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The Laptop Crusade

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OLPC

Within the next 12 months, as many as 10 million laptop computers will be distributed to children in Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, and Uruguay. Countless youngsters who live in remote villages, perhaps without electricity, who may not have access to clean water or health care, will suddenly have computing power pretty close to that of businesspeople and college students.

It's one of the biggest nonprofit technology-based projects in a decade, and yet it's only the first phase of a program that seeks to put a staggering 100 million laptops into the hands of developing-world schoolchildren in the next couple of years, at a cost of at least US $10 billion. By any standard, the numbers are enormous: 100 million laptops is double the number produced annually throughout the world today. Simply meeting that target would almost surely cause global shortages of liquid-crystal displays and other key components.

The initiative, known as the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, is the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT's Media Lab, who announced the project at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2005. Hardly anyone questions the worthiness of the project's goals, but just about everything else about it has been fair game.

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At LinuxCon this year, the creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, was asked what he wanted for Linux. His response? "The desktop." For years, the call to Linux action was "World Domination." In certain markets, this has happened (think Linux helping to power Android and Chrome OS). On the desktop, however, Linux still has a long, long way to go. Wait... that came out wrong. I don't mean "Linux has a long, long way to go before it's ready for the desktop." What I meant to say is something more akin to "Linux is, in fact, desktop ready... it just hasn't found an inroad to the average consumer desktop." Read more