Thursday, April 08, 2010

OLPC deployment in Australia

Sridhar Dhanapalan will talk about the recent deployment of OLPCs in Yirrkala in East Arnhem Land, at the Sydney Linux User Group Slug meeting, at Google Sydney on 30 April 2010. I have been skeptical of the value of the One Laptop Per Child project, but OLPC Australia appear to be doing good work on providing computers for education in remote aboriginal communities.

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apple iSlate/iGuide may be a Smartbook

Rumours continue as to if Apple will be releasing a tablet computer called the Apple iSlate or iGuide. This is generally described as a large iPhone, but may be better thought of as a Smartbook. These are a new class of lower cost lower power netbooks being readied for sale in 2010. The distinguishing features of the smartbooks are that they use low cost processors as used in smart phones and so can cost about US$200. As a result they don't run the Microsoft Windows of most netbooks, instead some form of Linux or Microsoft Windows Mobile/CE. Most will be a traditional laptop clam shell design with a keyboard, but some may be touchscreens or have rubber keyboards (like the OLPC). It is likely that many will include wireless Internet and be sold on a plan like a mobile phone. These devices are the 21st century equivalent of pocket computers.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OLPC XO3 Educational Tablet Computer

OLPC XO-3 XO 3.0 Educational Tablet ComputerThe One Laptop Per Child Project have released some details of their planned XO-3 concept design. The educational computer due out in 2012 will be a multi-touch flexible screen tablet computer with an ARM processor. The computer is aimed to cost less than US$100 (as was the original XO-1). It may be that the product has been announced now in anticipation of interest in tablet computer generated by rumours of an Apple tablet device.

It should be noted that tablet computers have not been popular outside limited niche commercial markets, such as for medical staff. The tablet computer would have advantages for education, being able to customise the virtual keyboard four different languages and different topics in software. However, it comes at a cost, with the virtual keyboard taking up one third to one half the screen (depending on its use in landscape or portrait mode). The virtual keyboard will use much more power than a real keyboard and also cost much more.

The screen of a portable computer makes a significant part of the cost. An alternative design would have a screen taking up half the body of the computer and a rubber membrane keyboard (as used on the OLPC XO-1) on the other half of the keyboard. The rubber keyboard would cost less and also use much less power.

The XO-3 assumes the use of a flexible screen and flexible circuit board. These are relatively new technology for computer building and therefore the cost of manufacture will be initially high. An alternative design would use a conventional rigid screen and circuit board. The screen could be protected by a thick plastic sheet and a rubber ridge around the edge. The computer could be made without a conventional chassis, consisting of instead a molded rubber waterproof case (the front of which would be the keyboard) holding the components. This could use existing conventional components from netbook computers and use calculator construction techniques for a very low cost computer.

• XO 3.0 – The XO 3.0 is a totally different approach, to be available in 2012 and at a target price well below $100. It will feature a new design using a single sheet of flexible plastic and will be unbreakable and without holes in it. The XO 3.0 will leapfrog the previously announced (May 2008) XO 2.0, a two-page approach that will not be continued. The inner workings of 3.0 will come from the more modest 1.75. ...


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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

One Laptop per Child at Google Sydney

Sugar interface on the OLPCThe monthly talk at the Sydney Linux Users Group (SLUG) this Friday is on the "One Laptop per Child" (OLPC) educational computer for developing nations. The free talk is worth attending even if just to see the venue, which is Google's Sydney office:

General Talk
Mitchell Seaton: The OLPC Battleground

OLPC gears up during the rest of this year with the development of the XO 1.5 laptop, SugarLabs pushes forth with the SoaS (Sugar on a Stick) and Sugar v0.86, and deployments continue around the world. In this talk, Mitchell will discuss the current state of play, future directions and the world-wide support community at the heart of it all. ...

From: SLUG monthly talk August Announcement.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Evaluation of the Educational Value of the OLPC Project

While the One Laptop Per Child project and OLPC XO-1 hardware is intyeresting from an ICT point of view, the question is how useful is it for its primary purpose of educating childern. Formative Evaluation of OLPC Project Nepal: A Summary (September 28th, 2008 By:Rabi Karmacharya), provides a summary of Uttam Sharma's research on use of the OLPC. Two Nepalise test schools had 135 OLPCs distributed to all students. The conclusion was a positive one, with the computers working and perceived to be educationally beneficial.

The schools were described as a "Secondary School" and a "Lower Secondary School", with students in grade 2 and 6. It is not clear to me what age these students would be or what educational level this is. The OLPC is specifically intended for younger children in the first few years of schooling, who are learning to read, basic mathematics and the like.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mobile Interface for Children's Computers

Clutter User Interface for Ubuntu Mobile Internet DeviceLinux projects are working on simplified graphical user interfaces (GUIs), such as the Ubuntu Mobile Internet Device (MID), for small low power mobile devices. Perhaps such simplified interfaces would be suitable for educational computers used by young children.

The best known GUI for children is Sugar, developed for the One Laptop per Child project. Sugar desktop of the OLPC XO-1 laptop computer Sugar is used on the OLPC XO-1 laptop computer. Like mobile device GUIs, it concentrates on providing one application at a time. This is both to make the interface easier for the user and to make use of the limited screen, input devices and processing capacity.

But Sugar is difficult for adults, who are used to current desktop GUIs. Also Sugar is only readily available on one model of computer which is not commercially available and so not easy for schools or parents to get. Using the same GUI for mobile devices and children's computers would allow such devices to be widely available. Schools and parents would have a choice of what hardware to buy to run the interface. Also teachers and parents would be more easily able to operate the interface and the children to use other computers.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

OLPC in Australia

Greetings from the CASE hosted One Laptop per Child Open Day in Canberra. Pia Waugh of Waugh Partners is speaking about the One Laptop per Child Australia Foundation and her ongoing involvement with the Free and Open Source Software community. Pia used the OLPC web site for her presentation. Below are some notes on the publishable parts of her presentation.

Pia emphasised that the project is about interactive group education for primary school children (six to twelve years old). This is a group younger than the Federal Government's Digital Education revolution is targeted at, which is for secondary school children. The "One Laptop" is misnamed as it is intended to be an interactive teaching device, not a conventional laptop.

In Australia a trial has been undertaken at two schools: a typical Australia school and for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. There are also projects collaborating between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific countries. OLPC hardware sold in developed nations will be at a premium to subsidise the cost for developing nations. Also a support base, both online and with people visiting will be established. In addition fund raising can be undertaken.

There were 5,000 OLPCs donated to children of the pacific. The South Pacific Council are working with the countries on the projects. See: One laptop for every Niuean child (BCC News, 11:01 GMT, Friday, 22 August 2008)

Australia's first trial of the OLPC finished Friday and will be published next month. This is being done at a small primary school of fifty children. Also a small school in a remote area is being liked to a respite centre with specialist staff. This is also being considered for distance e-health. This is being independently assessed. Questions to be answered alter are: this good for typical students, indigenous students, those with special needs, who with this may to the curriculum.

The project tries not to assume a large infrastructure. The hardware of the OLPC has been optimised for use in areas without much infrastructure. The current cost of the OLPC is about $US180 and is expected to drop to $US50 by 2010.

There were some interesting questions at question time. One was about the extend to which the computers can be localised by the teachers. The OLPC can be customised at the national level for different languages. However, there are numerous indigenous languages used in Australia. The question is if the system can be customised for many small groups. Pia replied that this should be feasible to do as open source, so that it could be done and owned by the community.

The OLPC project is based on open access licences. Apart from the OLPC hardware and software, there is also OLPC School Server software designed to run on low cost PC hardware. The project is encouraging content developers to also use an open licence, so the content is available to schools.

The OLPC assumes a particular model of education, where each student interacts with their own computer. Even in developed nations this model has not been adopted, with many schools preferring to have students work in groups, even where a computer for each student can be afforded. Also a computer for the teacher and an interactive whiteboard which can be seen by and used for the whole class is seen as a priority over computers for each student.

The OLPC project may be aimed at education but many of those involved are computer people, not educators. I was the only one who put up their had when the audience was asked who as a teacher (and I am just an adjunct university lecturer, not a primary school teacher).

While the OLPC project appears meaning, it is not clear to me that the aid model it is based on is a good one. It might be better if the computers were sold commercially and developing countries were free to spend their aid money on the OLPC, on a rival product, or on other educational materials. The current model does not give the beneficiaries the choice of what they get.

It would also be useful to be able to decouple the issues of the OLPC hardware from the educational applications. Australian trials of the OLPC for remote education may well save the worldwide project, by emphasising education and remote access, and being able to communicate them to the educational and general community based on credible research. Australia also has a strong tradition and expertise in distance education with services such as the School of the Air.

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OLPC Canberra Day

Greeting from the CASE hosted One Laptop per Child Open Day in Canberra 27 October 2008. They have about a dozen OLPC XO one laptop per child computers for people to try out. At 5.00pm Pia Waugh of Waugh Partners will speak about the One Laptop per Child Australia Foundation and her ongoing involvement with the Free and Open Source Software community.

The OLPC is a low power sub-notebook designed for children. It was originally intended to be a $US100 computer, but the current cost is about $350. The OLPC project would claim that the project is not really about creating a laptop, but a children's computer for learning. However, my view is that this is a sub-notebook computer, much like the netbooks by ASUS and others.

The hardware and software on the computer is different to the typical sub-notebook. There is no hard disk, a robust brightly coloured case and long range WiFi. The screen is transflective, being a backlight colour screen indoors and monochrome reflective outdoors. The screen can be folded back to make it an e-book.

The XO runs a version of Fedora Linux with an icon based interface ("Sugar") different to the usual Apple Mac/Microsoft Windows interface. The WiFi is programmed to be part of a mesh network to enable a group of computers to communicate without the need for a backbone network. The computers can also share one Internet connection, such as at a school.

The computers are frustrating to use for adults used to a Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac computer. The tiny rubber keyboard is difficult to type on with big fingers and the icons used are different to the typical Windows ones.

The hardware appears very robust, but the software still has problems. Even is a short test of a few minutes, a text based error screen appeared. The system quickly recovered and restored the graphical interface, but still it was disconcerting and would be even so for someone has never seen a terminal window.

The OLPC is designed to change the face of education in developing nations. However, it is not clear if this USA developed idea of what developed nations need is what they need or want.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One Laptop per Child Open Day in Canberra

Pia Waugh from the One Laptop per Child Australia Foundation will speak in Canberra at CASE AGM, at Volunteering ACT, 27 October 2008:
One Laptop Per Child Open Day 10 September 2008

On 27 October 2008 from 3.00pm to 5.30pm, prior to our AGM, CASE and Volunteering ACT will be hosting Canberra's first One Laptop per Child Open Day.

Everyone is invited to come and see how volunteers and technology have combined to empower students around the world. This is rare opportunity for hands on play with these unique computers and to hear about the new Foundation making them available in Australia.

At 5.00pm Pia Waugh of Waugh Partners will speak about the One Laptop per Child Australia Foundation and her ongoing involvement with the Free and Open Source Software community. This is a unique opportunity to hear about the little laptop creating an education revolution around the world.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

OLPC in an Athens CyberCafe

Sitting in the Piel Internet Cafe in Greece someone came up and asked if I was using an OLPC. This illustrates the high level of interest in the project.

I was actually using a Twinhead, which is white and much larger than the OLPC. The OLPC project seems to be changing direction, adopting Microsoft Windows in place of Linux. In contrast the ASUS EEE PC seems to be going from strength to strength, perhaps due to not being burdened by considerations of charity and being simply for-profit.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Intel Netbook CTL 2Go PC Education Computer

2Go PCAccording to news reports, Intel have shown a new version of their proposed low cost laptop for school children. The unit which was thought of as the "Classmate 2" is now known as the Intel Netbook, with an example unit made by CTL of Tiwan known as the "2Go PC". The unit has a 9 inch screen in place of the previous 7 inch one, at the same 800 x 480 pixel resolution. CLT have set up a new web site for the 2Go PC.

The size of the case has not been increased, as with the ASUS Eee PC, it was designed for a 9 inch screen and like the Eee PC does not have a full size keyboard and is it too cramped for comfortable typing by adults. The case has an integrated carrying handle, like the OLPC. Unlike the bright green OLPC, the case is in a conservative gray color. The unit has a 900MHz Intel Celeron processor and a , 40GB hard disk, 512 Mb RAM, Windows XP.

Intel is not going to make or sell the unit, but provide the design to manufacturers, as a way to encourage them to use Intel chips. The Netbook is intended for a similar market to the OLPC: school children. However, more like the Eee PC, it is likely to be available retail to individuals, as well as offered in bulk to governments and educational systems.

The Intel Netbook is more conventional than the ASUS Eee PC and the revolutionary OLPC, using a hard disk and Windows operating system. It is likely that there will be a convergence of the features of such units, with versions of the Netbook adopting some of the features of the OLPC.

These small education computers for under $500 are creating a problem for makers of full size conventional laptops and high cost sub-notebook computers. Consumers who see that these cheap little computers are more than adequate for most tasks will ask why they should pay two or three times as much (or in the case of some premium sub-notebooks, six times as much).

As a new crop of low power, low desktop computers become available for under $500 (complete with LCD monitor), this place pressure on desktop makers to either lower price or provide features to justify high costs.





Intel® Celeron® M Processor Ultra Low Voltage
On board Voltage Regulation
Dothan 900MHz 0 L2 Cache
1.0GHz 512Mb L2 Cache
400MHz FSB
Intel 915GMS Chipset.

40GB 1.8" 4200RPM PATA HDD
2-in-1 SD/MMC memory card reader
Supports boot from card reader and USB
USB 2.0 Interface for external storage.

2 USB 2.0 Ports
1 x RJ-45 10/100 LAN
1/8" External Microphone-in jack
1/8" External headphone jack
2-in-1 SD/MMC memory card reader
Kensington Lock Ready.




SO DIMM 200-pin socket x 1
Supports DDR2 400/533, SO-DIMM DRAM module
512MB Standard. 1GB Available

Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g with open mesh support
Mini-card form factor, single antenna

Size: 8.7" (W) x 7.3" (H) x 1.5" (D)
Weight: < 3 lbs
4-cell Li lon Battery
Battery life aprox 3hrs typical usage time




9'' LCD, 800 x 480
Color LCD TFT, LED Backlight
Digital LVDS Interface

Realtek ALC6555 - AC '97 2.1 Integrated Analog Audio
2 integrated 1 watt speakers

Integrated camera
30fps @ 640x480, 0.3M
Driver / AP support Windows XP / Linux


Microsoft® Windows® XP Available
Supports Linux

From: 2Go PC, Computer Technology Link, 2008

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Pendulum Generator for Portable Computers?

The OLPC project has investigated various human-powered chargers for their low power computer for children. Perhaps one option would be a pendulum generator.

pendulum generator in a watchAutomatic quartz watches have a miniature electrical generator. As the wearer moves their arm, a pendulum swings and this is used to generate electricity to charge a battery. These units have the disadvantage of needing a heavy pendulum and complex gears to connect the generator.

Something simpler than the watch generator, on a larger scale, could be made from a brushless electric motor. floppy disk spindle motorThese have a set of rotating magnets and stationary coils of wire. Spinning the shaft of the motor operates it in reverse, generating electricity. If half magnets were removed, this would unbalance the motor, making a pendulum.

Such a unit might be made carried in a pocket, handbag, briefcase or backpack. It could be built into a notebook computer, in the space normally used by a CD-ROM drive, hard disk or PC-Card.

A pendulum generator might be built into a mobile phone or the battery of the phone. many phone already contain a vibrating alert, with a small electric motorwith an unbalanced weight on the shaft. Rotating the weight make the phone vibrate. The pendulum generator could double as the vibrating alert.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

UK Educational Laptop for $200

 Elonex ONE £100 educational laptopUK company Elonex have announced they will launch the Elonex ONE, a £99 laptop (less than $US200) at the UK Education Show 2008 on 28 February 2008. There are few details of the product, apart from it using Linux and having WiFi. Other reports indicate it has 1Gb of Flash memory and a seven-inch screen.

From the photo, the processor board appears to be built in behind the screen, as with the OLPC, rather than under the keyboard, as with the ASUS Eee PC. The screen would appear to be the same type of low cost 7 inch wide screen LCD used for DVD players, as on the Eee PC.

Having only 1 Gb of flash memory will limit the usefulness of the unit, but it is likely that uses will supplement this with a USB flash drive (assuming the unit has a USB socket).

The media release for the unit has a lot of rhetoric about commitment to improving learning for children with one-to-one access to laptops, with quotes from UK government sources. The danger with this is that government authorities, teachers and parents may get the false impression that they need to spend just £99 per student to get all these benefits. Even if the Elonex One is made available for the announced price and works as claimed, infrastructure and training costs for the education system would be at least twice the cost of the laptop per student, not including ongoing support costs and the cost of developing course ware.

Elonex claims to have conducted research and development to produce their laptop. It seems more likely that Elonex have simply selected one of the many sub-notebook PCs made and sold in Asia. These units have been made and sold for decades, but not proved popular in western countries. The success of the Eee PC has seen some of these now being offered more widely. Also the availability of Linux, low cost flash memory, low power processors and low cost LCD screens made for DVD players has made these more feasible. OLPC have tried to incorporate R&D in their computer, but this is proving problematic. It is more likely that generic computers using off the shelf components will be more successful.

The claims for education using computers made by Elonex may well prove true, but they will cost more than £99 per student.

The use of quotes in the Elonex media release is interesting. The one on "Technology has revolutionised the way we work and is now set to transform education. ..." is quoted from a Department for Education and Skills, report in 1997, Connecting the Learning Society. What Elonex don't mention is that the quote is from then UK PM Tony Blair and he went on to talk about the information superhighway and a National Grid for Learning.

The quote on "One-to-one access to a laptop computer promoted independence and had positively influenced other aspects of their work and their learning." is from a teacher, Danny Doyle: Perspectives of One-to-One Laptop Access (2004).
The vision of the ONE project is to help develop computer literacy in children in order to cultivate skills for the 21st century and enable them to make a more valued contribution to the future economy and society. Proficiency at ICT has never been so important, and fluency and familiarity with computers is essential to nurture the future digital generation. The importance of IT in education has been recognized right from the early days of the internet and personal computers:
Technology has revolutionised the way we work and is now set to transform education. Children cannot be effective in tomorrow’s world if they are trained in yesterday’s skills.
(Department for Education and Skills, 1997)

One-to-one access to a laptop computer promoted independence and had positively influenced other aspects of their work and their learning. The children were aware of their expertise and believed their current skills were transferable to new hardware and software, future education and employment.
(National Teacher Research Panel, 2004)
Computer based technology is at the heart of the DCSF's (Department for Children, Schools and Families) commitment to improving learning for all children. One-to-one access to a laptop has been a dream that until now has been cost-prohibitive. The research and development by Elonex that has lead to the ONE has allowed this dream to become a reality.

Government Strategy for Digital Technology

The significance of ICT can be seen in the DCSF e-Strategy, the government’s current strategy towards the use of digital technologies within the Education System:
“Teaching institutions ought to be advancing beyond the traditional formats that are still so prevalent. Independent research has shown that children using ICT effectively in lessons get better results, and Ofsted has confirmed that “Pupils respond very positively to the use of ICT, they engage well with lessons, their behaviour is good and their attitudes to learning are very good”

“With more flexible e-learning resources available online, teachers can adapt the curriculum to their learners’ needs and interests. Technology is the key to personalised learning and we must make sure that everyone has access to this technology. As we continue to embed e-learning across the whole learning process, it will blend more easily with life and work, bridging the boundaries between formal and informal learning.” “It is our goal to work towards ICT as a universal utility, creating more flexible learning opportunities for everyone.”

(Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families)
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced the plan to raise spending on IT in education, and to this end Jim Knight MP recently announced on 9 Jan 2008 a £30 million investment to provide the education system with improved ICT equipment and a safe internet connection. Jim Knight commented “we know from the research the difference that Information Technology can make.” “ICT has the power to transform young people's learning — both at school and beyond the school gate.”

Benefits Benefits of the ONE for Children:
  • Improved ICT literacy and fluency
  • Increased empowerment and motivation
  • More engaging way of learning – learning can be fun!
  • More flexible study
  • Access to a wider range of resources
  • Provides a link between learning at home and learning at school
  • Improved contact between the child and their school, family and friends Stimulates creativity and greater scope for problem solving
  • Opens up potential for blogging, podcasting, social networking, online clubs & societies and pupil support groups.
Benefits of the ONE for Teachers:

  • The majority of teachers feel that the use of ICT in the classroom positively impacts on the engagement, motivation and achievement of their learners.
  • Teachers' ICT skills have developed significantly over the years, as well as their acceptance to utilise the technology, leading to better lessons and a reduction in teachers' workloads.
  • Makes available a wider range teaching methods, including assigning web based research, increased interactivity, paperless homework and use of the child’s online personal webspace.
  • Opens the option for digital teaching materials, increased autonomy and improved out of classroom activities.
From: Elone One Press Release, Elonex , 2008

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

OLPC First Impressions

A few weeks ago I got my first chance to try the OLPC XO-1 (One Laptop per Child Children's Machine or $100 computer), sub-notebook PC. We had a lineup of two different pe-release models of the OLPC and an ASUS Eee PC for comparison. Overall the OLPC looks a solid device, but encumbered by an experimental interface and a paternalistic view of education for developing nations.

My first impression was of how bright and robust the green plastic case looks, like a toy for toddlers. The bright green rubber keyboard is well laid out, but the keys are too small for adult fingers. The very wide touch-pad under the keyboard makes it difficult to find somewhere to rest your palms.

The OLPC uses the new Sugar child friendly graphical user interface, making it unusable to those familiar with the desktop metaphor of Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac or various Linuxes. Sugar may well be a better user interface for children, but will have to be learned by anyone familiar with current computers. The OLPCs used their WiFi mesh network to recognize each other automatically, representing the other machine on the screen graphically, but due to lack of familiarity with the interface I was unable to use the connection.

The screen on the OLPC looks very much larger than the 7 inch wide LCD on the Eee PC. The transflective OLPC screen did not look as bright or clear as the Eee PC indoors. Outdoors on an overcast day, the OLPC screen switched to monochrome mode and was readable, but still not a lot more so than the conventional back lit Eee screen.

Overall the OLPC hardware looks solid and the software usable. However, the unit may be breaking too much new ground to be successful as a product and is hampered by being associated with a flawed model of development.

The users of the computer will have to learn a new user interface different from that predominating. It may well be a better interface, but it took decades for the desktop metaphor to be refined and become established. Xerox's interface was adapted for the Apple Lisa computer and then simplified for the Apple Mac before it became popular (and then adapted, or some would say degraded, for Microsoft Windows). It may take ten years and two more teams of designers before the OLPC interface is ready for widespread use.

If the OLPC was purely a university research project, or a product funded by private venture capital, then it would be worth taking a risk to develop a revolutionary new computer. However, the OLPC is intended to be used for education in developing nations. Therefore the resources spent on the OLPC have to be diverted from other education projects for developing nations. In effect the OLPC will take several hundred dollars away from each child in a developing country and using that money to conduct an educational experiment on those children. Developing nations, and parents, may have other ideas of educational priorities for their children and of how computers could be used to assist development.

It may be useful to decouple the various parts of the OLPC and develop them separately. New hardware can use new or old user interfaces, educational content can be developed to work on new or old hardware. Models for funding education for developing nations can be developed separately of a particular educational products. The customers can then assess how successful each of the products is and which they wish to use.

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