back to article The OLPC XO laptop

Originally known as the '$100 laptop' from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, the XO laptop is now available through retail. I bought one under the Give One, Get One program where for a $400 donation, OLPC would send one XO to the donator, and another to a child. This is my story of working with it for a couple of weeks …


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  1. Morely Dotes

    Excuse me?

    "Switching the ESSID from 9 to 5"

    Do you mean you changed the wireless channel on the router, or do you in fact have a single-character ESSID? Wouldn't it be a major nuisance to have to reassociate all your wireless devices after changing the ESSID? Or is the XO laptop the only wireless device you have?

  2. Pete
    Thumb Down

    Green toy or real laptop?

    I must admit when the buy one get one scheme was announced I was really tempted to get one (or two) of these laptops to use as a low cost, away from home machine for surfing the web. However after downloading the emulator from the XO website and playing with Sugar (even in a watered down version) I was less than impressed. It has a few nice features, (like the donut and neighborhood view) but it's very basic. It's also not like any computer i've ever used, which begs the question as to how useful it is as an educational tool. I remember Acorn losing out to Wintel in the 1990's because the computers they made were just for education - and learning Word was a lot more useful than learning Acorns' unique Impression dtp program.

    So it's not a 'proper' laptop nor an educationally useful one. What exactly is it's purpose?

    The OLPC people also seem to be missing something: by not making it easily available XO laptops have already popped up on Ebay at massive markup. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of laptops intended for schoolchildren go missing and end up being flogged on ebay. Perhaps they need to rethink their strategy.

  3. Natalie Gritpants Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Wrong age to do the review

    What did your kids think of it? I doubt they'd be bothered by lack of Firefox or MP3 playing.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Green toy or real laptop

    I think you're getting confused, Impression was a DTP package not a word processor, comparing it to Word is pointless. The difference might seem unimportant these days but 20 years they were two separate things.

    As for the usefulness of learning Word, I never quite understood how learning Word at school prepared one for using the completely different beast that is Word at work, 10 years later.

    I'm glad I used an Acorn at school as I gained an understanding of what these separate applications were and how they worked. This is sadly lacking in those forced to use MS software who still don't see the perverseness of running Word as an email client editor while simultaneously whinging about how slow their PC is.

  5. Allan Rutland


    It's a great idealist project, but going out on ideals which ok, look great in fantasy land and on paper maybe one thing. But coming out this abstract and unuseful is going to do nothing but kill the project. Think Intel had the best idea about walking away from it and doing the Classmate. Least that uses proper software....any chance of a review of one of those anytime soon Brian?

  6. Anonymous Coward

    RE: Green toy or real laptop?

    I think it's "purpose" is that a lot of people have failed horribly to realise that by far the most useful technological gadget for people in third-world countries is a mobile phone, and are instead spending a lot of time and money on something which will not, actually, be useful. Sigh.

  7. David Neil
    Paris Hilton

    Interesting review

    Can't help wondering are you comparing apples with oranges?

    This device is not intended (as far as I can see) to replace a bog standard, wintel based laptop, or even an Eepc.

    Try looking at its functionality in terms of it's all you've got - using it as an eBook reader instead of buying textbooks for your class in a rainforest village, showing the concepts behind being able to connect to anywhere in the world.

    I'm not saying it's perfect, or even ideally where I think they could have spent the money - though I can kind of get my head around the idea of planting the seeds of the knowledge sharing power of IT and seeing where it takes them.

    It'd be interesting to give one of these to a 8 year old with no prior IT exposure and see what they make of it.

    Paris, cos she wants one for the beach - the bunny ears are so cute

  8. Anonymous Coward

    v's the other players

    so its got no ethernet but does have wireless and it has tinny sounding speakers - that makes it the same as the macbook air then ;-)

    its got a bigger screen that the EeePC but it doesnt have the same level of very low-level tech - does the OLPC support proper WPA enterprise wireless - or is it just noddy WEP and WPA-PSK (if that?)

    the GeodeLX has a very capable AES crypto engine - is this used to drive any feature? encrypt/protect the HD contents or to communicate to others through the 'shared links and community mesh'?

    the EeePC is very customisable - touch-screen display overlay, bluetooth, 802.11n, more memory - does this OLPC offer such upgrade options?

    the 'twist and swivel' and ebook functionality is brilliant on the OLPC - as is the B&W reflective mode. these are ideal and perfect - i'd give it 4/10 just for those 2 features alone - and let the geodeLX have another 2 points...but i cant see where the

    last 3 points come from for a 9/10

    i also worry about build quality. these thigns are supposed to be used in developing countries - being banged around by kids. if they are failing when used in a more sedate environment - and if you've ordered 500,000 of them you dont want to RMA them(!) - so what hope?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its Been Done

    I did a low-cost desktop for my sister a few years back, an old 100MHz Intel with only 48MB memory. It worked best with FreeBSD 4.11 using the IceWM, Dillo web browser, Spruce mail client, XPaint, XMMS, The GIMP 1.2.7, NEdit, XCDRoast, and DFM. It booted quickly from the old 6GB ATA33 hard disc and was quite usable. XO needs to focus less on developing their own applications and more on improving existing low-resource open source programs. In any case, Fedora Core, which is relatively power hungry compared with something like BSD or DSL wouldn't be my first choice for an OS on a sub-notebook.

  10. Mike

    Maybe a Later Version...

    Based on what I've seen in this review, and based on using the emulator...

    This thing hits the mark on form factor, portability and price. It sounds decent. The software is unusual but innovative. Personally, I'd like to rip out a lot of the stuff, but it does seem novel and I like the out of the box thinking. And no, I could care less that it doesn't run Word.

    The red flag is that the warranty is 30 days. I like the ruggedized feel and everything, but geez. To me a 30 day warranty is a tacit admission that the thing is junk.

    Also, if there was one for $100 more with a better processor that could play videos and compressed audio, that would be the one.

    Also, in the review I didn't see anything about the ebook mode. Does it have a touchscreen? How does that work? Granted it doesn't have an e-Ink, display, but I still think this would make a very handy ebook reader.

  11. Pierre

    @Coward about green toys

    What an insightful comment indeed. So it's useless for teaching as it's not Windows. And in a few years, when the kids will be, say, 20, you'll say that it's useless for them/their companies/governments to get anything else than Windows cause that's what they've been taught to use? How convenient...

    Anyway I think you missed the point. The primary aim may not be to teach them how to use a computer, but to provide a support for "new tech" based teaching tools.

  12. MattCasters
    Paris Hilton

    Moisture, dirt, kids hands, sunlight?

    Stop right there, how much is the Eepc? Looking at the advertisements to the right of this comment it's around 219 GBP or about 400 USD.

    That makes it twice as expensive and for that money it isn't even designed to be used in PC-unfriendly environments. As such, even starting to compare it is completely besides the point.

    I bet you couldn't see a Paris Hilton picture on the Eee in direct sunlight either, even if you wanted to.

  13. Brennan Young


    OK, so there are plenty of nits to pick, and at all levels, but let's keep things in perspective here. This is the first shot at a PC for people who - for the most part - have scarcely ridden in a bus, let alone used a telephone.

    I'm also very skeptical about the idea that a cheap laptop will transform the third world, but OLPC is not the only game in town which has that goal, neither is it an either/or situation. OLPC may well be part of a cluster of initiatives which can pull African (and other extremely poor) countries out of their current miserable conditions.

    I'm convinced that the internet has had a positive effect on global politics, not least because grass-roots movements are finally able to organise internationally, and escape centralised power. Dictators can no longer hide behind the smokescreens created by western news editors. Would we even have taken the Monks' protest in Burma seriously if we had had only newspapers, tv and radio? As the most 'underdeveloped' continent in the world, Africa has a lot to gain by getting 'online'.

    This could be *part* of something really big, a few years down the line. Let's get away from the quick-fix ideology that western culture has fed us with, and think a bit longer term.

    Is it really reasonable to expect they'll get every detail right first time round. Let's cut the project some slack, and stop comparing it with sub-notebooks intended for the developed world.

    I quickly accept there are flaws in the design, and in the choice of software (they should have chosen Squeak!) but think evolution, think next iteration. I am quite certain that whatever the OLPC eventually becomes will be something quite different from the likes of the Asus ee.

    Readers of the Register are categorically NOT the target market, so our opinions must necessarily have limited value. We know we're smart, but we're not omniscient. It's the users, ultimately, that will shape this product. I don't mean western geeks that buy an OLPC on ebay, I mean kids from Nairobi, Johannesburg or Haiti, and their schoolteachers.

    I was interested to see mention of the Acorn platform. I cut my teeth on a BBC Micro, and can vividly remember the day someone came up with a speech synthesiser in pure software, running in 32k of RAM. Something which I am sure the Acorn engineers never even dreamed was possible. I think we need to expect that people will push this machine to the limits we think it has, and far beyond. There are smart people everywhere, even in the third world.

    So let's let OLPC go through a few iterations, let them have time to respond to their own users' feedback. It might have a lot of flaws here and now, but it's based on open source software, which means it has the potential to change very fast, without waiting for some board of directors in Seattle or Silicon Valley to decide on a convenient launch date.

    I believe the OLPC could go on to become a very interesting device.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the field

    The other night the bbc covered the OLPC and Intels offerings in the field so to speak. The OLPCs have been having issues with the keyboards it seemed, but they were fixed on site, infact, one of the more enthusiastic children was covered replacing a class mates keyboard.

    While the classmate does seem to be alot nicer technology wise, they arent allowed to take the laptops home with them. Whereas the OLPCs can be taken home to learn in their spare time, and to generally enjoy. Intel also seemed to have pumped alot of cash into their trial to do up the school buildings and such.

    Side by side I think it would be hard to compare the two laptops due to the different idiology behind them. OLPC is about giving the laptop to the child, and using them for education, where the classmate is exactly as it sounds, a tool in the classroom.

    However it does seem to be becomming a bit of a mute point, with the government changing its tune on backing either project.

  15. Silo Spen

    @Wrong age to do the review

    Are you having a laugh?!

    I was unaware that kids did anything with computers *apart* from browsing the net and multimedia related stuff.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    scarcely ridden in a bus

    @Brennan Young - "This is the first shot at a PC for people who - for the most part - have scarcely ridden in a bus"

    Sorry pal, this is for kids in the developing world, not Americans!

  17. Brian Miller

    Bought one, disappointed

    I honestly thought that a machine aimed at education would actually be, er, aimed at education. It really is more like an e-book reader with some clever games. There is no actual educational software on the machine. Yes, it connects to the net and you can surf. Whoopee.

    I had to read the instructions on how to open the machine, too. Using the antennas as a latch is clever, though.

    Its easy to compare the OLPC and Classmate laptops, though. Neither of them have the software that's needed in the classroom, so both of them are toys.

  18. Not That Andrew

    Let me repeat myself

    Spending $200+ each on computers that will just get sold, stolen or broken is an outrageous waste of precious resources. If you had that monety in the first place, it would far better spent on basic supplies. Even at the outrageously inflated prices of textbooks in the 3rd World you could buy a hell of a lot of them if you had $200+ for every kid in the school. Hell, school maintainance and teacher training would be a better bet.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    An Education Project - to share

    Can't review just one! I bought four, for my niece and nephew, and two third-world children. I did read the one little piece of paper in the box, so could open it, and boot it. Then I got stuck; it is not like a Windows/Mac experience. So, I read the instructions, and was amazed! Each application is explained in a couple sentences. There is no right-clicking, alt-option-shift nonsense. It is simple and highly orthogonal. My four-year old niece got it immediately, and could figure out new applications on her own. We did not go into the python and squeak programming, or instrument synthesis, but as she is just learning to read and write, she was typing in the editor, and drawing, and making music in the sequencer, and recording photos and videos, and so was her brother. And they could do so together; just click to share this application, and write together, draw together, make music together - learn together!

  20. John DeBay

    I own one. And yes, it is for kids... BUT.

    I have been using the XO for almost a month. And this is what I have done with it.

    I have installed Xfce4 for it and most of the plug-ins and with dual boot. I use Xfce4 file manager, also have mc installed too.

    * Installed mplayer, for avi files, and it works great.

    * xmms, for mp3 files, works good. Sound is not like on my desktop, but in the bedroom late at night it fine.

    * Firefox full version and Macromedia Flash for surfing...

    * Wifi is powerful.

    I was driving to my sister's, my son was checking out the network connects as we drove along the roads. (Some networks were not locked).

    I have been using yum (for red hat linux) to install software.

    My aforementioned son, a college student, enjoys to play simcity and doom on it.

    People who see it like it. Remember that this is for kids.

    Screen is outstanding for XO's size.

    Yes, it cost $400, but that was for two. One went to a child...

    The bottom line, this will help drive down cost on all laptops.

  21. wim

    @ Brian Miller

    I had to read the instructions on how to open the machine, too. Using the antennas as a latch is clever, though.

    I am sorry but isn't this part of "eduction" ? Reading things maybe be an outmoded way of gaining knowledge but it still works.

    Also the XO did not behave as YOU expected (you as in a first worlder with previous laptop experiences) where the intended users will work it out. Maybe in 10 years from now they can not understand how they have to open a commercial laptop as they can not find the antenna/latch.

    I would like to get my hands on one to test but they are not available here and I am not going to buy one of Ebay.

    I believe it is a good educational tool since it will allow the smart students to modify the software once they are advanced enough. Yes it doesn't teach the students how to use Word but then again I don't feel that my time spent on formatting text in word 2000 is valuable now.

    The only thing that it thought me is that I know more or less what an editor / word processor is able to do and you can learn that with every editor.

    I don't understand the whole word fixation from people. If you learn SQL using Oracle it is not so difficult to switch to MySQL or SQLserver. The syntax will be different at some points but the basic knowledge about databases will be usefull on all systems.

  22. Nicolas Charbonnier

    Mplayer for multimedia

    Just type in some stuff in the terminal and it will install Mplayer. That one plays AVi, mpg, mp3 and even plays full screen flash videos smoothly.

    Point it is illegal for OLPC to ship the laptop with Mplayer pre-installed. So only codecs preinstalled are Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis. And all educationnal video and audio materials will be available to the children in those formats.

    If you want to use copyrighted codecs such as Mpeg4 or Mp3, you need to install third party apps manually.

    As for demanding it ship with Firefox is a wrong idea. Firefox is very bloated, requires a lot of CPU and Ram to run. So instead they slimmed down firefox to make it work smoothly on this hardware. They can improve it to make it perform more like Opera. But truth is Opera is the best right now. But Opera is a proprietary software even though it is free, so the OLPC cannot ship Opera pre-installed on the laptops. But you can install it as a third party app by just typing a little thing in the terminal.

    Sure I guess they could provide a GUI for installing third party apps somehow, to make the installing of stuff like Opera, Flash and Mplayer easier for the children if they want to use those instead.

    Truth is also Adobe needs to provide a better optimized Flash player for the XO for flash streaming such as from Youtube would become smoother. Truth is no one can optimize Flash for it other then Adobe themselves cause Flash is a proprietary technology. So someone should get Adobe to move their butt and provide OLPC with a better optimized Flash software.

    As for battery life, you need to make a test in black and white sunlight readable mode. The laptop is meant to work 10-20 hours in that mode, and that is the main advantage of this laptop compared to power hungry alternatives.

  23. Steve

    @ Let me repeat myself

    Textbooks get out of date and are heavy to carry around. This device let's them access all that same information in a smaller, easier to use package. You will also not find one child whose been given one of these who would give it up for a new coat of paint on the walls. You'll also find that dirt poor African farmers are a lot more willing to pitch in and do maintence work at the school for free if they think it will help get their kids out of poverty.

    Someone complained about the lack of educational software. I suggest you look at how education actually works. They have teachers to educate them, not software. This device allows them to access information, record what they are learning and share that with other pupils.

    Having worked in education - the classroom, not the IT department - I think these things are great. Someone has obviously spent a lot of time looking at how these will be used by the kids for whom they are actually intended. It's multimedia functionality is not designed for any of us. It's designed for the kid who wants to send simple communications between other users of the XO. When kids have internet access at the school, it becomes a low budget video phone and allows distant schools to collaborate and share information.

    The SD slot is hard to access. Guess what - there aren't that many SD cards in African villages. The SD card will not be used to transfer the photos from your swanky digital camera, it will be a storage expansion for the XO itself and so doesn't need to be quickly and easily accessible.

  24. Mark

    several points

    Totem/MP3: The GPL requires that you only distribute if you allow the receiver to distribute. Etoys isn't GPL, I would reckon so the MP3 playback isn't being encouraged to be distributed without a license to the patent. Totem requires that the distributor breaks the license. Remember, RH didn't include MP3 playback in the UK etc because it would be illegal in the US to do so.

    30 days warranty: it would cost as much as a new one to return from Niger to the US a laptop and back again. These are meant to be locally sourced (which may be why Intel were discounted: the Geode is licensed so that any country can build a fab and at the moment the only device that can't be made and customised by the receiving country is the wireless driver but they are working on GPLing it). Warranty isn't really needed when the locals are fixing it: they just keep it working.

    Textbooks: You have to remember how much it will cost to mail $200 of textbooks (though the number of books you can get is getting less and less!). You also have to send updates. The XO can get updates from a van that has a station and newer books installed on an attached hrddrive that passes through. If other XOs are off, when they boot up, they'll see an XO with newer books and download from it. This is why they used Mesh rather than WiMAX (and I think Intel joined solely so they could persuade XO to use it)

    Making a second-hand PC: This only works when you've got clean power to run 200W, shelter to stop dust and water getting in the case and a desk to sit it on. To give to a charity, library or other static place you can use a PC. When you have to give it to people without reliable power where they'll get more from it by carrying it around and where at home they don't have anything otherthan the dirty ground to put the computer on, the XO beats it. It handily beats the classmate, which is more a cheap laptop than an XO replacement. Boots and wellies can be interchanged, but you wouldn't walk the fells in wellies (you could) and you wouldn't do the gardening in your boots (you could). Intel SHOULD be marketing this in poor first-world scenarios not trying to edge out a "competitor" in the market it isn't suitable for.

    WPA: Requires more power and doesn't do much for you if all you have to protect is your homework. Again, the classmate may be better but it would be protecting the kids from abusing the network by creating a VPN that they can't get out of.

    Software: Great you're reporting them. Bad that they are happening. Good it's GPL and will be fixed by the people when they want to get a fix and not when OLPC organisation can get around to it.

  25. The Other Steve


    Clean water, medicine, doctors, food, decent infrastructure, pencils, paper, calculators,, textbooks, teachers.

    All cost money. Money, which in the most part is lent or donated by developed nations. Money which is then given straight back to the developed world via the purchase of OLPC units.

    These important things are being sacrificed to the ideology of some bunch of space cadets who still, despite all the evidence to the contrary, believe that "wiring the world" will somehow make everything much better. Fail.

    @Cheerleaders :

    Textbooks go out of date ? Maybe your 1000 page .NET doorstop does, but the fundamentals don't change. Basic math and physics haven't changed much. Calculus is still calculus. And even tech wise, my copies of Knuth, Aho and Deitel are still just as useful as when they were first printed. And they don't need electricity and a functioning AP to remain useful.

    We should forgive the system having bugs ? No. Not the kind of bugs that show up so easily. The kind of bugs that suggest a "Hey it compiles! Lets ship it!" attitude to quality control. Not when we expect poor nations to sacrifice their limited resources to shore up this misguided clusterfuck. Not when they then have to channel more of those resources in a no doubt never ending spiral of support issues.

    It should just have worked. It doesn't. Fail.

    Ignoring things like standard file system and storage metaphors in favour of some poorly thought out "visionary" GUI just goes to show that this project has never been about anything other than Negroponte and his fellow space cadets' egos.

    Here's hoping the project dies soon, and developing nations are able to actually develop instead of being browbeaten into buying useless plastic tat from us. We should be truly ashamed that this has happened at all.

  26. SpitefulGOD
    Gates Halo

    Replace with Firefox???

    I pressume the reason they have their own browser is to keep the OS safe and stop the kids surfing the porn. Firefox would only lead to support calls and reformatted machines.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    @The Other Steve

    How do you know what the developing nations need? You appear to have the same uppity attitude that most Westerners display when it comes to developing nations.

    Negroponte has been there, checked it out, and designed something that can be understood by those who have a rudimentary grasp on English (if that).

    It's a good start, especially when some people in developing nations earn $150 a YEAR, if not less and have to feed a family of 10 on that.

  28. Anonymous Coward


    Surely one of the better ideas in the world would be to recycle old machines from the developed world? I mean how hard would it be to refurb old computers, stick a diet flavor of Linux on them (so as not to need a tonne of power) and then develop educational programs from there?

    Ok the laptops can be brought home, but the added advantage of this is questionable. The odds are the machines are a)safer and b) better utilized in the schools. It would also allow the communities to invest heavily in their schools and turn them into more of a community center, where adults too can get to grips with the world of computers. For instance, i have just been involved in a tech refresh of a couple of govt departments. A couple of hundred machines have been removed and will most likely be destroyed. Those machines could be rebuilt for use in one of these communities and instantly fill a school or community centre. I'm sure that would be significantly cheaper than this project. The beauty of this too is that all the computers are identical as are all the laptops. So it makes it easier to rebuild the machines.

  29. John

    promising, but disappointing so far

    Once the hardware bugs are mostly ironed out and the software is more usuable this could be great. It's designed to be maintainable, not throwaway, like the majority of laptops and the UI has some great out of the box ideas. Since it is linux underneath, all those kids should soon be hacking it and learning about computers properly.

    On another point, I was under the impression the OLPC was for countries like Brazil where there is huge poverty, but the country is not a basket case. i.e. the country is at the stage where the people can feed themselves, but needs a quick improvement in education and can't afford traditional computers.

  30. Not That Andrew

    @ Anon Coward

    I imagine that The Other Steve knows what developing countries need, because (like me) he has actually _lived_ in a 3rd world country, not been airlifted in to glad-hand a few politicos and NGO leaders with their heads up each others arses and hands in each others pockets.

    I am glad you brought up the point of families lives off $150 a year. What do you think is going to happen if you give one of thier kids a $200 computer? That computer will probably get sold to buy food, medicine and clothes.

    We really need a Negroponte in a dunce cap icon.

  31. David
    Paris Hilton

    Cannot decode an mp3

    This machine has a Geode LX-700 (whatever that is) from AMD running at 433MHz, with 256MB Ram and a 1GB built-in Flash drive.

    I used to play quake 3 arena on a k62-400 / voodoo 3 / 256 MB over dial-up.

    Seriously saying a machine of the above spec cannot decode an mp3 out of the box. 4 words. Not fit for purpose.

    This machine sounds like rubbish. $200 or not. Then again the best education comes from fixing things that are broken. IMO

  32. Sam

    OLPC review is spot on

    Having had the use of one for a week, I'd say this review was really fair.

    I gave the OLPC to my 7 year old for the night and he used the oscilloscope, the music tool, the programming GUI and the etoys.

    He was very frustrated that he couldn't save his work. He expects to be able to do that and more importantly come back to it another day. We found it hard to make any stored favourites last until the next session.

    I would also agree that video is important in education and sharing information in commuties. Many OLPC candidate countries have access to mobile phones and can take video's of say how to build a well. Not being able to reliably replay that on the OLPC could be disappointing. Not to mention being denied access to the video material being provided in terms of lecture slides (youTube in particular).

    However, I do wonder how a person would get on with it if they were not computer literate.

  33. Sam


    The main problem with older western machines is a lack of supported software, they tend to be power hungry - the olpc has a wind up charger and they are fragile.

    I do think this project has a lot going for it. Sort out the little niggles and it's got real benefit. I was impressed with the included software from an educational point of view.

  34. A J Stiles

    Lot of point-missing going on

    A lot of people are missing the point.

    Firstly, the OLPC is meant for kids who *already* have access to clean water and edible food.

    Secondly, just because this thing has a keyboard, an LCD screen and an 80x86-type processor in it, does not mean it's meant to be anything like a Windows PC.

    For many kids, it will be the first computer they ever encountered. They won't have been preconditioned to expect the Windows user interface or hierarchical file structures.

    Thirdly, it's very subversive culturally. All the software is Open Source, much of it interpreted; and the user is positively encouraged to exercise Freedoms One (experiment) and Three (share the results). One can imagine why the likes of Microsoft are so keen to disparage this; for their entire business model revolves around denying people the exercise of these basic Freedoms and convincing them that sharing is stealing.

    All too often, the stated aim of "teaching someone to fish" is merely a smokescreen for the *real* intention: to sell them proprietary bait and tackle for life. The Developing World must be allowed to create its own software industry, in order to break its dependence on the West.

    Fourthly, reusing old machines is a noble goal in and of itself, and certainly worth practising, but it is not really the aim of this project. OLPC is designed specifically to have very low power consumption, meaning it can be used in areas where electricity is not available, or is only available on a temporary basis. "Used" PCs would be better deployed in situations where a reliable electrical and internet connection is known to be available.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We should be ashamed

    @Sigh, by The Other Steve:

    ...We should be truly ashamed that this has happened at all.

    Indeed we should. I wish I had the eloquence and the courage to write this. And, unlike most of the contributors here, I *am* from the part of the world where these are to be deployed.


  36. Steven Hewittt

    Not impressed

    To be honest, the hardware seems OK - granted. But the software looks awful. I'm not a big fan of OSS generally, but surely it would make sense to take something like FreeBSD or a Debian distro, give it a throughly good overhaul and implement that. Give the kids the freedom to play - get yum for updates or some other RPM manager so kids can install other apps. The journal is the worst thing I have seen in my life. 10 years or more, no business (western or developing) will ever use anything like that - why try it?

    Keep the hardware, redo the software. Then maybe it will be of use.

  37. Brian Sherwood Jones
    Paris Hilton

    How did you get them in the UK?

    I presume you needed to get them shipped to a US address? Not seen any signs of delivery straight to the UK yet.

    Yes, a lot of point-missing going on above; a sensible test would be a bunch of children working together e.g. on a squeak project.

    A serious review of its innovative approach to security would be of interest.

  38. Valan Chan

    Thank goodness it is useless

    I am sure that one of the main objectives was to create a useful educational tool that was useless outside the prime educational field. From the comments here I think they have succeeded. Those who buy it off of eBay will hopefully find a useless toy and those that would steal it find that it is not worth repeating the action.

    Maybe as a tool its sole use is as an aid to create content and as an aid to communication in a very specific manner. Like a tape measure it is useless doing anything else.

    As a teacher I would agree that these are just as important. The kids will always make up their own stuff.

  39. Rafael

    Why not simply set the money on fire?

    "On another point, I was under the impression the OLPC was for countries like Brazil where there is huge poverty, but the country is not a basket case"

    I am not a MIT super visionary - I am just a brazilian who used to teach programming languages in college, until I gave up completely on trying to teach 18-25 year old students who were clearly not interested in "computers as tools for learning" but in "computers as tools for gaming and orkut".

    My personal point of view is that the OLPC effort will be useless, regardless of the usability of the software, it is a tech toy that will be sold for money for food or drugs, will have no support at all from the government who bought them ("our work is done!") and will be totally meaningless in remote communities.

    Our worst problem *is* education, but tackling it requires changes in basic education, better salaries for K-12 professors, better schools. I couldn't find a single word on how the teachers and students will be trained to use the colorful new toys. Who'll do it -- are the toys really that intuitive?

  40. jansen

    Rafael, the XO is primarily aimed at children, not so much at (presumably) spoiled teenagers and young adults.

    As for how the XOs are actually being used, and how the teachers are being involved, you should have a good look at the OLPC wiki. One of the "success stories":

  41. Andre Caldas



    I'm Brazilian, too. You seem to ignore the fact that there are many Brazils... besides the Brazil you live in, there is a Brazil where people don't have electricity. There is a Brazil where people value community, culture and education, where children travel a lot just to go to school.

    Having a computer does not imply it will be used in some "wrong way". Basically you are saying it's not worth doing anything since students are inherently bad.

    Brazil needs a lot of work in education, I know. But if you say "quilombolas" (former communities of slaves who had escaped), "indios" (native), "favelados" (people who live in "favelas": do not deserve/need to have access to information/technology, then you remind me of that song "a gente não quer só comida, a gente quer comida, diversão, balé" - "we (people) don't want just food, we want food, entertainment, ballet".

    Inclusão digital (reducing the digital-divide) is an important theme nowadays. There is a big difference between giving tools, imposing constraints on how it should be used, when it should be used and who is the authority that decides what should be done with it, and how it is supposed to be kept, reminding the user, every time that what s/he receives, s/he receives as a "favour"; and allow the person to have full ability to exercise its creativity and its citizenship (not a favour, a right). This has implications on how the individual sees itself and its community.

    Inclusão digital is a kind of "inclusão social" (reducing the social-divide). Then maybe we will have people with conscience, able to take political decisions instead of repeating the values of their dominant class. It's not just about teaching computing to children (so, I don't think your experience applies here). It is a tool for citizenship.

  42. Mark
    Dead Vulture

    Re: We should be ahsamed

    Soif you really ARE from a country where the XO is meant for,why the feck should you be saynig "we"???

    Ooh, yeah. I loce the smell of fresh MS astroturf in the morning...

  43. xjy

    Politics not technology

    Supplying technology like this is a charity solution. The problems facing the people in exploited countries are political, and can't be solved by charity. However, the impact of any useful technology, however it's acquired - like pens and paper, or literacy - in a fertile political setting can be explosive. Brazil is a perfect example of this, with excellent theory and even some practice in place for getting the most out of the desire of poor people to empower themselves. Like Freire's work.

    Like China, Brazil could easily design and manufacture its own solutions to technological challenges. But to do this it would need to throw out the multinational leeches (who try and threaten workers in Sao Paulo with "outsourcing" their jobs to the poor north-east of the same country), and repudiate its fake debts to the imperialist banks. While Lula is president this won't happen, and Brazil will just be another India. Damn it all, haircuts cost you more in Sao Paulo than they do in f**king Epsom.

    The Amazon isn't a puddle in the street, but charity would like us to see the problem of international poverty in that way. Fortunately the people on the sharp end of imperialist gouging are more realistic about charity than those of us in the first world who just get ground down by the blunt end.

  44. Rafael


    I maintain the effort is *useless* without proper support -- training, maintenance, reposition, content creation in Portuguese -- do you trust our government to do it? Without it how is it going to reduce the digital divide?

    It is just yet another waste of money from a government that likes to be seen doing things.

    xjy got it right -- solving illiteracy is way more important. Ability to learn and use knowledge is a far more effective tool for citizenship than a shiny nifty probably-unsupported toy.

  45. ROC

    Read the "Case Study" of Arahuay Before Opinionating

    As posted by "Jansen":

    I find it impressive in detailing the XO's impact, but it also highlights the importance of structural preparation and support within the country receiving the XO's. There has to be some kind of educational infrastructure and context in which to integrate the XO. These machines cannot just be "thrown" at the students in hopes something magical will happen - it does take supporting effort, and it seems Peru is making that effort, as well as providing valuable feedback to OLPC to improve the XO, which it seems to have taken seriously.

    My wife teaches first grade at a North Carolina inner-city school, and had her eyes opened a bit as to what "underprivleged" means in a non-American context. She has kids on welfare with no parental interest (or often even presence) who would be considered "wealthy" by the Peruvian kids who have received XO's with a great deal of gratitude and keen interest.

    I doubt a number of her students would be nearly as appreciative or motivated by an XO because they have been spoiled by ready access to technology for purely entertainment purposes even if they don't have decent housing/clothing/medical care/etc by (US "standards"). It is all a matter of context.

    We have ordered an XO with the "Give One, Get One" program to see if it could be of use in her context. I can provide the Linux support, and she uses Mint Linux at home on an almost constant basis (strictly as a "Gnome end-user" ;-), so it should be "interesting".

    Think outside the box, but focus on the objective here of bringing the enabling technology to those who have not had any such exposure before. The Arahuay example is very instructive in how much can be accomplished when done right. It remains to be seen how sustainable the effort is, and how well it can be replicated in other locales. It needs CONSTRUCTIVE criticism to succeed, and not just nay-saying based on pre-conceived notions.


  46. storng.bare.durid

    Eee PC FTW.

    Maybe what they should do is ruggedize/childproof a low end EEE PC instead, or just rework the installed software. As much as I dislike the fact the EEE PC base 'nix is Xandros, it does work quite well.

    It sounds like the bundled software on this OLPC is far from ideal.

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