Laptop Liberation

(C) Copyright 2007 -- Benjamin Mako Hill
Distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License

Presentation at Penguicon
Base off a talk given at Cornell Code Review


Slide 1: Title

Who I am:

Here's my plan for today's lecture:

First, some general disclaimers:

So, take what I say with a grain of salt.

OLPC and the XO-1


Slide 2: Education Project

It's an education project, not a laptop project.
-- Nicholas

A non profit organization in Cambridge, MA. No longer related to MIT.

OLPC has a fundamental belief that education is the best way address the most extreme issues affecting the world: poverty, hunger, etc.

One essential aspect of education is about having the tools to learn:

A laptop is one way, at the moment, perhaps even the best way today, to cheaply provide a platform for experimentation and growth with powerful ideas.


Slide 3: The Price

Famoulsy it used to be $100. Now it's $170. The cost of school book is >$20 per year in even the poorest countries.

These two things things (laptpos for education at a low price), in a certain sense, are already being accomplished:

OLPC has resulted in a proliferation of low-cost and education focused laptop projects.


Slide 4: Principles

Core principles include:

  1. Child Ownership (responsibility and committement is the child's, for the child and for the family)
  2. Low Ages (ages 6-12)
  3. Saturation (the whole community should have an investment in the project and the laptop should not excacerbate inequalities. think universal education)
  4. Connection (to each other and, when possible, to the Internet)
  5. Free and Open Source (i'll come back to this)

The XO-1 Product:


Slide 5: XO-1 Hardware


Slide 6: XO-1 Power


Slide 7: XO-1 Software

Implementation details:

Free Software/Open Source


Slide 8: Free Software Title

Free software is about freedom. It's about empowerment.

Communication technology control:

It's about who controls the code that we use to communicate and live. Who gets to control that? Verizon? Microsoft? You?


Slide 9: Free Software Definition

Free Software, I hope we'll all remember is:

Free software shows up in:

It results in a development methodology where users can do their own work and help define their own systems and leads to better software. There's a whole discourse there that I won't get into it.

Free Software on the XO and in Education


Slide 10: Free Software on the XO Breakout

I'm going to focus on the argument for free software on the laptop.

But there's a similar talk to have about any of the other items on the list.

Free software and open source has almost been assumed since day one with the laptop. Nothing else made sense.

So, Why Free Software?

First, practical reasons...

The core argument is one of knowing our own limitations:

Not only does a group of people in Cambridge Massachusetts not know how these machines will be most useful, they probably can't know.

We can't build an OS from scratch and we can't afford a non-free OS because it is:

Free software is the only real option.

But there are more fundamental and important reasons.


Slide 11: Constructionism

This is a laptop designed to support learning, not education.

Constructionist education is the pedogogical model we adopt:

Free software is simply a powerful match for this model of learning and exploration.

But the most important reasons that free software is perfect match for OLPC:

The alternative technological reality is unsatisfying, and potentially horrifying.

Information technology is coming whether we want it or not. This is what it looks like:


Slide 12: Alternative Systems

There are between 1 and 2 billion phones in the world today. They are cheap and accessible and they connect people. They solve real problems in access to technology.

But at a huge cost.

If we're adventurous we can even reprogram our phone (if Apple doesn't sue us or brick our phone in the process) ... because we have computers

With computers, we have the option of having technology on our terms.

Only some people take advantage of this but the result, ultimately is good for everyone because we end up with:

Phones and ebooks are not "self-hosting development environments."

They are computers robbed, by design, of their general purpose and generative nature.

The most powerful and empowering quality of information technology in the context of personal computers is that as communication is being mediated, facilitated, and defined through software on computers fully within users' control, each user has the ability to determine the terms on which they communicate.

In a world where people are communicating, trading, voting, learning, working, and organizing through digital channels, massive power lies in the hands of those who have the tools (e.g., computers and development platforms) and access and permission (e.g., Free and Open source software) necessary to make the necessary changes.

The ability to transcend ones position at the bottom of the economic heap is dependent on being able to become independent an to become in control and to become innovative.

This will not happen unless we do something about it.

That something is simple:

Get Involved


Slide 13: Get Involved

Eric Raymond described how FOSS exists to "scratch itches."

I'm happy to say that OLPC proved him wrong to the extent that it's surprised me hugely.

Until less a month ago, the only way to get an XO-1 was to be 6 years old and to live in the developing world.

And yet, there are hundreds of contributors and developers working to create a platform that they thought they would never use.

Of course, the Ben Schwartz example demonstrates that it's very helpful to have access you don't have to keep schlepping into the OLPC office.

Watch for the possibility of another G1G1. There are no plans and things are busy but it's in the cards for some point in the future.