One Laptop Per Child Will Sport XP

Microsoft and One Laptop per Child announced an agreement Thursday to put Windows XP Professional on OLPC XO laptops in emerging markets, providing an alternative to Linux, which will continue to be offered for the low-cost machines aimed toward students in economically disadvantaged regions.

"Transforming education is a fundamental goal of Microsoft Unlimited Potential, our ambitious effort to bring sustained social and economic opportunity to people who currently don't enjoy the benefits of technology," said Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft, in a statement released yesterday. "By supporting a wide variety of affordable computing solutions for education that includes OLPC's XO laptop, we aim to make technology more relevant, accessible and affordable for students everywhere."

The near-term goal of Microsoft's "Unlimited Potential" initiative is to bring technology to 1 billion people who do not currently have access to technology by 2015.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of OLPC, said that the arrangement allows OLPC to deliver more readily on its vision of "transforming education" through technology by providing access to a wide range of educational software tools and content that are already available on the Windows platform. The company has plans to develop a dual-boot version of the XO laptop and will be working with third parties to bring its Sugar UI to Windows.

Microsoft said it's been working on XO development with partners for more than a year and that it now supports the XO's "e-book reading mode, standard WiFi networking, camera, writing pad and custom keys, as well as the power-saving and other features of the XO hardware."

Windows XP Professional licensing for OEMs is slated to end after next month. But the OLPC laptops, according to Microsoft, are a special case in that their level of computing power isn't suited for Vista.

According to a Greg Macris, Microsoft public relations director for the Unlimited Potential Group: "The unique hardware constraints of the XO laptop eliminated the possibility of developing Windows Vista, which was not designed for such hardware-constrained devices. As such, the performance and affordability of Windows XP was a natural fit for a Windows platform on the XO laptop."

Though licensing issues have not been completely resolved, Windows XP Pro is currently what's being used on low-cost PCs.

"Windows XP Pro is the operating system version that is currently working on the XO. This is the same version of Windows that we currently support on our other similar devices for underserved students in developing nations," a Macris told us. "To clarify, while we are still defining specific details around how Windows will be licensed for the XO laptop, it will most likely be offered through one or more of our affordable licensing programs for governments, educational ministries, and other organizations. The availability timeframe of Windows XP Pro media as an upgrade through these programs (until June 30, 2010) will be unaffected by this announcement. Additionally, Windows XP Starter will also be available through 2010, through such alternative pricing programs (on hardware-constrained devices, in developing markets)."

According to Microsoft, trials of the XO laptops running XP are slated to begin as early as next month.

About the Author

Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters.