Controversies

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A Wiki is not a good place to conduct an argument, but it can help greatly to reduce thrashing in arguments conducted elsewhere, by tracking who actually said what, and then by recording what the controversy is held to be by various participants. Anybody who feels misrepresented here should provide a link to the original statement, and a brief explanation.

The key to resolving arguments is to find where people are talking past each other, and challenge each side to reply to the actual question with actual evidence. See, for example, the thread on Multilingual URIs at http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/uri/1997Apr/0003.html, right after I joined the discussion, up through http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/uri/1997Apr/0131.html. One side said that ASCII-encoded Unicode URLs were an absolute necessity, right away, and the other side insisted that this would break the Web. I insisted that we could not settle this by ranting about our opinions, but that we needed working code and sysadmin procedures. At the end, we had to answer the question, how one would type a multilingual URL in Japanese, in considerable detail. After we got all of that cleared up, everybody agreed that the proposed solution was workable, but did not belong in the standard under discussion. What to do next was easy to decide.

Working code turns out to be the answer to only a few of the questions, most notably dual-boot. But let us see what else might be an answer.

Some of the controversies are too big for this page, so short summaries appears here, with links to more detailed pages.

If you feel strongly about any of these issues, you are welcome to add your signature, (~~~~), and brief comments here, or to create another page for a topic that doesn't have one, and say as much as you like on the new page.

Contents

The Mission

It was claimed that Nicholas removed Constructionism from the mission statement.

This turns out not to be the case. It's still there in the current version, but not as our goal.

The last paragraph in the old version read poorly, so I understand the need to re-write it. Both mission statements very clearly reference Constructionism. Saying, "Nicholas has removed Constructionism from the mission statement" is misleading at best, here's the key paragraph on Constructionism. "XO embodies the theories of constructionism first developed by MIT Media Lab Professor Seymour Papert in the 1960s, and later elaborated upon by Alan Kay, complemented by the principles articulated by Nicholas Negroponte in his book, Being Digital." :garycmartin 16:10, 01 May 2008 (BST)
As opposed to "...constructionism is our goal; XO is our means of getting there."--Mokurai 17:25, 7 May 2008 (EDT)

Porting Sugar to Windows

  • Nicholas Negroponte has had a stroke of genius. (This link goes to a cleaned-up version of the HTML e-mail that NN sent to a text-only mailing list.) If we get Sugar ported to Windows, then Sugar will become a Trojan Horse that Microsoft will promote to developing nations, and much of our work is done for us. This will be by far the fastest method of getting Sugar to as many children as possible. And once we've done it, everybody will convert to Sugar on Linux, because it is so obviously superior, thus destroying Microsoft, as the Greeks did to Troy in the Trojan Horse analogy. So let's go that route. It is not yet clear whether this is intended to mean OLPC putting time and money into the port, or just leaving it to Microsoft to do. Several of us have put that question to NN, but he has not answered it.
    • OLPC should put money and people into porting Sugar to Windows: ???
    • OLPC should let Microsoft do any Windows porting: --Mokurai 22:31, 30 April 2008 (EDT)
    • Port Free Software? What are you smoking?!: Microsoft, apparently
  • Or, alternatively, NN has had a stroke of madness. If we get Sugar ported to Windows, then Windows will take over the world, locking the poor in forever, and it will be our fault. C. Scott Ananian gave an overview of the challenges facing a Windows port. Given the scope of the problem, some claim that it will take a year or more to get even a feeble version running. And in any case, one can run Sugar-on-Linux on Windows in emulation or in CoLinux right now, because Ubuntu Hardy Heron (8.04) includes Sugar packages. Or put a Sugar/Linux Live CD in a Windows PC, or even an x86 Mac, and not bother porting. Whether that works on the XO remains to be seen, because nobody outside Microsoft has access to MS WinXP prototypes for the XO. Memory limits will undoubtedly make emulation strategies on the XO extremely difficult.
  • Or not. Sugar on Windows could be an irrelevance, because we aren't going to outsmart Microsoft, and Linux is growing steadily without such shenanigans. Don't forget, the 800 lb. gorilla doesn't have to outsmart you.

NN argues for a Linux/Windows dual-boot configuration of the XO, which he has discussed with Microsoft. Microsoft was publicly against it, until the deal was publicly announced.

NN: "We have been engaged in discussions with Microsoft for several months, to explore a dual boot version of the XO."

Microsoft denies dual-boot Linux/Windows XO laptops are on its agenda: "While we have investigated the possibility in the past, Microsoft is not developing dual-boot Windows XP support for One Laptop Per Child’s XO laptop." Because of the BIOS issue (below) it was not clear that a dual-boot configuration was practical or even possible.

BIOS issue

Problem

The big technical issue with Windows on XO is that Windows depends on a whole array of legacy BIOS callbacks that the Forth-based Open Firmware never needed to bother with. AMD freed up some Geode "VSA" code that does some of the job, but there are many more finicky little interfaces. (It's also possible that the documentation for what Windows requires of a BIOS is out of date, since only a small number of companies now supply the whole PC industry with BIOSes.) The result is that Microsoft's XO port of Windows uses a legacy BIOS (perhaps the proprietary Insyde BIOS that was used in the bring-up of the original XO A-Test prototype boards).

From the other side, OLPC's Linux software probably does not run, without changes, on a legacy BIOS. It does many specialized callbacks into the Open Firmware BIOS (for device tree enumeration, suspend support, and various other things). Open Firmware also implements much of the XO's boot-time "security" (activation, developer keys, etc), some features would be lost under a legacy BIOS. Legacy BIOSes also cost money per copy, which would raise the price of the laptop, and take a key part of it proprietary.

So at the moment, you can't just put Windows on an XO, without reflashing the BIOS. And if you have Windows on an XO, to get Linux you have to do another BIOS reflash (there may not be Windows-based tools for this; it's possible that it requires opening up the hardware to access a hardware debug port).

Resolving this issue cleanly would require reimplementing all the necessary parts of the legacy BIOS in free Open Firmware. This is a hard technical job and it's not clear that OLPC has the resources to do it, or to do it in time.

Solution

AnnounceFAQ: "Open Firmware V2, the free and open source BIOS, is now capable of running Linux, Microsoft Windows XP and other operating systems, and was developed by Firmworks with support from OLPC. This will enable dual boot of OLPC XO laptops with Microsoft Windows XP in addition to the existing Fedora-based system and will become the standard BIOS/bootloader for all XO systems when completed. With this 'free BIOS,' the XO-1 continues to be the most open laptop hardware currently available."

You may thank Mitch Bradley of Firmworks.

Industry response

In the meantime, the XO has triggered a deluge of new designs aimed at some part of its market. Liliputing lists two dozen such. A critical fact about this unfolding market segment is that it is divided about equally between Linux and Windows offerings, the first computer product category to advance this far.

No proprietary software. Really.

Free Mac OS X spurned by $100 laptop creators, By Jo Best, Silicon.com, Published: 15 November 2005 12:25 GMT. "Software behemoth Microsoft has also yet to determine its involvement in the $100 laptop scheme, although at present the use of open source software will preclude it from contributing a Windows operating system."

The $100 Laptop Moves Closer to Reality, By STEVE STECKLOW, Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, November 14, 2005. "Steve Jobs, Apple Computer Inc.'s chief executive, offered to provide free copies of the company's operating system, OS X, for the machine, according to Seymour Papert, a professor emeritus at MIT who is one of the initiative's founders. 'We declined because it's not open source,' says Dr. Papert, noting the designers want an operating system that can be tinkered with. An Apple spokesman declined to comment."

  • Pro: --Mokurai 22:32, 30 April 2008 (EDT)
  • Con: NN?

Losing key people

The claim is made that Nicholas Negroponte's policies are driving out key people. Here are some of them.


  • Pro: Are any of these the software "Fundamentalists" that NN was talking about?
  • Con: --Mokurai 22:34, 30 April 2008 (EDT)

Lack of communication

Nicholas Negroponte does not talk to the volunteers. Well, he started to, just recently. We'll have to see where the conversation goes.

  • Pro: NN, until recently
  • Con:--Mokurai 22:41, 30 April 2008 (EDT)

There is no place to find OLPC press releases.

  • Pro:
  • Con:--Mokurai 22:41, 30 April 2008 (EDT)

Nicholas Negroponte shoots off his mouth to the press, making announcements of non-existent deals with Microsoft, describing OLPC as acting like terrorists, complaining about Open-Source Fundamentalists, and wanting OLPC to be like Microsoft. Among other things.

  • Pro: NN, apparently.
  • Con: --Mokurai 22:41, 30 April 2008 (EDT)

XOs for the developed world

Kim Quirk and Robert Fadel have made it clear in e-mails and conversations with Edward Mokurai Cherlin of Earth Treasury that policy as they understand it is to maximize XO shipments to developing nations at the lowest possible cost. Shipments to developed countries, such as the US, don't count toward the mission. OLPC management doesn't have time to work with OLPC Chicago on Illinois HB5000, The Children's Low-Cost Laptop Act.

Kim Quirk: "OLPC's focus is on development, funding and delivery of laptops to the least developed countries. The expectations for features, testing, support, logistics, delivery, IT and RF infrastructure (to name a few things) are widely different between schools in Rwanda and those in NYC (for example). We just don't have the man-power today to meet these expectations world-wide." http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/devel/2008-April/012958.html

Just as if there weren't any poor people in Chicago or New York.

Talking about features, testing, support, logistics, delivery, IT and RF infrastructure as the problem makes no sense. We can offer the same product on the same terms in the US as anywhere else to any government that wants it, and others can supply the rest of what is needed.--Mokurai 01:28, 29 April 2008 (EDT)

  • Pro: NN, Kim Quirk, Robert Fadel
  • Con:--Mokurai 22:44, 30 April 2008 (EDT)

Minimum price at the expense of everything else

Robert Fadel has made it clear to Edward Mokurai Cherlin of Earth Treasury that policy is to keep costs for the XO to the absolute minimum possible, regardless of the effects of that policy on the program. This makes Give Many impossible to deal with. The chain of causes is, lowest price-->cash in advance, OLPC has no say in production schedules-->no way to quote a delivery time.

  • Pro: NN, Robert Fadel
  • Con:--Mokurai 22:45, 30 April 2008 (EDT)

Minimum Pilot Project: 10,000 XOs

Free the XO Laptop For Chilean Children After months of fruitless negotiations between the Chilean Ministry of Education and the OLPC Foundation the door for a pilot in Chile has been closed.

To the best of our knowledge - which includes my own [Luis Ramirez, of "one computer per child" in Chile] attempts to convince David Cavallo, OLPC's Director for Central and South America - the Foundation has systematically refused to get involved in a pilot in my country, unless Chile includes around 10 thousand students on it. That is virtually impossible for a pilot, at least for a conventional one.

That's a minimum of $2 million dollars for laptops, plus other expenses for deployment, infrastructure, training, evaluation, etc.. Why do we need trials, you may wonder? Don't we know that XOs and Constructionist education work? Well, not all of us do, and none of us knows how they work best.
  • Because conditions in different countries are different
  • Because teachers need training, and countries need to understand what training is needed
  • Because there are also such issues as electricity and Internet in villages
  • Because this is politics, not a top-down command structure. Legislatures have to see what they are appropriating money for, and may have to be able to show it to the public and explain it.
  • Because stakeholders have concerns we don't even know about.
  • And mainly, just because.

GiveOneGetOne disasters

G1G1 was launched with insufficient forethought and managerial oversight. Publicly documented problems:

  • Brightstar created an incompetent order entry system, which threw away the second line of any address, and overwrote corrections with the earlier, incorrect data multiple times. They do say that doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.
  • It took over a month to figure out how to ship to Canada.
  • There was a wholly inadequate support system in place, with not enough volunteers and no automatic replies to e-mails at first.
  • Orders placed in November, 2007 were not all fulfilled until late March, 2008.
  • In the face of overwhelming demand, the program was shut down on December 31, 2007, and the public was told that there would not be another for the US and Canada.
  • There is supposed to be a G1G1 for Europe some day. Don't hold your breath.

Insufficient forethought and cultural insensitivity are still in charge at 1CC. We're currently arguing which keyboard layouts to provide to European users printed on XO keytops in G1G12. [Kim Quirk] said that the plan was to ship with only the US International keyboard, because OLPC can't afford the manufacturing or logistics for localized keyboards. However, the US International QWERTY keyboard is acceptable nowhere in Europe, except among US expatriates and tourists. Not in the UK, which has its own international layout, nor in France (AZERTY), Germany (QWERTZ), Greece (:ΣΕΡΤΥ), or anywhere else.

Give Many is a cruel joke

Give Many has changed its story on terms without warning, so that Earth Treasury feels that Brightstar and OLPC management cannot be trusted. The most recent terms are

  • Cash in advance
  • Delivery date to be set within 60 days
  • Delevery date may be as far away as nine or ten months

Schools that are required by law to buy on purchase order obviously cannot participate. Few NGOs can tie up their funds in interest-free loans to manufacturers.

It seems that Give Many is being discontinued, OLPC again refocuses on large-scale deployments (mailing list message). -- skierpage 00:35, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

Dissing Open Source

NN complained about Open Source fundamentalists interfering with the success of the project. The community objects to this characterization, vehemently. The Flash vs. Gnash issue is part of this. NN claimed that Flash wouldn't run on the XO, which turns out not to be the case.

Many consider Richard Stallman (rms) of GNU to be the ultimate Free Software fundamentalist, but he has talked about his experience switching to an XO to replace his aging Thinkpad. (Interview)

Theo de Raadt, founder of OpenBSD, is apparently the real one. He objects to the entire OLPC project because of three segments of code on chips, two of them in ROM.

Walter Bender has responded to NN in Confessions of a Fundamentalist:

"It has been asserted that I am a free and open-source (FOSS) fundamentalist and that the use of open-source software has become the project's ends instead of its means, very much to its detriment. Step One on the road to recovery is to admit your addiction: "I am a fundamentalist." There, I have said it and I feel better already. I am a fundamentalist—but in regard to what? Not software. I am a fundamentalist about learning! That is not to say I am not passionate about FOSS, but as the means, not the end, towards a "constructionist" learning model."

Educational agnosticism

Nicholas Negroponte says that he wants OLPC to pull back from its support for the educational philosophy and methods of Constructionism, that is, learning by doing in a guided process of collaborative discovery.

Minimum Standard for Success

After all this controversy, you might be feeling a little bit down. There is cause for hope. Joshua Pritikin conjectures that two points in this debate matter more than the others:

  • OLPC must not ship a laptop loaded only with Windows. Dual-boot is tolerable. Ideally, OLPC should not force buyers to purchase Windows. We have had enough of the Microsoft tax. If OLPC starts selling Windows-only laptops then it is time to search for or create a new hardware vendor. On one hand, this is a worst case scenario. There is no evidence that OLPC is considering a Windows-only laptop. On the other hand, the danger is real: Bernie Innocenti places this discussion in a historical context. The Windows-based EEE PC is going to be cheaper than the GNU/Linux-based in Australia. Robert Myers puts things in perspective.
  • As Richard Stallman said, we need more and better free software for education. On one hand, this is true whether OLPC (the hardware company) founders or flourishes. On the other hand, the better the educational software that is available, the easier it will be for OLPC to flourish via shipping Sugar + GNU/Linux.

The take-home message is don't get mired in the fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). Most likely, OLPC is going to deliver educational free software to millions of kids. I wish we had more anthropologists studying current deployments to help get the truth out.

OLPC and XOs are deployed (by Governments) without following the original principles

Lack of Principles means big risk of failure for the educational project. Principles suggested are:

  1. Platform agnosticism. Linux and Sugar are not the essentials. OLPC will survive without them if these other principles prevail.
  2. Self repair may be lost due to self-serving suppliers.
  3. Renewable energy is essential, but not yet available.
  4. We must reach the poorest children, not just those reached by earlier programs.
  5. The children must own the XOs, not politicians or administrators.
  6. We must create appropriate educational content, not shovelware (whatever comes handy).
  7. Communication between schools and communication with the wider world are essential.
  8. Education can be dangerous if it does not have proper outlets.

All of these dangers lie within the political and economic systems of participating countries.

I agree with all of these points except the first. Constructionism, including the right of Software Freedom, is the first principle of OLPC. The primary reason to insist on Linux is Software Freedom, including the right to study and modify the software to meet local needs, and the right to one's own data. Lower cost is an added benefit of no small importance. Microsoft intends the opposite, perpetual and illegal monopoly: proprietary trade secret software and data formats for money, with a constant demand for more money to buy new versions, enforced by shutting down all commercial opposition, by intimidation, and by other criminal means. Only Linux has the power to stand against this.--Mokurai 18:39, 1 May 2008 (EDT)
To take this line of reasoning one step further: a culture of learning as a service will not result in a positive outcome. A culture of Constructionism-which demands a culture of freedom of expression--will skew the odds towards a more principled and positive outcome. --Walter 19:33, 1 May 2008 (EDT)

References

Mailing list threads

Blog posts

Ivan Krstić

OLPC News articles

Interviews with Nicholas Negroponte

  • OLPC should be 'more like Microsoft', Troubled '$100 laptop' maker seeks new CEO, By Agam Shah, IDG News Service, March 07, 2008
  • OLPC’s Negroponte Responds to Intel’s Classmate 2 and New Low-Cost Laptops, April 8th, 2008 by Joanna Stern, Laptop Magazine. NN: "There is nothing to report on OLPC America, yet."
  • Low-cost laptop program sees a key leadership defection, By BRIAN BERGSTEIN - AP Technology Writer, Posted on Tue, Apr. 22, 2008. "Negroponte said he was mainly concerned with putting as many laptops as possible in children's hands. He lamented that an overriding insistence on open-source had hampered the XOs, saying Sugar 'grew amorphously' and 'didn't have a software architect who did it in a crisp way.' For instance, the laptops do not support Flash animation, widely used on the Web. 'There are several examples like that, that we have to address without worrying about the fundamentalism in some of the open-source community,' he said. 'One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist.'"
  • Microsoft, OLPC officially team up Posted by Ina Fried, Beyond Binary blog, C-Net News May 15, 2008. Negroponte said compatibility with the Microsoft operating system still helps give the laptop credibility. "When I talk to people and tell them we can run Windows, they are very impressed," he said. "You pass a sort of virility test."
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