Predecessors of OLPC

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The OLPC (more pedantically, the XO laptop) is not entirely new. Like most developments in our modern world, it is built on what has come before. This page is intended to list some of the predecessors of the OLPC or key parts of its technology. We won't be mentioning mainstream stuff like laptops here, but things that are less well-known but which can teach us lessons as the OLPC design evolves.

Purpose of This Page

The purpose of this page is to provide pointers for Application Developers and Content Developers to better understand where the OLPC comes from. It is not a perfect device but it does bring together many existing technologies that have reached maturity in some way. In some cases (Wi-Fi) the maturity is low cost and low power consumption. In other cases (LOGO) the maturity is in the great amount of experience educators have in using it with children.


Devices and Technology

  • Dynabook was Alan Kay's vision of a book-sized portable learning device.
  • Cybiko was a wireless messaging device for kids that was sold in the USA and UK for several years.
  • Ricochet is a wireless mesh network that was deployed throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area in 1997. I remember that it reached our offices in Redwood City. This is not wi-fi.
  • various Minimal Linux distros have been developed in order to use Linux on machines with limited memory and storage.
  • Apple's E-mate was a laptop version of their Newton and was intended to be a child's personal computer. They are still available on Ebay.
  • Simputer is a handheld computer originating in India with some similiar ideas
  • AlphaSmart is a widescreen Palm-based laptop intended to be given to every child in a class.

There are some other existing devices that are not really predecessors of the OLPC but which may be of use as Development Systems for Application Developers.


  • LOGO is a programming language developed by Seymour Papert in order to teach kids how to control robots called turtles.
  • Squeak is a Smalltalk-based learning environment that embodies many constructionist ideas. It is widely used in education in the developed world.

Educational Initiatives

These are the true predecessors of OLPC, which, as an organization, is devoted not to producing a device but to the educational possibilities opened up by that device. Obviously, there are many educational movements and initiatives that have informed OLPC, such as constructivism; this list only mentions those that are most similar.

First, note that some of the Technology and Software, mentioned above, has been developed specifically to be used in educational initiatives.

  • Maine Learning Technology Initiative provides a laptop to every 7 grade student to implement Seymour Papert's recommendation of a one to one student/computer ratio. The initiative seeks to change the way computers are used in education.
  • Jhai Foundation brought the first internet learning center to Laos at Phon Mi High School.