October 29, 2007 10:33 AM PDT

Negroponte: Windows key to OLPC philosophy

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While the news that Microsoft is developing a version of Windows for the so-called "$100 laptop" has caused some consternation, One Laptop Per Child Chairman Nicholas Negroponte has said the project could not promote openness if it blocked Windows.

Will Poole, Microsoft corporate vice president, told Reuters last week that the software giant is working on a stripped-down version of Windows XP to run on the ruggedized laptops destined for schoolchildren in developing countries. Poole was initially quoted as saying it could be ready in a few months, though Microsoft said that Poole was misquoted and that while the company is hopeful to get Windows onto the machine, much work remains.

Nicholas Negroponte Nicholas Negroponte

The educational XO laptop has been built using free and open-source software--part of the One Laptop Per Child project's drive to allow XO's young users to modify the laptop's software as they see fit.

The OLPC's philosophy of openness is behind its decision to allow Microsoft software on the machines, according to Negroponte.

"It would be hard for OLPC to say it was 'open' and then be closed to Microsoft. Open means open," Negroponte said.

According to Negroponte, the XP announcement is the latest development in a long-running collaboration between the project and Microsoft.

"Microsoft has always been working on Windows for the XO. We put the SD (secure digital) slot into our laptop over one year ago, for them," Negroponte said, explaining that the SD slot allows the XO's memory to be expanded, making it easier for users to run Windows.

Windows on XO "has not only been happening with our consent, but (also our) collaboration. Some of the first engineering models from any given build go to them," Negroponte said.

Negroponte's latest comments may anger some elements of the open-source community--an audience that he has courted extensively in his publicity drive for the XO. Speaking at Linux specialist Red Hat's annual user event in 2006, Negroponte appeared almost triumphant to have excluded Microsoft and Intel from the OLPC project.

"AMD is our partner, which means Intel is pissing on me. Bill Gates is not pleased either, but if I am annoying Microsoft and Intel then I figure I am doing something right," he said to an audience of open-source enthusiasts in Nashville.

Subsequently, Intel and OLPC teamed up and have started working together.

Negroponte added that the project required an extremely scaled-down OS to enable the eventual machines to run at a decent speed while using very little power. "About 25 percent of the cost of a laptop is there just to support XP, which is like a person that has gotten so fat that they use most of their muscle to move their fat," he said.

Despite Microsoft's involvement, OLPC remains principally an open-source project, according to Negroponte. The machines come with an operating system that uses elements of Red Hat's Fedora Core 6 and includes a browser built on XULRunner, the runtime environment used by Firefox.

Orders for around 3 million of the machines are believed to have been received to date.

Jo Best of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney. ZDNet UK's Andrew Donoghue contributed to this report.

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8 comments

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Open
Actually a hardware design is open when the spec's are made public and the designs released into the public domain.
Posted by rdupuy11 (908 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Excellent Point...
I have been to their website but have not seen any links to specs or specs published on the site other than it uses this chip and that chip. No where on their site are the schematics and embedded microcode for anyone to work with.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Link Flag
Why not re-introduce Windows ME
I used windows Me for years and liked it.Had no problems.I of course use Windows XP..Home.. because it came with my newer computer.I am serious in my opinion.
Posted by alex65006900 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agree 100%
Agree completely Alex. Yes, Window 9x (ME) does have security issues. But how hard would it be to have a recovery setting that reset the laptop back to factory. Remembering that OLPC has usb ports for flash drives and memory slot for keeping your data on. The big benfit of using Win9x is the large number of programs avaiable!!! Think of all the learning programs! Plus you have a great developement environment in Visual studio 6. 1st class tools even if they are dated. It's for kids. They'll learning programming in VB or C++. Linux still isn't up to providing this level of usability. Now, if we could only convince MS. Probably not. Could you imagine some new Microsoft employee told they would be supporting Win9x and old apps on OLPC :) I can just hearing them screaming down the hallway.
Posted by Robbyonce (1 comment )
Link Flag
commander spock MIA
when will os/2 rear its ugly head?
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah they want to use a stripped WinXP...
Kind of makes you wonder doesn't it? They need efficiency so they definitely can't use Vista.
While they pawn Vista off to the rest of the world as the umpteen million lines of inefficiency that it is.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why can't Apple strip down OS X for the XO as well?
I think Apple should compete with Microsoft by offering a
stripped down OS X for the XO laptop. This is the opportunity to
prove that even a non-Apple laptop COULD run OS X as well.
But I'm sure they will come up with an excuse NOT to do so. I
think it would be in their best interest to at least try to
accomplish this OR come up with an Apple-Branded XO-like
Laptop for Students around the world instead. (My latest blog
entry touches upon this further...)

Mark McLaughlin (linuxglobe.wordpress.com)
Posted by Screenwriter40 (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Question:
Wouldn't using a proprietary OS be a bad thing? I mean, if M$
builds a stripped down OS, then would the OLPC be able to use
most contemporary programs? What about active X? Wouldn't
Linux be better suited to this task? I admit, this is over my head
but it troubles me that M$ is getting the opportunity to
dominate the third world PC market. We all know they have a
shady history. M$ isn't well known for it's altruism even though
it makes significant charitable donations. As for Apple, it
doesn't normally compete at the low end of the market. They
make really nice stuff which simply ain't cheap.
Posted by Gringras (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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