It’s something I particularly like to do when speaking at Open Source conferences, where the sentiments every now and then just tend a bit too much towards the politically correct. Open Source is Free, Green, Saving the World and – most importantly – helps us to battle the dominance of the You-Know-Who guys. Yeah. Right. In these cases, it always seems appropriate to dedicate a few minutes to the important work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the beginning of the presentation.
Just a bit of warm bonding with an audience. There’s nothing like it.
But admitted, during the recent Go Open conference in Oslo, I saw an excellent example of what the Open Source is donating to the real world. I have written about it before, but the XO ‘100$ laptop’ of the One Laptop Per Child foundation still manages to inspire more and more people. After Håkon Wium Lie, the brain behind the Opera browser and a true IT Rockstar in Norway, had showed a XO during his speech, the podium was swarmed by people that just wanted to touch and feel that small, very green-painted wonder machine.
Although the XO is not an open source community initiative (others are responsible for that), it does run completely on free software, which obviously helps to keep the production price low. The OLPC initiative is extremely relevant, as it aims to educate the children in our world, and I encourage all of you to donate to it and tell it to others.
Håkon Wium Lie already suggested in his blog that the XO finally might become an ‘equalizer’ because it could be used by children of both poor and rich parents. And why not? ‘Rich’ kids (and their parents, for that matter) might even be quite be surprised by what the laptop delivers. Take for example the robust, ad-hoc style of ‘mesh networking’ that is used to connect to other computers. Or take the installed Linux version that boots so much faster than many of us reluctantly learned to live with during the course of the years. Or – even better – take the revolutionary ‘Sugar’ desktop interface that positions the people you are connected to as the main portal to applications and information. These are actually advanced FaceBook / MySpace social networking principles, but built right into the essence of the system.
Now to me, that’s the real ‘Wow’. And once again it proves that we need special circumstances to free ourselves from the legacy of the past and find new ways forward. A simple, superior networking device using light-weight free software, resilient to crashes and heath, if necessary running on manually generated – obviously green! – power and designed from the ground as a mesh-style collaboration tool. If that’s the way for all of us to equalize, I can live with that.
And it’s not even politically correct.