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Hacking the XO Laptop

April 8th, 2008 Benjamin Horst has a great article titled “Hacking the XO Laptop.” They cover both hardware and software hacks, building and using cool new external devices, installing new software applications and making use of online services like that have been set up by others. Full of pictures, screenshots and detailed instructions, this is a great, informative post.

Author Joel Evans writes, “I took advantage of the G1G1 program and have had one for a while now and recently had a “geek” session with Brian Jepson of HackZine and O’Reilly. Brian is a seasoned geek and a quality Linux hacker, so we had a good time playing around with the XO. I should also mention that we generated some interest in our local Panera as we completely took over an area by a fireplace and had some strange gadgetry flying high.”

400,000 OLPC XOs for Peru

April 3rd, 2008 Benjamin Horst

MIT’s Technology Review discusses the largest project implementation to date: Peru rolls out 400,000 OLPC XOs to 6,000 schools.

“Success of OLPC now depends largely on frontline teachers and, of course, parents and kids. Peru’s effort, if successful, would be a model for other nations. In the training now under way, teachers must become versed not only in how to operate and maintain the laptops, but also in how to do their jobs within a newly laptop-centric educational model. The laptops will contain some 115 books, including textbooks, novels, and poetry, as well as art and music programs, cameras, and other goodies.”

The majority of sites will not have internet access, so teachers will update content the old-fashioned way.

“In these villages, any updated content will be delivered to the machines by what OLPC president Walter Bender calls “sneaker-net.” Each month, when the teachers visit regional education offices to pick up their paychecks, they will have the ability to tap Internet connections to load new content onto thumb drives and bring them back to their classrooms.”

What an exciting implementation this will be!

Sri Lanka Joins OLPC

February 14th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

The Sunday Times Online (of Sri Lanka) announces Sri Lanka will join the OLPC project and distribute 2 million XOs to its school children.

To my knowledge, this is the biggest roll-out to date. Further, it is being organized as a collaboration between the Sri Lankan government, world institutions, and private entities.  From the article:

“This is being launched by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a US based organisation in collaboration with the Education Department and several local and foreign financial, technological and academic institutions… Director OLPC Europe, Middle East and Asia Matt Keller, in an interview with The Sunday Times FT, said the World Bank has stepped in to fund a pilot project to introduce laptops as an educational tool in nine provinces in the island.”

OLPC XO and Asus Eee Pictorial Comparison

February 8th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

There are at least two revolutionary new portable computers on the market, each of which has the potential to sell several million units, and because each ships with Linux and an open source software stack, together they may change the personal computing landscape more than we have seen in decades.

Groklaw provides a photo gallery comparing the XO and Asus Eee (and some other ordinary computers to give scale).

“One of the happy buyers of a One Laptop Per Child XO laptop is Groklaw member Jerry van Baren. He asked me if it would be useful to show a comparison between the screen sizes and keyboards of the XO and the Asus Eee PC. I thought that was a grand idea.”

The new form factor they share is ultra-portability, and along with it, their success can be attributed to their extremely affordable pricing (each machine is cheaper than Windows or Microsoft Office by itself). As predicted by the theory of The Innovator’s Dilemma, a traditional market is once again being upset by cheaper competition from below. These machines, and others that will follow, are providing a strong beachhead for open source on the normal end user’s personal computer. This trend is only going to accelerate from here.

XO Laptop: It’s the Software

February 6th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

Wade Roush writes about the OLPC XO for in The XO Laptop: It’s the Software, Stupid.

“On YouTube, there is an 11-minute video of the veterinarian-assisted birth of a calf on a farm in Villa Cardal, Uruguay, a small town in a dairy-rich region four hours north of the capital, Montevideo… But what makes this particular video remarkable is that it was shot by a fourth-year student at Villa Cardal’s Public School 24, using the built-in camera and recording software on the student’s XO Laptop, within weeks of the machine’s arrival at the school last year.”

The OLPC project predicted students would use their XOs for numerous creative purposes and did not expect to know everything they would devise. This could be one of the first shining examples of how quickly the students will use their new tools to participate in the global cultural interchange on the internet.

It has been a key tenet that OLPC is a learning project, not a hardware project. “Almost every piece of software on the XO is designed to advance the constructivist belief that learning occurs most efficiently when it’s active, social, and exploratory, with constant feedback between instructors and learners and between learners themselves.”

Another tenet is the centrality of open source, in both hardware and software used by the project. “Virtually everything on the laptop, right down to the hardware drivers, is open-source–so that it can be shared and so that, ultimately, responsibility for maintaining the platform can be transferred from the foundation itself to the community of educators, students, and developers using the XO. “In open-source you strive to push everything upstream, because as soon as it’s upstream, it’s not your problem anymore, it’s the community’s problem,” says Bender. “That’s a great place to be. And we are trying to push as much upstream as possible, because we won’t be successful otherwise.”

In other words, they are not delivering a product, they are seeding the creation of a self-sustaining community of learners. This is the key to economic development just as it is to successful education. And it is going to have a huge cumulative impact on global well-being.

OLPC Planning US Launch

January 16th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

The BBC reports on the OLPC’s plan to launch in the USA.

“The OLPC has set up a US office and has begun talking to state governments about ways to get the laptop into the hands of the poorest American children.

“The organisation said it would formally launch its XO programme in America later in 2008.”

I can’t wait to see it happen! There are good reasons to offer XOs in the US. It will benefit the students who receive them, the schools that will be able to supply computers to more students, and the OLPC itself, as it increases overall production volumes, and reduces costs. Finally, it will result in a larger ecosystem that will draw in more users and developers to further improve the platform. This is a wise move, and I wish the project much success.

Pixel Qi Spins Off from OLPC

January 11th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

Mary Lou Jepsen, the founding CTO of OLPC, recently left the project to help commercialize some of its innovative hardware in a new company she founded, Pixel Qi. One of its goals is to produce a laptop for $50 to $75!

Groklaw runs an interview with Jepsen about her plans.

Jepsen explains her plan: “I’m starting a company called Pixel Qi. Pixel Qi is currently pursuing the $75 laptop, while also aiming to bring sunlight readable, low-cost and low-power screens into mainstream laptops, cellphones and digital cameras. Spinning out from OLPC enables the development of a new machine, beyond the XO, while leveraging a larger market for new technologies, beyond just OLPC: prices for next-generation hardware can be brought down by allowing multiple uses of the key technology advances. Pixel Qi will give OLPC products at cost, while also selling the sub-systems and devices at a profit for commercial use.”

A great article, a fascinating person, and a world-changing idea!

More Pre-Installs, and ODF Growth

December 13th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Erwin Tenhumberg let loose a flurry of blog posts this week covering OOo and ODF issues…

He uncovered a UK outfit selling PCs with preinstalled, adding to the pressure on other OEMs. I’m sure we will see steady progress on this front, bringing us ever closer to the tipping point.

He also announced (though I’m sure I already knew this) the OLPC XO will use ODF as its default format for its office productivity applications, meaning several million more users will be joining the ODF installed base.

And, he follows up on the Dutch government’s ODF plan: “According to this German article on heise, the Dutch parliament approved the open standards and open source adoption plan submitted by the Ministry of Economy. According to the plan, government agencies are supposed to read and write ODF in parallel to existing formats by April 2008, at least that is my understanding.”

Momentum is growing tremendously for ODF and Congratulations to everyone involved!

OLPC Advances in India

December 6th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

There have been a number of pieces of good news for the global OLPC community in the past few weeks, including the success of the Give One Get One program, the first order of 100,000 units from Uruguay, and an order of 40,000 plus options on 210,000 more from Peru.

On top of all this, a group has formed to promote and distribute the OLPC XO in India:

“We have received excellent response from at least a dozen state governments in India and we expect that large scale implementation will start from March or April next year, with an initial import of 20,000 to 25,000 laptops. And after that, subsequent imports could far exceed that number” said Joshi.

“Backing OLPC India is one of India’s largest mobile telecom companies Reliance Communications (RCOM) which has tied up with the global OLPC alliance, the OLPC Foundation, to promote e-learning for children. According to RCOM, along with OLPC Foundation, it has assumed the task of evangelizing the concept in the country by working with government agencies, non-government organization (NGOs), content developers, translators, teaching communities and project managers to create a successful ecosystems, and help proliferation of OLPC in India.”

David Pogue on the OLPC XO

October 8th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

David Pogue reviews the XO for the New York Times.

“The XO laptop, now in final testing, is absolutely amazing, and in my limited tests, a total kid magnet. Both the hardware and the software exhibit breakthrough after breakthrough — some of them not available on any other laptop, for $400 or $4,000.”

Pogue immediately sees the potential of the XO, especially through the way it has created new network- and group-centric paradigms of working and learning.

“Most of the XO’s programs are shareable on the mesh network, which is another ingenious twist. Any time you’re word processing, making music, taking pictures, playing games or reading an e-book, you can click a Share button. Your document shows up next to your icon on the mesh-network map, so that other people can see what you’re doing, or work with you. Teachers can supervise your writing, buddies can collaborate on a document, friends can play you in Connect 4, or someone across the room can add a melody to your drum beat in the music program. You’ve never seen anything like it.”

As many had hoped, developed world customers can now buy one of their own (more accurately, you can buy two, one shipped to you and one to a child in the developing world).

The XO is a formidable testament to the power and promise of open source, and a huge vote of confidence in the potential of millions of people around the world that have so far been left out of the information age. Its release is clearly going to be a world-changing event.