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OLPC: One Laptop per Child project is ODF ready

All too often we fall into the trap of thinking that to effect big changes we must engage and move big markets, big corporations, and big governments.  As an OpenDocument afficionado, believing that ODF is the future, and the world better for it, i'm nevertheless as guilty of bigitis as it gets.  If ODF is the future, than it has to be the future for all of us.  Bigness or littleness not withstanding.

So when i got word that the OLPC project would be shipping ODF ready Laptops to barefoot children in third world countries where access to clean water is a bit more important a daily concern than access to the great infogrid, my sense of bigness was rocked.  That the barefoot billions would have access to world wide information flows and be able to interactively participate in the volumes of mankind's knowledge is an extraordinary event. 

So what does this really mean for the future of ODF?

The uphill battle that ODf faces is based on the hard reality that there are currently 485 million desktop - laptop computers running an MSOffice productivity environment.  This represents near 95% of all desktop - laptop computers.  Because of this, MSOffice applications define how most end users interface with information systems, transaction processing systems, business processes, workflows, and emerging information processing chains.  Document and data information flows which are trapped in the confines of a secret, proprietary binary file format.

The challenge to implementing ODF solutions is further complicated by the incredible volume of MSOffice bound business processes, line of business add-ons, and assistive technology add-ons that represent the day to day business reality for near 485 million end users.  This business reality is similarly trapped by the dual barriers of MS binary file formats and, the binding to MSOffice interfaces.

So here i am trapped by my thinking that i need to find ways for ODF to penetrate and overcome the dual barriers of MSOffice bound business processes.  The dual barriers of first getting MSOffice bound information into ODF, and then getting MSOffice bound  business processes and information system interfaces into ODF ready information processing chains.  All the while thinking that 485 million is "the" big number.  And in the midst of my angst, along comes the OLPC project with it's potentially billions of newly christened barefoot but eager digerati, ODF ready by default.  Problem solved before it even becomes a problem.

It's often been said that ODF enables end users to take ownership of both their information, and, the information processes they depend on.  How big it is that OLPC enables ODF remains to be seen.  For the moment though, that great herd of 485 million, the monopoly base if you will, doesn't look quite so big.  Or quite so impossibly daunting.

About the OLPC Project:

The OLPC project aims to enable billions of global citizens to join an emerging digital civilization.  A golden age of Internet access where universal connectivity, exchange and collaborative computing promise to improve quality of life through access to world wide opportunities. 

The wiki for the One Laptop per Child association explains that "the mission of this non-profit association is to develop a low-cost laptop—the "$100 Laptop"—a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children. Our goal is to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment, and express themselves".

The OLPC Laptops are ODF ready.  A special version of the ODF ready application AbiWord will ship with each OLPC machine.  So when these newly christened digital citizens engage the great opportunities of the information age, they will do so riding the wave of the world's first universal file format, OpenDocument.

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