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One Laptop Per Child to start distribution this year



I’ve been reading about the $150 One Laptop Per Child for a while now, and the more I read lately, the more intrigued I am.

One of the most interesting quotes I’ve read lately is from Nicholas Negroponte, the person behind the OLPC non-profit. Here is a quote from MSNBC with a story about the program and their plans to begin distributing the OLPC in 2007.

But the main design motive was the project’s goal of stimulating education better than previous computer endeavors have. Nicholas Negroponte, who launched the project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab two years ago before spinning One Laptop into a separate nonprofit, said he deliberately wanted to avoid giving children computers they might someday use in an office.

“In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint,” Negroponte wrote in an e-mail interview. “I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.”

To that end, folders are not the organizing metaphor on these machines, unlike most computers since Apple Computer Inc. launched the first Mac in 1984. The knock on folders is that they force users to remember where they stored their information rather than what they used it for.

Instead, the XO machines are organized around a “journal,” an automatically generated log of everything the user has done on the laptop. Students can review their journals to see their work and retrieve files created or altered in those sessions.

I love Negroponte’s quote that one of the saddest things in computer labs these days are where they are teaching children to use office automation tools instead of innovating, sharing, and exploring. 

I just gave my daughter, Maggie, my eo i7210 UMPC and she took to it like water. She lives in Journal and Paint, and immediately began interfacing with the eo using her finger. She expecially likes Journal because she’s able to draw and write stuff that are important to her – in the same document. She doesn’t think in terms of My Documents for finding her stuff. She just starts up Journal or Paint and looks at the files she created within the application. Folders don’t mean anything to her.

I’d love to see the simplicity in User Interface of the OLPC merge over to the Vista implementations of the Ultra-Mobile PC. I’m not talking about a screen scrape with shortcuts to folders, like the Origami TouchPack. I’m talking about a completely new approach to design for children – don’t force them into an adult, office automation, folder organization role at ten years old. Design the computer to enhance learning, exploring, and creativity.

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