OLPC Lays Off Half Its Staff

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The much-touted One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program has announced it is laying off half its staff and reducing salaries for its remaining employees, blaming the global economic downturn for the restructuring. At the same time, the program is vowing to do more with less, including spinning off the development of the Linux-based Sugar operating system to the OLPC community and working to deploy a $0 laptop for the worlds least developed nations.

The changes leave the OLPC program with 32 people.

“Restructuring brings with it pain for friends and colleagues who are being let go,” wrote OLPC chief Nicholas Negroponte in the official OLPC blog. “These are people who have dedicated themselves to the advancement of a noble cause, and to say that we are exceeding grateful for the time, the ideas, the energy and the commitment they have given OLPC does not—cannot—adequately express our admiration or our gratitude.”

OLPC will refocus the efforts of its remaining employees on developing a second generation of OLPC notebooks, setting up no-cost connectivity programs to get OLPC users and schools online, and an effort to provide “a million digital books.” OLPC also plans to set up a separate support unit for Latin America and focus more sharply on the Middle East, Afghanistan, and northwest Pakistan. OLPC has offered no details on how it’s $0 laptop program might work—although speculation has the cost of the notebooks would be subsidized through grants or sponsorships.

OLPC set out with a mission to create a $100 laptop to introduce modern computing and communications technology to developing nations. More than 500,000 notebooks have been deployed, but the number is far short of OLPC’s initial lofty goals…and the notebook’s price tag remains far higher than the original $100 goal. The project has also been criticized for “hidden” costs associated with OLPC deployment, including everything from physically transporting systems to schools in developing nations to training teachers and support staff to use and maintain the systems.

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