The One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) and Microsoft are working together to develop a dual-boot system to put both Linux and Windows on laptops aimed at kids in developing countries, the head of OLPC said in an interview Tuesday.
“We are working with them very closely to make a dual-boot system so that, like on an Apple, you can boot either one up. The version that’s up and running of Windows on the XO is very fast, it’s very, very successful. We’re working very hard to do both,” said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of OLPC.
It’s a brand new development for the XO laptops, as the low-cost notebooks are known, and came about because of Microsoft’s friendlier attitude towards open source software.
Microsoft has embraced the open source community over the past few years in a very different way than before, Negroponte said. “And that really helps, because it’s become a little bit less religious than it was a few years ago and that’s really good. In the end, I think, the more people that have software and hardware out there, the better.”
The OLPC laptop currently runs a Fedora-based Linux OS, and Microsoft has offered a version of Windows XP for the laptop project. There had been speculation that OLPC would simply offer two separate laptop PCs, but a dual-boot system could remove the need to offer two separate laptops. Such a device could also reduce the need to have competing low-cost laptops — running Linux or Windows — in the marketplace. Taiwan’s Asustek Computer has already launched an ultra-low cost laptop PC capable of running Windows XP, and executives at the company have touted XP compatibility as an advantage over the XO.
OLPC is also working with Microsoft and possibly the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on combining OLPC laptops with some of the educational programs run by Microsoft in developing countries.
“There is talk in that direction and it’s directly with Bill and [Microsoft chief research and strategy officer] Craig Mundie, especially this morning, so this is really cooking at the moment,” Negroponte said.
Microsoft has launched programs in a number of developing countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, where it works with governments to build computer labs and Microsoft employees donate time to train people on how to use software and write programs.
The OLPC Project started as an attempt to build a US$100 laptop and work with governments to pass them out to kids in poor nations, but the laptop from the group, the XO, will likely end up costing nearly double that amount at first. The organizers of the effort, led by academics and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), hope high-volume sales of the device will drive down costs.
The goal of OLPC is to make sure nobody misses out on the benefits of computing. The fear is that the price of a PC is keeping too many people in developing countries from learning how software, the Internet and communications via computing can improve their economies, job prospects and lives, or that poor countries will fall further behind the modern world due to their inability to access computers.