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Friday, August 18, 2006

One Dude Talks Smack on OLPC

OK, we get it: not everbody is a fan of the OLPC program-- peer-to-peer mesh networks of no-storage hand-cranked (or pull-stringed) minicomputers. According to Christopher Dawson, in his blog post (here) on ZDNet's education page, "AMD Gets It." "It" being shared, fully-functional, hyper-utilized community resources with a more robust infrastructure.

While nobody debates the lilliputian computing capacity of the OLPC lappies, it's interesting to note how the debate over developing-world technology draws itself into a tri-polar battlefield. There are the OLPC believers, who think that unleashing a personal device with the ability to connect to its' peers with minimal infrastructure means a more "democratic" platform of distributed computing. Then there are the non-computing campers, such as Micro$oft's Billy Gates, who claim that converged devices like a phone/pda/pim are the way to go. Then there's Dawson's platform: spend the money building out infrastructure and put in communal, fully-functional machines (refurbished discards are often touted) that will unleash the full computing power of the industrialized world upon the 'poor, huddled masses yearning to key free.'

Thailand will pilot 500 OLPCs for an eventual rollout of 1 million units in 2007. Brazil, meanwhile, is on the fence, courting proposals from Negroponte and also AMD. Then there's India, who have soundly rejected OLPC but haven't announced what they'll do instead. Sadly, while the debate is so polarizing, some governments-- Nigeria, for example-- may choose to sit out the mating dances and wait for some models to emerge. On the one hand, that's probably good, because no one solution is necessarily "right" for every nation. But on the other hand, the clock is ticking, and every day that goes by is another 419 scam opportunity wasted.

Where do you stand on computing and technology in the emerging world? Comment this post and let's start the debate afresh in these very pages.

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