A lot of thought went into this project: Energy saving components, so that the laptop can run for a long time on a single charge (there is even a hand-crank of sorts that allows recharging if no electricity is available). It has an LED display that also provides an 'e-paper' mode of operation so that it is readable in broad daylight. Those two features alone would be useful in any laptop, I would imagine.
But specifically for the type of environments that it will have to work in, the OLPC laptop also sports a rugged and dust resistant design and a meshed networking arcitecture. OLPC laptops in close proximity will 'find' each other and automatically form this meshed network, allowing a whole class of students to share a single Internet connection.
What's really exciting is the use of open source everywhere. The base OS is RedHat, and lots of user software was written in Python. The graphical interface is quite innovative (very different than anything we know from Windows or current Linux or Mac desktops) and actually also quite nice. A bunch of software is included, which can be useful for learning and working on smaller tasks. Games, painting, music, an e-book reader, calculator, word processor, web browser, etc. I downloaded the ISO for it a while back and ran it under VirtualBox. Very different, and quite nice, actually.
There are people who say that many developing nations need clean water (and similar essentials) more than cheap laptops. It's difficult to argue against that point of view if people's crops are dying and they get sick from contaminated water. I think, though, that OLPC is not yet aimed at those countries in particular. I think it is most useful in countries that have managed to overcome at least those problems, but which are still a technological backwaters, and which can benefit greatly from a young generation that is familiar with information technology and equipped to bridge the digital divide.
Other related posts:
UK government supports open source
25 open source projects for software development
Dabbling in OpenSolaris
Comment by BlueToothKiwi, on 9-Nov-2007 08:39
Thanks for the post. I actually have a lot of admiration for the man behind the One Laptop per Child project, Nicholas Negroponte.
Negroponte also founded the MIT Media Lab - which in collaboration with LEGO, produced the LEGO MINDSTORMS kit - which you can find out more on my blog .
What is interesting about Negroponte, is that he is now putting what he had learnt from the LEGO MINDSTORM project, and the OLPC project you mentioned above, to come up with a cut down version of the MINDSTRORMS type kit for the children of the poorer countriess. Details are sketchy - but I heard that software works on the OLPC devices which are Linux based.
Here is the link to a press release that got leaked yesterday. More to come on my blogs.