silicon Snake Oil
Virtually any country with cars on its streets gives a better
education to its kids than the one American kids receive. Kids in
other countries do better than Americans without the aid of
computers, but by studying and reading. Instead of foisting the
technology that helps to make U.S. kids fat, ignorant, and lazy,
why not take the computers out of the hands of American
children and get them reading, writing, and doing math again.
Instead of the technofetishist Negroponte, we would do better to
listen to aspects of what Clifford Stoll wrote in Silicon Snake Oil.

The first question to ask is this: What educational or intellectual
improvements have been yielded by the wide availability of
computers to American schoolkids? None that show up in
standardized testing.
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Reply Link Flag
He or his lab should do the shrinking
Com'on, Ponte. Why talk to Linux geeks? If you have the vision, why ask others to do the hard and hands-dirty coding work? You should sit and work by a computer (in your Media lab) instead of a podium.

Your media lab does not seem to work out anything meaningful.
Posted by OLPC (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sun 3/50, SunOS 4MB RAM/40MB Disk
1986 -- 15MHz 68020, 4 MB RAM (MB not GB), No disk, 1152x900 B/W,
Full GUI, NFS to a server. Add 40 MB disk and you had a pretty complete Unix with GUI, etc. Primitive by todays standards, but
it all could be done in 4 MB RAM, 40 MB disk.
And not all that slow running the GUI either.
Posted by peteinpdx (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The pedal is another sign of child labor:)
Posted by OLPC (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.