Cheap Laptop Scheme Gets Windows Upgrade

Dennis Faas's picture

It looks as if the low cost laptops designed for the developing world may run on Microsoft Windows. However, the news follows turmoil among the project's management with a third major figure departing.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) scheme aims to produce cheap machines to sell in bulk to governments of developing nations. It involves a laptop (named XO) that's designed to be particularly easy to use, and durable enough to survive in a wide range of climates. Originally, the laptop was only designed to run a package of software named Sugar which includes music creation and photo features. Sugar is based around the free, open-source Linux operating system. This is partly to keep costs down: the machine currently costs $188 to make, though there's a goal to get that down to $99. Another factor was that the machine has a relatively low amount of disk space as it uses flash memory, as used with USB data sticks, rather than a traditional hard drive. This made it tricky to run Windows effectively.

Microsoft ran a dedicated project to produce a slimmed down edition of Windows for the XO laptop and it seems to have paid off. Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the OLPC project, said this week that a Linux-only edition of the laptop isn't viable in the long run, and that the special version of Windows works well on the machine. He's revealed that the next step will be a dual-boot version of the laptop, meaning users can run either the Sugar software or Windows XP. There are even some rumours the laptop may eventually become Windows-only, though it's not clear how reliable that story is. (Source:

Negroponte's comments come as Walter Bender, the project's president of software, has quit the organisation. He's the third executive to leave since December. It appears his specific role has disappeared and his duties split between other execs in a reorganisation. (Source:

Technology purists may be disappointed with the increasing influence of Microsoft on the project. It's hardly cynical to suspect Microsoft views the project as a way to establish Windows in new markets. However, from a practical standpoint, Microsoft's involvement maybe the key to attracting interest in the project from major investors.

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