Give a Laptop, Get a Laptop

I’ve been intrigued by the One Laptop per Child initiative for several months. Some of my interest is philanthropic, though part of me suspects that if we’re really interested in helping the youth of the planet, these funds might better go toward clean water, health care, and more traditional education. The bigger reason that it has caught my eye is technological: in order to meet their goal of creating a flexible, low-maintenance, hackable laptop that can be manufactured and sold for $100, the initiative is doing a lot of really interesting work on both the hardware and the software. If you’re interested in the details, this tech talk is a good starting point.

So, when I heard on NPR that they were going to have a Give One Get One promotion starting in November, my inner philanthropist held hands with my inner technologist and skipped together up to my brain and kicked the living cheese out of my inner spendthrift.

The deal? You plunk down $400. They send you one laptop, and send another to a child in some far-off place.

“Wait a minute!” I hear the more mathematically astute of you shout. “That’s $200 per laptop! What’s up with that?” Well, that’s the rub. There haven’t been enough governments placing orders for the computers to get the economies of scale up to the point where the costs drop to the $100 target. So, by allowing people in the US to place orders, they increase manufacturing volume, causing prices to drop as the expense for specialized components is spread over more units.

I’m really interested to see how this works out for them, as well as to get my hands on one of the little laptops and see what their capabilities are like. At the very least, I expect it to be decent for typing papers and doing Internet research — two vital tasks with 5 students in the house currently!

More to come in December when we get our hands on one of these things and put it through its paces.