Project releases specs for ‘ideal’ school laptop

As students and teachers in developing nations await the arrival of former MIT Media Lab Director Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop later this year, a consortium of educators and technology providers has developed a list of specifications it says are essential to building the ultimate one-to-one computing solution for schools in more-developed nations.

Known as Project Inkwell, the group has been working for close to three years on a set of industry standards for hardware and software manufacturers to reference when designing personal computing solutions for schools. Where the majority of laptops purchased by schools today are tailored to the needs of the business world, Inkwell says, schools would do better to invest in solutions built specifically for the classroom.

Though Negroponte’s One Child Per Laptop foundation recently announced that versions of the low-cost, Linux-based device could begin cropping up in U.S. schools as early as next year, Inkwell believes alternative devices aligned to its specifications will more closely match the needs of students in industrialized nations.

Unlike Negroponte’s foundation, which actually oversees the production and distribution of the devices to schools, Project Inkwell isn’t in the business of building computers, explains Inkwell CEO Bruce Wilcox. Instead, Inkwell provides the technical blueprint from which other manufacturers can work.

“Thus, Inkwell’s requirements are brought to market by many companies, some small, others larger, each having an economic incentive to produce high-quality products for schools and who can support, over time, the implementation of these products,” Wilcox said.

It’s quite a market. According to data provided by Inkwell, the market for one-to-one computing technologies in U.S. schools alone exceeds $20 billion.

Called “The Inkwell Function for Student Devices 1.0,” the specs, released in November, reflect feedback from more than a dozen member companies, as well as school officials in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Germany.

Inkwell believes it is the first organization to establish a set of commonly accepted standards for one-to-one devices in schools.

Among its many requirements, Inkwell says devices used in schools should be as lightweight as possible, preferably under four pounds. The group also recommends that schools not purchase devices unless they are small enough to fit inside a student’s backpack or standard school locker for safe storage.

Protective carrying cases are another point of emphasis. Inkwell says all one-to-one devices should come with carrying cases designed to guard against the uncertainty of daily classroom use and travel.

Battery life also is important. For students to get through the typical school day, Inkwell recommends that all one-to-one devices used in schools come with batteries capable of fueling at least four hours of “on time” and that each battery be capable of withstanding at least 300 full discharges and refreshes prior to replacement.

Screen lighting, basic memory, connectivity, and total cost of ownership are just a few of the additional technical issues addressed by Inkwell’s specs. In all, there are 150 items for manufacturers to consider.

The full list of specifications is free to every public K-12 school in the U.S. and also to all Inkwell members. Schools interested in reviewing the specs or joining Inkwell are encouraged to contact the organization.

Inkwell member companies include AMD, AlphaSmart, Averatec, CDW-G, Classlink, Clearwire, DataSlide, EduSmart, EKOS International, Fourier Systems, Gateway, IDEO, Inspiration Software, Library Video Co., Microsoft, National University, Pearson Inc., Promethean, Quality Education Data, Red Hat, Reuters, SimDesk, SMART Technologies, VIA Technologies, and others.

eSchool News Staff

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at