Home Selling OLPC Laptops in USA – Good Idea?

Selling OLPC Laptops in USA – Good Idea?

BBC News is reporting that the One Laptop Per Child project is going to sell laptops to people in the developed world afterall. The OLPC announced the “Give 1 Get 1” scheme today in which a $399 investment will allow US residents to purchase two laptops: one for the buyer, and one for a child in the developing world.

The Give 1 Get 1 program will launch on November 12, via the XO Giving web site. Americans are known for their financial giving, 89% of US households give to charity and total giving in America reached $295 billion last year, but I’m not sure that the G1G1 program will resonate with people — or if it’s even a good idea to divert laptops from the countries for which they were made.

The cheap subnotebook market is hot all of a sudden, and a lot of companies are getting in on the act. The OLPC hardware specs are not that impressive. For your $399 investment ($200 if you figure half as a donation), you get a 433Mhz computer with 256MB of RAM and 1GB of flash memory. It runs a customized version of the Red Hat Linux operating system meaning that it has limited applications beyond the specific learning activities it was designed for (developers can create programs for the laptop, but it remains to be seen what sort of developer community springs up around the OLPC).

Meanwhile, offerings from VIA and especially ASUS provide better computer options for people in developed nations. VIA’s ~$600 NanoBook will likely ship with a 30GB HD, 1GB of RAM and Windows XP. The ASUS Eee PC will supposedly ship next month for under $400 and include a full version of a Xandros-based Linux OS and have up to 8GB of flash memory.

Both of those subnotebooks seem like better options for people who can afford it. If you’re comfortable with giving $200 to put a laptop in the hands of a child in a developing nation, do you really want to spend twice that to get a piece of hardware that is likely not very useful to you?

The campaign will only be operational for 2 weeks in November, “to ensure OLPC can meet demand and so that machines are not diverted away from countries that have already placed orders,” writes the BBC. While it might be a clever way to incentivize giving to the cause, the fact that the OLPC is concerned that their G1G1 scheme could divert laptops away from the developing countries that they were made for isn’t a good sign in my opinion. As many of the OLPC laptops as can be deployed in 3rd world countries, should be deployed there and not sent to Americans who want a toy.

The OLPC project is a great idea, and I sincerely hope that people who can afford to will continue to donate laptops at the $200 price point (the OLPC already operates a program where people can straight up donate $200 for a laptop to be sent to a developing nation), rather than pay extra for something that wouldn’t be of as much use to them as to the people it was designed for.

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