A blog posting today inspired me to go poke around the website of the One Laptop Per Child
project today. And that leads me to wonder if Microsoft is paying any attention to this project. They should be -- it's one of the more plausible long-term threats to them that I've seen recently.
For those who haven't come across it: the OLPC project is trying to build a $100 laptop, and then sell one per child to the governments of the developing world. It's an incredibly audacious project, and many people didn't give it a chance originally. But step by step they seem to be getting there. Last reports I heard were that the current price is looking more like $175 (still remarkably cheap), and they still have to sell the governments on the plan, but it looks a little realer each month.
But what's really striking me is the machine itself. They're talking about selling them at twice their cost in the US (basically, you buy one and give one to the charity). That would still potentially make it far cheaper than anything else out there. And the specs are really innovative and cool. It's designed to be indoor/outdoor, child-friendly, far more rugged than the average machine, and far lower power. (The display draws 0.2 watts in reflective mode -- ideal for outside use.) Heck, it'll even come with a hand-crank for charging it. It has built-in mesh networking, and a Linux variant whose UI is, to say the least, distinctive.
Honestly -- I may have to buy one of these just to play with it, and quite possibly to bring to Pennsic. If it lives up to its billing, it might be far better for schoolchildren than the average Windows or Mac machine. And *that* is where Microsoft should be a little bit worried. Because honestly: if it's cheaper, more rugged and all-around better for kids, why *not* buy them one at that price? And given that the thing has the first mass-production UI I've seen in decades that isn't basically a variation of the original Mac OS, it could wind up training an entire generation to think that the Windows-style UI is just kind of quaint...