Colombia Signs up for OLPC Laptops With Windows

Colombia will become the second country to use the One Laptop Per Child Project's (OLPC) XO laptops running Microsoft Windows XP in schools after signing an agreement for pilot programs in two towns, Microsoft said late Monday.

Schools in the towns of Quetame and Chia will be outfitted with the small green XO laptops developed by the OLPC. The pilot programs are expected to expand over time.

Microsoft and OLPC will donate the XO laptops and work with teachers on how to use them in schools. The groups did not say how many laptops would be handed out as part of the trial nor when it would start.

With the agreement, Colombia became second behind only Peru to adopt XO laptops with Windows XP in schools. Microsoft and OLPC worked together to tweak the OS and OLPC laptops to use the Microsoft software. Prior to their work, which was announced in May, the hardware on the XO could not handle the OS.

The Colombia pilot programs are an effort to introduce more technology into schools and prepare kids for high tech jobs in the future. OLPC started as an effort to develop a low-cost US$100 laptop to distribute in developing nations to help maker sure kids and other people aren't left out of the computing revolution.

Installing Microsoft software in OLPC's laptops has been controversial. OLPC started out offering Linux on the devices because the OS costs nothing and organizers believed it made the device run more efficiently. Some open-source software advocates hoped the XO would spread the use of Linux and the open source philosophy to the 5 billion people living without computers in the developing world.

Microsoft hopes to capture these 5 billion people for its future market potential.

The decision to put Windows on the laptops came about because officials in some countries feared a non-Windows laptop would ill prepare students for the real world, in which Microsoft software dominates. OLPC ultimately decided to ignore the controversy and follow its mission of delivering laptops to kids in developing nations, no matter which OS countries ask for.

The group now offers XO laptops with either Linux or Windows XP.

Last month, OLPC announced that several towns in Colombia were in the process of buying or deploying its XO laptops, most of which use a Red Hat Fedora Linux OS core customized by OLPC and a graphical user interface aimed at kids called Sugar.

An initial 20,000 laptops will be handed out at schools in the capital, Bogota, thanks to several Colombian foundations and private donors. Another 90,000 laptops will be deployed in Cartagena.

Around 1,000 XO laptops have been earmarked for schools in regions where the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Army of Colombia) rebel group remains active. The hope is kids become more interested in computers than joining the rebels, though the organization Human Rights Watch notes that many kids in the area are forced into the group and shot if they try to leave.

The XO is already being used in the Marina Orth School in a poor neighborhood in Medellin, birthplace and former home to famed drug lord Pablo Escobar.

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