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ACM/IEEE talk: One Laptop Per Child

There's been discussion on this list on MIT's One Laptop Per Child
(OLPC) project in the past. This talk may be of interest.

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Wed, 18 Apr 2007 22:34:19 -0400
From: Peter Mager <p.mager at>

There are 2 meetings scheduled for April in the joint seminar series
cosponsored by the GBC/ACM and Boston/Central New England Chapter of the
IEEE Computer Society. Both meetings are free and open to the public (as
are all sessions in our joint evening seminar series):


How We Built the OLPC (the $100 laptop for 3rd world children)


Jim Gettys, Vice President, Software Engineering, One Laptop Per Child
(olpc) project

MIT Room E51-315
Date: Thursday, 4/26/2007
Time: 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm


Software and hardware are very different. Software is malleable and has
no cost to reproduce; hardware is a very different experience.

Hardware systems design is like sausage making: o You can only make as
much sausage as you can get *all* the ingredients for o Some parts of
the recipe can be substituted, but not others o There are only a finite
number of ingredients you can use in a recipe o If you know the right
ingredient suppliers, you may be able to get custom ingredients made for
you, so long as you are making a *lot* of sausage o Some of the major
ingredients take years to grow, rather than a season. You can at best
let the farmers (custom chip designers) know what kinds of ingredients
you'd like the next time, and have to live with those commodity
ingredients that are available in the quantity you need o It isn't a
pretty process. o You don't know exactly how it is going to taste until
you've cooked it. I will explore the sausage making that is the first
One Laptop Per Child System, a novel, very low cost and low power laptop
for kids education in the developing world, that runs Linux. The
realities of life for many or most of the world's children present novel
challenges to our hardware and software design, particularly due to lack
of power, infrastructure, and available expertise in the field.

Its recipe, while made out of standard or at most semi-custom
ingredients, makes it a novel system: Our display has higher resolution
than 95% of the laptop displays on the market today; approximately 1/7th
the power consumption; 1/3rd the price; sunlight readability; and
room-light readability with the backlight off, mesh networking, a novel
dual mode touchpad that can function both as a standard touchpad and be
used with a stylus, and novel power conservation capabilities. These
include the ability to leave the screen and wireless mesh network fully
on while the machine is suspended to RAM.
These also presents challenges to our software: the power conservation
techniques needed are very new. Conventional GUI's are intended for
adult office workers: our audience are young children learning to read
or getting a basic education, since most children only receive 5-6 years
of education in many parts of the world. I'll touch on some of these
aspects as well.

These capabilities present novel challenges to Linux, and are possible
for us to implement precisely because Linux is open source. The ability
to design hardware knowing that the software can be modified as needed
is liberating.


Jim Gettys is interested in open-source systems for education on very
inexpensive computers. He was previously at HP's Cambridge Research Lab
working on the X Window System with Keith Packard, both on desktops and
embedded systems such as the HP iPAQ. He helped to start the project and has also contributed to
efforts. Gettys has served on the Foundation board of directors
and served until 2004 on the Gnome Foundation board of directors. Gettys
worked at W3C from 1995-1999; he is the editor of the HTTP/1.1
specification (now an IETF Draft Standard). He is one of the principle
authors of the X Window System, edited the HTTP/1.1 specification for
the IETF, and and one of the authors of AF, a network transparent audio
server system.
MIT is at 77 Massachusetts Avenue, just on the north side of Memorial
Drive (on the north shore of the Charles River), in Cambridge, MA. Map
showing the MIT campus. <>
The red building is Bldg. E51; the T symbol at the top is the Kendall
T-Station. Building E51 is located near the Eastern extremity of MIT, on
Memorial Drive close to the Longfellow Bridge. It also adjoins Amherst
Street and Wadsworth Street. Building E51 is a short walk from the
Kendall T station. Room 315 is on the third floor.

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