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The OLPC laptop: Cheap at twice the price

The XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project is going on sale: buy two, get one. But it's still a good deal.

The XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project is finally going on sale, with a special deal: buy two, get one. That's "get one," not "get one free." You'll buy two, and you'll only get one. But it's still a good deal because the other one will go to a good cause: children in developing nations.

OLPC XO laptop
The B1 version of the OLPC laptop. Mike McGregor (

Starting November 12, you'll be able to place an order on a new XO Giving Web site. In the meantime, you can sign up there for an e-mail reminder or send a donation to the project.

Once the laptops go on sale, the deal (officially called Give One, Get One; I have to admit that sounds better!) is simple: you'll pay $399, they'll send you an XO laptop, and they'll send a second one to a child somewhere else in the world. Half of your payment will qualify as a tax-deductible charitable contribution. The offer is good only for a limited time and for a limited quantity of machines, but I suspect that if there's a lot of support for this deal, it'll be repeated.

If you're as curious about the XO as I am, or if you just want to help out the project, $399 for a laptop plus a $200 tax deduction is a pretty good deal. But the deal isn't for everyone.

For example, I'd advise readers to think carefully before buying an XO for their own children. Here in the developed world, schools typically build lesson plans around Windows and Mac systems. There's a lot of information about the XO available through the OLPC Web site, but beyond that, you'll largely be on your own for supporting your child.

The ideal customer, I think, will be someone who views the lack of local support as a challenge and a learning opportunity. It's been a long time since there was a commercial computing platform that didn't have a surfeit of support options.

In the days of S-100 systems, the Apple II, Commodore PET and TRS-80 Model 1, most customers had to solve their own problems. This didn't work very well for everyone... but helping each other deal with the lack of factory support is how the first generation of microcomputer hackers got started.

I think the XO could develop a similar sort of community, and kids raised with the XO may well learn more than their PC-using peers. That would be worth a whole lot more than $399.