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Member since May 2011 · 2462 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: OLPC, Free Software, and a swear word
A man named Ivan Krstić was the Director of Security for the OLPC (one laptop per child) project.  He recently posted an interesting rant on his site, which included this pretty scathing response to something Richard Stallman - a long-time proponent of free, open-source software - said:

Quote by Richard Stallman:
Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless. Its functioning is secret, so it is incompatible with the spirit of learning. Teaching children to use a proprietary (non-free) system such as Windows does not make the world a better place, because it puts them under the power of the system's developer — perhaps permanently. You might as well introduce the children to an addictive drug.

Quote by Ivan Krstić:
Oh, for fuck's sake. You really just employed a simile comparing a proprietary OS to addictive drugs? You know, ones causing actual bodily harm and possibly death? Really, Stallman? Really?

I thought it was funny.  =)

Actually, in hindsight, it's kinda not.  It was funny at the time tho.  =D

Anyway, Ivan goes on to say something interesting about Nicholas Negroponte, the man who started the OLPC project, with the goal of promoting learning through cheap laptops:

In fact, I quit when Nicholas told me — and not just me — that learning was never part of the mission. The mission was, in his mind, always getting as many laptops as possible out there; to say anything about learning would be presumptuous, and so he doesn't want OLPC to have a software team, a hardware team, or a deployment team going forward.

What, indeed, does that leave?  What will the company do now?  It turns out that 'learning' is tough:

There are three key problems in one-to-one computer programs: choosing a suitable device, getting it to children, and using it to create sustainable learning and teaching experiences. They're listed in order of exponentially increasing difficulty.

The industry didn't want to tackle the first one because there was little profit in it. OLPC successfully made them do it in the most effective way possible: by threatening to steal their lunch. But industry laptop manufacturers still don't want to tackle deployment, because it's really, really fucking hard, isn't within a 100-mile radius of their core competency, and generally has a commercial ROI that makes baby Cthulhu cry.

So this company produced a product solving the easy problem - building a cheap laptop - and then failed to follow it up with even a single person who would assist countries in setting up these hundreds of thousands of machines.

...there was no one hired to work on deployment while I was at OLPC, with Uruguay's and Peru's combined 360,000 laptop rollout in progress. I was parachuted in as the sole OLPC person to deal with Uruguay, and sent to Peru at the last minute. And I'm really good at thinking on my feet, but what the shit do I know about deployment? [...] and get this: now the company has half a million laptops in the wild, with no one even pretending to be officially in charge of deployment.

That OLPC was never serious about solving deployment, and that it seems to no longer be interested in even trying, is criminal. Left uncorrected, it will turn the project into a historical fuckup unparalleled in scale.

Enough copypasta.  You can read the whole rant if you want.
BLEARGH
This post was edited on 2008-05-14, 17:25 by NFG.
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Member since May 2011 · 2462 posts · Location: Brisbane
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The same guy, posting about his ex-boss' irritating statements to the media, said something that should probably be required reading for anyone launching a hardware project:

So we wound up with a keyboard whose keys get stuck. A dual-mode touchpad, capacitive and resistive, where one mode doesn't work at all, and the other makes the cursor spontaneously jump around and sometimes shuts off the touchpad altogether, prompting OLPC kernel developers to beg for saner hardware in the next round. We had board engineering issues that made power management practically impossible. We had a custom display controller chip that was incomplete in some regards, and completely broken in others. We had an embedded controller that blocks keyboard events and stops machine suspend, and to which we - after a long battle - received the source, under strict NDA, only to find a jungle of nested if statements, twelve levels deep, and no code history. (The company that wrote the code doesn't use version control, see. They put dates into code comments when they make changes, and the developers mail each other zip files with new versions.) And we had a wireless chip that is so far beyond  fucked, it's just about funny.

(Each of those words is a different link. Click them all, I dare you.)
BLEARGH
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