For a few weeks last month I got the chance to borrow an Intel Classmate and compare it side-by-side with the One Laptop Per Child XO computer.
As you may have read, the Classmate is a computer built by Intel as a competitor to the OLPC project’s XO (the legendary “$100 laptop”), both attempting to create an educational computer primarily for use by children in developing countries.
The result has been quite a bit of friction between the two organizations as they each try to convince governments to buy their product, with Intel’s CEO trading barbs with OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte over their respective missions.
But this post is not about those politics. In accepting the loan I was more interested in comparing the two machines in terms of what they can do for education.
Part of the fun in all this was being able to put both computers in front of adult educators, most with a tech background, and most of whom were judging the machines through those adult eyes.
Beyond their child-sized form factors, the two computers are very different.
The OS used by the Classmate is standard Windows with the familiar XP desktop icons and software, and Intel is reportedly interested in marketing a version of the machine to the general public.
The XO, on the other hand, is powered by a variation of Linux with a custom desktop and an array of software specifically designed for learning. Outside of a short window at the end of 2007, OLPC is not actively selling the XO to individuals.
I had to keep reminding most people that these were machines constructed for use by children and, in the case of the XO, were designed for kids from many different cultures and learning levels.
And therein lies the big distinction between the two.
The Classmate is basically a standard laptop, repackaged for kids (honey, I shrunk the computer). The XO was designed from the ground up, both hardware and software, for children.
That doesn’t mean either device is better or worse. They both have positives, along with their flaws.
To me it just became very obvious there was a big difference in the philosophical approach taken by the developers of each computer.
I also doubt that either machine will ever have a big presence in American education in their current form.
However, the concepts and technology that have gone into their development certainly will.
[Later this week I’ll post more details about the two computers themselves along with more pictures.]