I feel blessed in that I am occasionally given to moments of clarity, and it is sometimes my curse that I am unable to communicate these visions adequately to others. I very much feel like this is the case where it comes to the OLPC project, in view of the recent headlines and news that have been coming out as well as some members of the public getting their hands on them for the first time.

I think the laptop is great, and it exceeds my expectations. I am more than passingly familiar with Linux, and I am used to doing my own troubleshooting or research to figure out how to do something rather than depending on help lines or a printed manual. There are obviously lots of other people like this, but this is not mainstream. Unfortunately, some people are so self centric that they cannot imagine a project which doesn’t want their money and isn’t designed for them. (Imagine, the audacity of a laptop which doesn’t help some overpaid journalistic hack get his copy done on time and submitted to an editor somewhere, horrors!)

One of the defining quotations about the project by it’s leader is that it isn’t a laptop project, but an educational project. This truism underlies the heart of the differing perspectives at work here: with everyone coming to the table with different goals and expectations, there are bound to be a variety of interpretations of any success or failure.

Intel has announced that they are splitting from the project due to differences with Negroponte, and vice versa. The CTO considered responsible for the screen technology is leaving to pursue a commercial venture separate from the OLPC Foundation, that ultimately benefits the Foundation. Commentary on Slashdot and other tech-sites varies from premature declarations of the project being a ‘commercial failure’, to rhetorical arguments about the utility of giving children technology when they don’t have access to more basic needs, both of which I think manage to miss the point. Luddite criticisms are easily disregarded, but one of the most well-thought out criticisms came from a linked article about OLPC not catching on in India from earlier last summer, and it brings me to my conclusion: this OLPC project is going to be right for some cultures and some educational environments and economies, and not others.

I would argue that the OLPC has already been a success because it has exposed the underserved economic factors that prevent such laptops from already existing, and has stimulated the very tech powers that it seeks to unseat to work to address these needs. This is reflected in the Intel entry to third-world markets, the Classmate PC.

In the world of software, code is king; this means that people who have a working model of any software idea win any discussion about the merits of their approach. Reality wins by default. We can stand around and argue about what constitutes the right approach, or we can demonstrate what we are talking about since people that believe in the project enough have made it so. I think this is a wonderful laptop for me, and a terrible laptop for the editorial writer at The Economist. It encourages children to throw away a dependency model for their future offered by the likes of Intel and Microsoft, and to take on Free Software ideals and self-realized destiny.