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Wednesday, 26 March 2008 21:32

OLPC: one resignation per child

Nicholas Negroponte must be crying in his beer. The One Laptop Per Child project has hit yet another roadblock with the resignation of Ivan Krstic , the project's director of security architecture.

Despite all the lofty talk indulged in by its founder and other project officials, the project has hit one hurdle after another since its inception, in large part due to its rather other-worldly goals.

From being a $US100 laptop, it became a $US188 gadget; from anticipating bulk sales, it has now hit a trough; from being lawsuit-free it faces a somewhat frivolous patent infringement claim from Nigeria; and from being best pals with Intel it has now become something less than a close bedfellow.

Senor Negroponte's way of resolving all the problems was to go in for a restructure - and this, apparently, did not sit well with Krstic.

His departure is certainly the most grievous body blow which the project has suffered; not even the departure of its former chief executive Mary Lou Jepsen can top this.

In an entry in his personal blog on March 18, Krstic wrote: "Not long ago, OLPC undertook a drastic internal restructuring coupled with what, despite official claims to the contrary, is a radical change in its goals and vision from those that were shared with me when I was invited to join the project.

"Adding insult to injury, I was asked to stop working with Walter Bender, without a doubt one of the most stunningly thoughtful and competent people I’ve ever worked with. Following Walter’s demotion from OLPC presidency, I was to report instead to a manager with no technical or engineering background who was put in charge of all OLPC technology."

(Six months ago, Bender was one of the most eloquent defenders of the project, taking on rivals such as NComputing's chief executive Stephen Dukker in no less a forum than the august columns of the Wall Street Journal).

The changes that Krstic refers to tie in neatly with what Saint Nicholas enunciated at the beginning of March when he said that OLPC should be managed "more like Microsoft."

In keeping with that, no doubt, we will soon see bloatware like Windows XP make its appearance on the XO, the laptop which the OLPC sells. Here's a (free and open) idea, Nicholas; why not go for Vista right away? That will certainly make the project unique. Neither the Asus eeePC or Intel's Classmate line will be able to top that.

(It's interesting that Negroponte has not changed the organisation's core principles one iota; apparently the project is still devoted to "free and open source." Last time I wrote about the project , a wag had added the words "unless it's Microsoft" to that phrase. The OLPC now has a word of warning for such truth-sayers; "this page is monitored by the OLPC team" says a legend at the top of the OLPC wiki's front page . Maybe one should make that "rapidly diminishing team.")

Krstic, apparently, could not take changes such as the restructure in his stride. In his blog, he adds: "I cannot subscribe to the organization’s (sic) new aims or structure in good faith, nor can I reconcile them with my personal ethic. Having exhausted other options, three weeks ago I resigned my post at OLPC."

Ah, cruel world! How sad it is to witness the death of idealism and the emergence of realism!

I wonder how the people at organisations like Red Hat, which joined the project in its infancy to provide a truly open and free Linux-basd operating system for the XO, would be feeling now.

Maybe it's time to dismount from this hobby horse before it goes lame in all four feet.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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