Open Source as a Driver of Globalization

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Open-source software is a hot-button issue because it leads to some sticking points in terms of intellectual property rights and the ability of certain segments of the IT industry to sustain financial compensation. Critics argue that without such compensation for labor hours spent on development, motivation toward the creation of desirable and useful software might be rendered inert.

 

 

But open source has significant potential as an equalizer of sorts, a means toward making technology as widely available as possible. In this way, the open-source movement can act as a potent driver of globalization.

 

 

An example of this can be seen in the One Laptop Per Child program. Launched two years ago by Nicolas Negroponte, MIT Media Laboratory chairman emeritus, One Laptop has since been established as an independent nonprofit.

 

 

One Laptop Per Child has developed a machine called the XO, billed as a “$100 laptop.” Ninety percent of XOs programming was taken from code available in the open-source community, which is one of the reasons the machine’s cost is so low. By doing so, One Laptop Per Child is acting to put the XO in the hands of children in developing countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand and Uruguay. Each country gets versions programmed specifically to its native languages.

 

 

Manufactured by Quanta Computer Inc., the XO is a small, white unit with a green keyboard and framework, and it comes with a manually operated battery charger. When turned on, students are greeted by a screen with a stick figure icon in its center, signifying themselves, the end-users. The figure is surrounded by a ring populated with icons for programs running on the machine. In this way, the XOs operating system escapes the enforcement of a computer organized by files and folders. In fact, the machine has no hard drive.

 

 

It does, however, feature three USB ports and headphone and microphone jacks, as well as an internal microphone and dual internal speakers. The keyboard is a sealed rubber membrane, accompanied by a touchpad and cursor-control keys. Because it’s intended for use by students who might be having their first experience with a computer when they pick it up, it’s designed to function as an organized presentation of programs as tools for learning, creating and communicating rather than merely working.

 

 

Toward that end, the XO is Wi-Fi interactive. During classroom operation, end-users will see other stick figures in different colors appearing on their screen, signifying other students in the vicinity. Moving the computer’s cursor to these figures produces students’ profiles and from there, they can chat or work together on projects.

 

 

On One Laptop Per Child’s Web site (www.laptop.org), Negroponte discussed why it is important for students in developing countries to have their own computers.

 

 

“One does not think of community pencils — kids have their own,” Negroponte stated. “They are tools to think with, sufficiently inexpensive to be used for work and play, drawing, writing and mathematics.”

 

 

A computer, Negroponte points out, is the same thing, but far more powerful.

 

 

“Laptops are both a window and a tool, a window into the world and a tool with which to think,” he stated. “They are a wonderful way for all children to learn learning through independent interaction and exploration.”

 

 

Chris Blizzard of Red Hat Inc. served as lead software integrator on the project and doesn’t think One Laptop Per Child would have been possible without the availability of open-source software.

 

 

“If you went to Microsoft and said, ‘We need an operating system for these laptops, one that provides tools for learning and exploration and is geared to kids,’ they would probably say ‘Well, we have Windows. Take it or leave it,’” Blizzard said. “Because of the way free and open-source software works, we’re able to take it, make the changes we need and put it in the hands of kids with the right context and experience attached to it.

 

 

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