Everyone one knows the famous adage:

Give a Man a Fish and He Eats for a Day. Give a Man a Fishing Pole and He'll Eat for a Lifetime

In French, we actually have a variant of it, where it's not about giving a fishing pole, but teaching how to fish (this may very well be a by-product of the French bias towards education). Edit: Dan Veditz mentions that the usual version in English is about teaching, too. (That's what I hate about blogging in a foreign language: you always end up lacking precision at some point).

Now we know that in many poor countries, computers and the Internet may be very helpful in improving education and wealth. This has started a few initiatives, in particular the very interesting One Laptop Per Child non-profit association, which is making progress, as Chris Blizzard reports. Basically, the approach here is to have mass-produced, simple and tough PCs (no moving parts, as the hard drive is replaced by Flash memory) running Open-Source software. In this context, Open-Source software enables very wide distribution at no-cost, while users will be able to learn the software, improve it, tailor it to their needs.

Nobody can promise this One Laptop Per Child idea will actually fly, but I certainly love it: it's all about giving software while enabling users to make it their own. In the fishing metaphor, it's like offering the most price-effective fishing pole and teaching them how to fish.

On the other hand, I just have found a competing project, FlexGo:

Under the program, called "FlexGo," a PC running Windows XP with a 17-inch monitor that normally sells for $600 would be sold for between $250 and $350, with 10 hours of usage time included. Pre-paid cards available at stores would buy additional time for about 75 cents per hour, according to Mike Wickstrand, a director in Microsoft's market expansion group. Once time expires, the PC enters a special limited mode, and eventually locks up, unless the user purchases more time.

How smart is this? Instead of teaching a poor man to fish, Microsoft and Intel are just considering leasing him the fishing pole (with a significant upfront payment), which will be compatible only with Intel and Microsoft's expensive bait. Where OLPC sees people they can help, Microsoft and Intel see a lucrative customer, stuck for life with hardware they will never really own.