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Children’s XO Reviews on OLPC News

August 22nd, 2007 Benjamin Horst

The site OLPC News has been fairly critical of the OLPC project, but often in a constructive way. And it has been a regular and detailed source of news on the project for a very long time now.

Recently, OLPC News posted a collection of links titled . They cover the experiences of several kids (in the USA) first introduced to the XO and asked to play with it or learn from it without any formal explanation of its workings.

In the conditions in which it was tested, the XO did very well. The kids figured it out and accomplished their tasks and seemed to enjoy working with the machine.

OLPC News asks some followup questions that are not yet answered, focusing on whether kids in developing countries, who have far less experience with computers and electronics, will also pick it up with the same ease. Currently, this is unknown, but we should see some test results from Nigeria fairly soon.

“Bug” In the Spotlight

August 15th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Last night New York City startup Bug Labs hosted an introductory meetup at Punch Restaurant‘s upstairs Wined Up bar.

Bug Labs founder Peter Semmelhack describes the company thus: “Bug Labs is developing BUG, an open, modular, consumer electronics web services + hardware platform. Designed for the general audience, not just the technically inclined, Bug seeks to bring to the world of hardware gadgets what the Internet, open source, XML and web services have brought to the world of software and media.”

Most of the online action is on the company blog, but last night Bug Labs showed its hardware publicly for the first time. Its product is a modular, Lego-like collection of hardware components and software infrastructure that you can attach together to dynamically build specialty devices to service the long tail of product users’ needs.

Marketing chief Jeremy showed off three circuit boards plugged together, in size and shape totaling about the same as a video iPod. The base board contained the primary Bug device, while the other two, each half the length of the first, were an accelerometer/motion detector and a camera, respectively. Plugged together in this configuration, Jeremy held in his hand a security monitoring system.

When product launch occurs in the fall, many other modules will be available, including GPS, cell phone, LCD screens, keyboard and more. Bug Labs will target hackers and hobbyists first, and then when a collection of third-party applications have added consumer value to the product ecosystem, they’ll be able to make sales to normal consumers too.

With a few other organizations making moves into the world of open source or modular hardware, including OpenMoko, the OLPC, Drobo, and (sort of) the Nokia Maemo platform, it looks like a new, dynamic and fascinating market segment could be on its way to emergence. Let’s hope it brings the enormous benefits of open source communities to the hardware world that FOSS has brought to software already!

BBC Overview of OLPC XO

July 27th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

The BBC summarizes the OLPC project and its now-finalized XO hardware.

Very unique constraints have led to unprecedented design ideas. However, I think many of these ideas will be proven by the XO and then adopted by more mainstream computing devices.

Among those ideas: “To ensure the laptop is robust and can be maintained as easily as possible it omits all moving parts. It has no hard drive, CD or DVD drive. As it also packs a low power processor it has no cooling fans… Instead of a large hard drive the laptop has 1GB of flash memory, similar to that used in some digital cameras.”

For energy efficiency, components can be shut off while other parts of the computer remain active: “The off-the-shelf processor is designed to be energy efficient. Unlike a standard chip, which remains active even when nothing changes on screen, the AMD processor is able to shut itself down, only waking when it is needed… To conserve as much battery power as possible the wi-fi adapter can operate even when the main processor is switched off or asleep.”

Other clever features include its custom Linux-based OS, screen that can switch to black-and-white mode for readability in daylight, human-generated power options, and replaceable keyboard to accommodate many language layouts.

Also take a look at some of the stress testing currently underway to ensure the XOs can withstand real-world conditions.

Introducing the £100 Laptop!

June 13th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

A new period of innovation is opening in the world of mobile computing, possibly inspired from ideas boldly implemented by the One Laptop per Child project, and diffusing across the commercial world from there.

In this vein, PC Pro announces the introduction of Asus’ £100 laptop:

“The notebook measures roughly 120 x 100 x 30mm (WDH) and weighs only 900g. We saw the notebook boot in 15 seconds from its solid-state hard disk. The huge auditorium then burst into applause as Shih revealed the astounding price tag. Dubbed the 3ePC, Shih claimed the notebook is the ‘lowest cost and easiest PC to use’. As the crowds rushed the stage, we sneaked off to the Asus stand to take a closer look.

The notebook uses a custom-written Linux operating system, much like the OLPC, though unlike the OLPC, Asus has chosen a more conventional interface. The desktop looked fairly similar to Windows and we saw Firefox running on one 3ePC. A spokesperson from Asus told us that the notebook would come with “an office suite that’s compatible with MS Office”, though he refused to confirm or deny whether that meant OpenOffice.”

Flash-based hard disks are probably going to become standard in a new breed of subnotebooks like this. As will Linux-based operating systems and open source desktop software stacks. Many new uses will be devised for this form factor, and probably an entirely new market will come into existence. Freedom from proprietary software is a strong contributing factor behind this wave of creativity.

OLPC at South Africa’s Digital Freedom Expo

May 8th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Morgan Collett, an Ubuntu specialist from South Africa, has posted his impressions of the OLPC XO, which he helped to demo at South Africa’s Digital Freedom Expo.

The hardware design must have been very well received, as Collett was asked whether it had been made by Apple! The videocamera really impressed the crowd (as it has impressed those students around the world who are currently testing units), and the software part of the user interface also seems to be very good.

Collett covers a few points regarding user interface innovations in the XO:

  • There are no menus. Functionality is generally implied pictorially by icons. The icons are culture-neutral to some extent – for example the camera is denoted by an eye, rather than a lens or picture of a camera.
  • There is no “save.” Work is saved on the fly, and can be accessed by a Journal activity. This means there is no worry about “where” you saved something or whether you remembered to save it at all. Tagging is implemented in the Journal to aid categorizing and finding things.
  • There is no “open.” You can resume an activity from the Journal, which acts like a type of version control, so you can go back in time and resume earlier versions of whatever you are working on.
  • While Internet is not assumed, the mesh network is always in operation. Most activities can be shared with the child’s group of friends, classmates, or others in the area. Most content, such as pictures, audio or video can be shared.

XOs in Nepal and Brazil

April 19th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

The OLPC XO machine is starting to reach more test sites including one in Nepal and another in Brazil.

A team of OLPC volunteers traveled 9 hours by bus to the village of Jiri, Nepal, to demo 4 XOs to a group of school kids there. The demonstration went extremely well:

“For many children the first response was “what is that green box?”. Rather than an explanation, a simple demonstration of how to move the cursor and click on things was all that was needed before the first batch of experts were on their way! It wasn’t long before these kids were then eagerly teaching their friends whilst the OLPC team simply sat and watched in satisfied silence.”

And in Porto Alegre, Brazil, both teachers and students were very interested in working with the XOs:

“Here, in this school, with a library no bigger than the size of a small classroom mostly filled with desks, we found enthusiastic children happy to see us. Now with the laptop and the Internet, children in the school have access to information which would fill their library a hundred times over.”

Both posts, especially the latter, have great photos worth a closer look, so follow up on those links to see the XOs getting used by students in the real world!

Pictures of OLPC XOs in Use in Nigeria

April 13th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

CNet hosts a photo gallery of 10 and 11-year old students in Nigeria using the OLPC’s XO machines.

Their school, 10 miles from Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, is the first test deployment in the region. Before OLPC, the teacher had never used  a computer before, much less any students!

OLPC staff were onsite to kick off the learning process.

LinuxWorld on OLPC

March 27th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

In Tech innovations fuel low-cost laptop, LinuxWorld announces the planned July distribution of 5 million OLPC XO machines.

The LinuxWorld article is briefer than my average blog post, but it’s good to see OLPC continuing to get press and make progress toward its targets. Distributing 5 million laptops in July will be a big step for the organization, and will put enough units on the ground for the XO to really start proving itself.

OLPC to Support OpenDocument

February 28th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

AbiWord will be available on the OLPC platform, and it was just improved with support for ODF.

The linked article was just a quick note, so if you want to skip the link, here’s the full text:

“I’ve just added support for the OpenDocument file format to the “OLPC version” of AbiWord (it already supported .doc, .rtf, (x)html, .txt, and of course .abw). Given that AbiWord hacker and supreme bughunter sum1 just fixed an annoying OpenDocument RTL bug, OpenDocument import and export should be useful for our Bi-Directional-Multilanguage-ODT-loving friends as well :)”

Production of One Million OLPC XOs to Begin

February 21st, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Network World reports that Quanta has received orders to produce the first million OLPC XO laptops for the One Laptop per Child project.

One million computers is just the beginning:

“Quanta said it could ship between 5 million to 10 million units this year because seven nations have already signed up for the project. That may be enough to reduce the costs and meet the $100 goal sooner than expected.

The governments that have committed to buy laptops for their schoolchildren include Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Thailand and Uruguay.”