TAIPEI – The government of Peru will run the first ever trial of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) association’s low-cost XO laptop running on Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, putting the nation at the heart of a software controversy.
The little green laptop, which OLPC is trying to reduce to just US$100 per device, will be given out to school children throughout Peru for use over the next nine months as part of the trial. Currently, the XO costs around $200 each to build.
Kids and their teachers in the country will use the laptops as part of efforts to introduce more technology into classrooms in Peru, including Microsoft’s Student Innovation Suite of software, which includes Microsoft Office 2003 as well as Learning Essentials 1.0 for Microsoft Office.
The groups did not say how many laptops would be handed out as part of the trial nor when it would start.
The program puts Peru at the heart of a software controversy that has been raging for years between those who advocate making software and its source code free, such as Linux OS developers, and those who charge for software and keep the development recipes secret, such as Microsoft.
OLPC started out offering the XO with Linux because the OS cost nothing and organizers believed it made the device run more efficiently. Some open-source software advocates hoped the XO would spread the use of Linux and the open source philosophy to the 5 billion people living without computers in the developing world.
Microsoft also wants to capture the next 5 billion people for its future market potential.
The decision to put Windows on the laptops came about because officials in some countries, such as Egypt, feared a non-Windows laptop would ill prepare students for the real world, in which Microsoft software dominates.
OLPC ultimately decided to ignore the controversy and follow its mission of delivering laptops to kids in developing nations to help ensure they don’t get left out of the global computing revolution.
The group now offers XO laptops with either Linux or Windows XP. Within the next few months, laptops armed with both operating systems will be available.
OLPC was started by professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is led by Nicholas Negroponte. Microsoft launched a company program a few years ago called Unlimited Potential, with a similar goal of spreading computing throughout the developing world. Microsoft hopes to introduce technology to one billion more people by 2015.