India's official response to a project to spread low-cost computers among school students was not too enthusiastic. But that has not stopped techies from seizing the opportunity.
The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) association is a non-profit organisation, created by faculty members of the MIT Media Lab in the US, set up to oversee The Children's Machine project and the construction of the XO-1 "$100 laptop".
The XO-1, previously known as the $100 Laptop or Children's Machine, is an inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to children in developing countries around the world, to provide them with access to knowledge and opportunities to "explore, experiment and express themselves".
The laptops can be sold to governments and issued to children by schools on the basis of one laptop per child. Pricing is currently set to start at $188 and the goal is to reach the $100 mark in 2008.
But such computers are hard to come by here. India rejected an offer to join the initiative, saying "it would be impossible to justify an expenditure of this scale on a debatable scheme when public funds continue to be in inadequate supply for well-established needs listed in different policy documents."
Some weeks ago, Open Source campaigner Venkatesh 'Venky' Hariharan shared his experiences in visiting an OLPC deployment in Khairat, which is around 55 km outside Mumbai. This deployment, the first in India, is supported by the Reliance ADAG , one of the largest industrial groups in India.
"The deployment is two months old and the parents, children and teachers are very enthusiastic about this project," reported "Venky", as he is known in geek circles.
Others wanted to know where they could buy the made-for-children laptop in India. "Would somebody tell me where do I purchase OLPC in India?" asked Nataraj S. Narayan via the online network.
Sayamindu Dasgupta, a young techie known for his contribution to Indian language computing, said: "In Write activity (used by the OLPC computer), split vowel signs (they are found in two major scripts, Bengali and Malayalam) are sometimes being rendered incorrectly."
Meanwhile, the OLPC is also drawing attention in other ways.
Goa, a small state with some early initiatives at taking computing to students and school, saw excitement generated over a low-profile One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) computer in end-January at the Goa Science Centre in Miramar.
Rut Pinto Viegas Jesus, a Copenhagen-based PhD researcher of Goan-Portuguese ancestry, demonstrated a model of the computer while visiting Goa on holiday and a family visit.
OLPC promises to take computing to children in the less-affluent world and espouses five core principles - child ownership; low ages; saturation; connection; and the use of free and open source.