Sunday, December 02, 2007

OLPC's XO Makes History

Uruguay has just become the first country to begin widespread deployment of the revolutionary XO laptop to all of it's children. An inspiring personal story and moving pictures about the historical moment is recounted by Ivan Krstic, OLPC's brilliant director of security architecture, who was shipped off to Uruguay along with the first laptops, as a just in case trouble shooter. My congratulations to all at OLPC!

I hope other countries will join this move, as the laptop is incredible. Shame on Intel and Microsoft for trying to sabotage this nonprofit's venture!

I had the opportunity to try exploring the OLPC XO a bit last week and was extraordinarily impressed by some of it's features. The design is incredible--intelligent, attractive (an eye-catching kid magnet!) and extremely durable. Makes me ask why my other laptops don't have some of these features. The machine appears to be almost indestructible under normal use conditions--dust, dirt, pet hair, and liquid spills won't harm it. The carrying handle is an incredible plus I would love to have on my slick laptop. The ability to view the screen in bright sunlight is impressive. The machine will clearly be able to be repaired by most older kids and adults with 1 (supplied) screwdriver.

Yes, the XO software is slower than what I normally use. And yes, there are occasional software glitches, as with any new product. The difference, however, is that this is all open source and thus can be accessed and fixed by mere mortals. And soon there will be a large community of interested individuals who can readily support and teach each other.

One of the most impressive features is the mesh-networking, which allows the XOs to see others and link to them to work collaboratively on projects. This is ideal for a classroom, but also will be great for families or small group projects.

It is sad, though not surprising, that Intel and Microsoft have tried to undercut the OLPC XO and have thus far done so in Nigeria and Libya (see 11/24 Wall St Journal). The Classmate and Windows, priced temporarily at enticingly low prices, will not be able to be upgraded without considerable investment in support and software. In contrast, all the XO software is open source and can be down-loaded for free--and change as the child's needs do over years. That long-term view is where the real cost-savings are, as there will be no licensing issues or bait and switch tactics with the XO.

My initial motivation for supporting OLPC is that they are a worthy non-profit, with a very valuable project for educating kids in developing countries and reducing the global disparities between the haves and have-nots. Now after seeing the XO, I also see it as a valuable back up for my business/home needs as well. I have been encouraging my friends and colleagues to support the Give One, Get One program or to make charitable donations for children in developing countries. It is an irresistible gift for the holidays. Please help spread the word!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

YouTube and Human Rights

“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Lord Acton

There is no question that Google has made my life easier, bringing me access to information from around the world that I would not have had otherwise. Unfortunately, there is a disturbing trend, as Google continues to expand its empire.

First, Google touted itself as “we are not evil.” But then there was its pragmatic support of censorship in some settings, abiding by government restrictions. Google justified this by accurately saying that their presence has benefit in the long-term.

Now, Google, who has since bought YouTube, has blocked the videos and account of Wael Abbas, an anti-torture activist who posted a video of policemen torturing a victim. Strictly speaking, YouTube’s action was correct, according to their terms of service, in that their Community Guideline's terms prohibit the posting of videos which depict pornography, illegal acts, graphic violence, or hate speech. Subsequently, however, they have now further isolated Wael Abbas by disabling his Yahoo account.

I understand YouTube’s not wanting to show graphic violence. Yet surely there is an alternative that would protect viewers from blundering onto a disturbing site, but would support important exposures of human rights violations. There could be a warning “Site contains graphic or disturbing material” notice, that allows news reports of violence. Or perhaps there could be a parallel site, such a Reporters Without Borders, or Project Censored. We need to have a readily available, uncensored forum to expose human rights violations, wherever they occur. Google should work for the forces of good, and make itself part of the solution, rather than gagging human rights activists.