OLPC to Slash Staff in Half, Along with Development Cuts

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 07, 2009

Nicholas Negroponte, who runs the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, has confirmed in a wiki post that hard times have hit the OLPC effort. The organization will be cutting its staff by 50 percent and giving salary reductions to the remaining 32 people on board, according to Negroponte. "Like many other nonprofits that are facing tough economic times, One Laptop per Child must downsize in order to keep costs in line with fewer financial resources," he says. OLPC will continue to work on its version 2.0, and there will be continuing efforts to pass the Sugar platform onto the community, but the once-ballyhooed low-cost laptop inititiative is a shell of what it was intended to be.

It's often been cited that one of the big hitches for OLPC was failure to deliver a promised $100 price point for its laptops. With that price point, as Ars Technica notes, the OLPC project already had "extreme dependence on economy of scale...proven to be a fatal error." When OLPC couldn't meet the $100 price point, many governments that had pledged to buy the laptops in bulk pulled out.

Sugar is the Linux-based educational software platform that OLPC originally developed for its laptops. It will move to a community development model, and Sugar Labs will continue with its Sugar development efforts. Sugar Labs is led by former OLPC executive Walter Bender, who resigned from the OLPC project in April of last year.

In Negroponte's post, he says that OLPC will continue with development of a 2.0 offering, and says that the company will focus on laptops that cost children in developing countries nothing. As for other efforts to push forward with Sugar, Kristin noted here hat the OLPC Special Interest Group (SIG) has announced the availability of the Fedora Sugar Spin LiveCD. This release incorporates the Sugar Desktop Environment into a Fedora liveCD. If Sugar can attract wider development and distribution than it ever saw under the OLPC wing, that could be a good development, but Negroponte himself winds up his post with citations of "uncertainty" and "difficulty" in the future for the OLPC effort itself.

Negroponte does cite the fact that OLPC laptops did make it into the hands of 500,000 children around the world. At this point, though, while the economic environment didn't help, the many observers who viewed the $100 price target as unreachable--and in the end a major Achilles heel for the project--appear to have been right.