Laptops for Children: Xo Laptops & Intel Laptops

By: Allison Merlino

There are many comparisons being made between the OLPC and Intel's Classmate. I personally feel that the differences far outweigh the likeness of these two products. There is growing controversy as to which product should be chosen for particular groups and the increasing competitiveness. I believe that they are intended for distinctively different users.

One Laptop per Child is an non-profit organization that oversees the Children's Machine project and the construction of the XO-1 or $100 laptop initiated in 2005. This laptop has been created as a learning tool intended for the poorest children who live in the most remote areas. It is intended to help the user learn learning. The design is child friendly, rugged and durable. The interface encourages community, collaboration, and working and playing together. The system is set to be programmed by the child not vice versa! Although termed the $100 laptop the cost is actually approximately $130 to $140 and is described as being a floating price that chairperson Nicholas Negroponte hopes will decrease with each release. The focus of this project is education for underprivileged groups in remote locations such as Uruguay, Cambodia, Peru and Mexico using the laptop as a learning tool.

In a similar vein Intel's World Ahead Program was established in May 2006. Intel intended on building chips that function as a platform for manufacturer's to build their own low cost laptops. They developed their own version, The Classmate PC. This is a for profit item running roughly about 400 US Dollars. Intel's intended users for these low cost laptop personal computers are children in the developing world.

The Classmate provides technology that is Windows based. Therefore they are learning the currently dominant technology. This is very inflexible and also runs the risk of vendor lock in. In contrast, the XO uses free and open source software. This allows the user to modify their environment and learn through doing. XO uses mesh networking to extend the reach of the internet. The Classmate does not use neighboring laptops to extend the reach of the internet. The Classmate is much more expensive has a considerably smaller wifi range and uses 10 times the power needed for the XO. Many of the schools in these remote areas have outdoor classrooms and The Classmate was not made to be used outside.

Structure differences include:
Memory: Intel's Classmate PC has 256MB DDR2 SO-DIMM memory while OLPC laptop has 128MB of DRAM.

Flash Memory: Classmate PC has 1GB NAND flash memory while OLPC laptop has 500MB of Flash memory.

Operating system: Intel's Classmate PC uses Windows XP. On the other hand, OLPC laptops uses Linux.

A significant issue and the one I think with the largest effect on any intended American user is the Web. Apparently, XO's connection is finicky and weak. When attempting to access Flash and Java based sites it tends to sputter and stall due to its small memory capacity. This is the most important factor in Intel's favor.

In my opinion however, it does not isolate the XO from being a great choice in a lot of developing world groups. The educational structure of XO's system and its use of free and open source software is notable and it does have web capabilities although they are not optimal that can be extended through the connectivity of neighboring laptops. Also, the requirement of far less power needed to run, being able to run outdoors and a considerably lower cost are major factors that keep the XO the better choice of product for many of its intended market.

There are many comparisons being made between the OLPC and Intel's Classmate. I personally feel that the differences far outweigh the likeness of these two products. An analysis of the environment, educational status and goals of the intended user will bring about a logical choice between two very different products.

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