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December 24, 2007 10:05 PM   Subscribe

Seen any OLPC news stories for christmas??
posted by jeffburdges (77 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nah, I couldn't get a hold of an Asus EEE PC because they'd all sold out so I couldn't get to the web.
posted by sien at 10:25 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Both the OLPC and the Eee PC are really very, very cool. They are really a new kind of device. Really cheap, rugged, low power, no moving storage laptops.

Their use of Linux might actually make Linux more than a niche player on the desktop.

Has anyone had a chance to use both? How do they compare?
posted by sien at 10:28 PM on December 24, 2007


Ours was supposed to come before Christmas but won't arrive until Jan. 15, according to the email I got the other day...
posted by mothershock at 10:46 PM on December 24, 2007


First of all, the entire OLPC project is insulting to the people it's supposed to help. The entire project is very "White mans burden." The fact that it's intended for education mitigates this a little, but the entire design is just condescending. As if poor 3rd worlders can't handle a "real" computer. As if the designers thought of people in that part of the world as a society of children, rather then a society of adults, with the same desires as people in the third world.

Bringing the internet, brining connectivity to the rest of the world is something I'm in favor of, and the engineering going into making a cheap, mass produced computer is a good thing. In a few years, we'll have the $10 PC, something that everyone in the world can afford. But that core of a good idea is wrapped up in.

On the other hand, one thing that is good about the OLPC is that it can be reprogrammed pretty easily. Letting adventurous kids go under the hood of the applications and learn about programming. I'm not too clear about how that all plays out in practice though.

Anyway, given the goals and ideals of the OLPC project, I thought the slashdot article was pretty interesting.
Finallyjoined!!! sends us a BBC account of a dad who traveled to Nigeria and brought back an XO laptop for his 9-year-old, Rufus. Here is Rufus's review, a child's view of OLPC.
Pretty funny, given the fact that this particular XO had obviously been stolen and sold on the black market. Rather then partake in the legit Give-1-get-1 program, the guy did exactly what the makers of the OLPC were afraid of. Oh well.
posted by delmoi at 11:09 PM on December 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


i've got an OLPC. It's very cute looking and feels really sturdy. I'm sure it's great for kids who've never used a computer, but I find it a bit frustrating.

The keyboard is tiny. I've used small keyboards before but this really is built for a child. It's impossible to touch type on it. It's completely covered with plastic that gives it a rubbery feel but makes it water proof.

The interface very strange- lots of ambiguous icons. I couldn't figure out how to connect to my open wifi. I had to look it up on their web site (it doesn't come with a manual) Not sure why it just doesn't automatically connect to an open wifi connection.

The processor is surprisingly slow and the interface crashes if you click too much. I hope they have some simple way to update the OS.

It has a really simple way to share documents that should be great for classrooms.
posted by bhnyc at 11:10 PM on December 24, 2007


delmoi: First of all, the entire OLPC project is insulting to the people it's supposed to help. The entire project is very "White mans burden." The fact that it's intended for education mitigates this a little, but the entire design is just condescending. As if poor 3rd worlders can't handle a "real" computer. As if the designers thought of people in that part of the world as a society of children, rather then a society of adults, with the same desires as people in the third world.
For the love of christ, could you be more obtuse?!?! Talk about missing the point. The XO was not designed to be a dumbed-down computer because the lily-white creators had no respect for the poor, dirty negros in other countries; it was designed to be usable in environments where things like limited to no power, dusty outdoor climates, and unstable surfaces are the norm. It was meant for a user base that is children.

You're just plain dumb, man. Dumb dumb dumb. Oh, and merry christmas!
posted by hincandenza at 11:22 PM on December 24, 2007 [18 favorites]


As if the designers thought of people in that part of the world as a society of children, rather then a society of adults, with the same desires as people in the third world.

But isn't it specifically designed for children? That's who is using it in the linked articles.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:24 PM on December 24, 2007


; it was designed to be usable in environments where things like limited to no power, dusty outdoor climates, and unstable surfaces are the norm.

Oh please. computers can be design for harsh environments. That's a solved problem. Making a computer that can stand up in harsh environments and be cheap is another problem and it's good that they helped to solved that.

Plus, "unstable surfaces" You think these people are so poor they can't afford tables? Come on. I realize it's designed for kids, but the fact is people in the third wold are probably capable of using laptops without dropping them. They're not retarded.

But there are a lot of other design decisions that were made that have nothing to do with with harsh environments or low costs. Like the experimental GUI, rather then a normal windows/mouse interface used on every other computer in the world. will make it more difficult for students to move on and use business software. Another problem is the focus on children, as if there would be something "wrong" with simply making cheap computers for adults in those countries.

There are lot of different facets to this thing. Some are good, and some are kind of obnoxious.

You're just plain dumb, man. Dumb dumb dumb. Oh, and merry christmas!

Right, because I have different aesthetic judgments then you, I'm "dumb". Whatever.
posted by delmoi at 11:33 PM on December 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Delmoi, the computer you reference as having "solved" harsh environs has an entry level price of almost $2000 US. And that dropping thing can pretty much happen anywhere much less an area with, for instance, actual lions.

Just sayin...
posted by humannaire at 11:46 PM on December 24, 2007


I played with one a bit last weekend, delmoi; it does have a normal windows/mouse interface, if you accept a trackpad as a mouse. It's running X11 for chrissake, you can't get more traditional than that without going to Palo Alto.

I really think you're missing the whole point of the OLPC project (and underestimating how hard, and yet how beneficial, it is to get information technology into places where reliable electricity and solid walls are both somewhat unusual).
posted by hattifattener at 11:52 PM on December 24, 2007


the entire project is very "white man's burden"...

this from delmoi, a certified broadband snob. white people are damned if they do and damned if they don't by some lights. if charitable initiatives are denounced enough times as condescending racism, those initiatives will wither and die. perhaps "one espresso machine per child" would be more constructive, because they can all get jobs eventually as american baristas.
posted by bruce at 11:56 PM on December 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


can be designed for harsh environments

But isn't it specifically designed for children? That's who is using it in the linked articles.

That's true, but why is that? I mean, certainly adults and college students in those countries could really use the computers as well. Hospitals could use them to manage patient records, for example. Computers permeate our society, so why shouldn't they permeate society in the developing world and the third world? Why not focus on the hardware aspects and create a computer that could be sold to anyone for $100 including school districts. There was actually an an AskMe about how to get a computer for a rural hospital in Africa a while back.

A normal PC, like the eeepc is totally use neutral. If you want to use it as an educational device, you can pretty easily. If you want to run regular software on it, you can. The OLPC project could have focused on their software separately, and simply created a user environment that could be used on any PC (And, actually I think it's all open source, so it can be done)

Anyway, it sounds like the kids like the computers. I'm glad. But they would have liked them just as much if they had been given 'normal' computers that could be purchased and used by anyone. That would also have helped their economies of scale.

But like I said, there are some parts of the project that are very good, and their work to close the digital divide is great. But the whole project has always seemed condescending to me.

I really think you're missing the whole point of the OLPC project (and underestimating how hard, and yet how beneficial, it is to get information technology into places where reliable electricity and solid walls are both somewhat unusual).

I agree totally with this! I think that aspect is great. I just think it would be even more empowering if they were designed so that anyone could use them and anyone who could afford them could buy them and use them for whatever they wanted. That's all!
posted by delmoi at 11:57 PM on December 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Both those PCWorld stories are good; thanks for posting.

It's sad to see political and cultural problems get in the way of adoption in so many countries. But it's great that OLPC has proved the market -- competition is good for everybody.

The OLPC's unique low-power, direct-sunlight, high-DPI display mode makes it more useful for students than anything on the market today at any price point. It's jaw-droppingly beautiful. The OLPC's purpose-built UI and applications make it much better suited for education (particularly of very young students) than the conventional solutions critics seem to yearn for.
posted by sdodd at 12:05 AM on December 25, 2007


Delmoi, the computer you reference as having "solved" harsh environs has an entry level price of almost $2000 US. And that dropping thing can pretty much happen anywhere much less an area with, for instance, actual lions.

Yes, which is why I wrote "Making a computer that can stand up in harsh environments and be cheap is another problem and it's good that they helped to solved that."

There are a lot of good things that this project is brining about. Looking back at my first comment I should have written that aspects of the OLPC project were insulting rather then the "entire" project. Oh well.
posted by delmoi at 12:08 AM on December 25, 2007


I've been enjoying reading Project Gutenberg books on the OLPC on the handful of sunny afternoons we've had here in Austin in the past week. The OLPC's tablet mode is a joy.
posted by sdodd at 12:09 AM on December 25, 2007


sdodd: How does it go with pdfs with images?
posted by sien at 12:31 AM on December 25, 2007


Hey delmoi,

You should read the VERY FIRST LINK in the fucking post before going all bat shit insane inside the thread. Turns out the OLPC has boosted enrollment at a rural Peruvian school way the fuck up in the mountains by like 10%. 200$ per student to have a kid going to school is a pretty awesome return. You're right though it was clearly a bad idea born of white mans guilt and we should just abandon the whole thing.

There are a lot more logical holes in your poorly researched overly emotive excuse of a rant, but I am more than confident that other mefites are up to stripping you of your rhetorical dog and pony show.
posted by sourbrew at 12:37 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


in the fucking post before going all bat shit insane inside

Calm down.
posted by delmoi at 12:39 AM on December 25, 2007


delmoi: the only thing you've asked for which hasn't happened yet is complete, open sales. The devices are completely open - unlike the eee - and the users are not only able to run their own sofware but are actively assisted in this process because the entire software stack was designed around the idea of users being able to modify their computers rather than being passive consumers.
That's reflected in the extensive use of Python, BitFrost and even the view-source key which doesn't have a comparable parallel until you go back a couple decades to the Lisp Machines.

XO isn't perfect but the OLPC people are showing far more respect for their users than the traditional educational computing industry - your anger should be aimed at the hucksters selling cheesy cartoons as "education".

The eee PC advocacy is misplaced, too, give that the device is so much more expensive and less well adapted for the under-equipped classroom environment. It's hard to go from a $4,00 eee design to a $200 XO - and that's before factoring in things like the mesh networking, significantly better energy use, longer lifespan and tougher operating environment. Since OLPC is pretty open you can easily peruse the developer's weblogs and learn about the tradeoffs which they had to make to hit much more harder goals than the eee (which, to be fair, wasn't intended to be an XO competitor). The eee's main advantage is the ability to run a restrictive OS which costs as much as the entire XO laptop - those kids would be far better off learning how Linux works than being trained to be the next generation of cheap Excel monkeys.
posted by adamsc at 12:56 AM on December 25, 2007 [4 favorites]


I largely agree with delmoi, but the fact is, condescending or not, it'll be cool if loads of kids get these nifty networked devices. If teh interwebs have tought us anything, it should be that bigstyle networks will find their own uses.
posted by pompomtom at 12:57 AM on December 25, 2007


delmoi: the only thing you've asked for which hasn't happened yet is complete, open sales. The devices are completely open - unlike the eee - and the users are not only able to run their own software but are actively assisted in this process because the entire software stack was designed around the idea of users being able to modify their computers rather than being passive consumers.

Ok, first of all I'm sorry for turning this thread into a referendum on myself :P.

And also I guess a lot of my distaste stems from the initial announcement and discussion when the project got started. I should have learned more about the device before spouting off.

For the record, I don't think the project should be canceled or anything like that, rather, the project should have focused getting computers to all people, including but not limited to children. I didn't realize people would get so emotional about it, and I should have limited my initial criticism.

your anger should be aimed at the hucksters selling cheesy cartoons as "education".

GWB's brother's company. Yeah, I'm familiar with it. It's pretty sad how much money you can make through blatant cronyism in state governments.
posted by delmoi at 1:08 AM on December 25, 2007


My criticisms of the OLPC:

1. Interface from the moon: It just doesn't make any sense whatsoever to spend these kid's childhoods training them to use an interface they will never see again as long as they live. I would have recommended an interface as generic as possible - something like a normal KDE/gnome linux interface crossed with a Windows XP interface. Something that will make them comfortable using an OS they might actually use later in life.

2. Let's not sully it with capitalism and get those silly benefits like economies of scale: I really don't understand why they didn't mass-produce and mass-market these things with a more normal case and OS slapped on them. Yes, I know they're worried about black-marketeering, but it's easy enough to make some of them protected and some of them not, and not selling them just makes them rarer and more valuable. Sure adults may not want to use them if they look like toys, but people steal things for their kids too.

Aside from the looks, there's not really anything wrong with these devices as far as adult use goes, Asus' new eeepc thing proves there is (was) a market, and making more of them just brings costs down for everyone.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:09 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


sien, images in PDFs are okay. And vector graphics look amazing in the direct-sunlight mode.

But PDF support in general needs work. Some PDFs I've tried render beautifully. Many have poor-quality font rendering. And the PDF Reader's one-page-per-button-press mode doesn't work well in full-screen mode (which is what you want for tablet-mode reading). I suspect the Reader will get some work in the first update (due out in late January).

So far, I prefer the HTML and Plain Text versions of the Project Gutenberg e-texts. The web browser's support for full-screen mode and display rotation are great.
posted by sdodd at 1:19 AM on December 25, 2007


Well, I'd hoped people would just post more stories along the same lines, but hey.

I don't really see any substance in delmoi's objections. OLPC made many unique design decisions, which seems natural given the project. The software seems quite well suited to the target age group. Said software is initially locked down tight to deter theft, but kids can request developer keys, which open it up.

"Economics of scale" applies not just to production but also distribution. $100 was the planned price point for national purchases, shipped in enormous bulk, and distributed by others---a separate activation key makes sure the laptop arrives at it's destination. In fact $200 was the planned price point using commercial distribution channels. The current $400 price point for donation machines is cutting their margins razor thin, just $24 for shipping & handling, to attract Linux developers.

To "make a machine for everyone", they could sell current hardware in enormous bulk for $200 each, with some other tiny linux distribution installed. This might help reduce the competition but no one will ever ship individuals a machine for less than 2x the price.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:29 AM on December 25, 2007


1. Interface from the moon: It just doesn't make any sense whatsoever to spend these kid's childhoods training them to use an interface they will never see again as long as they live. I would have recommended an interface as generic as possible - something like a normal KDE/gnome linux interface crossed with a Windows XP interface. Something that will make them comfortable using an OS they might actually use later in life.

When the OLPC project was first announced there was a lot of criticism along the lines of "People are sick and starving - and this group wants to give them computers?" The response to this was that OLPC and other forms of aid aren't mutually exclusive: computer donations by one group don't rule out food or medical aid (or different computers) by others. More to the point, the OLPC developers are using their expertise in order to contribute to the world as best they can. A similar group of chemists might spend their efforts on creating free drugs. A group of business people might spend their efforts on creating effective financing models for third-world entrepreneurs.

The OLPC people are a group of computer scientists and engineers. More specifically, they're also educators: MIT and the Media Lab have a long history of research in using computers as educational tools for children. Seymour Papert, for example, is one of the project organizers. Their goal isn't just to put computers in children's hands or just to replace textbooks. The goal is specifically to create an educational tool for a certain age range. The custom interface is an effort to improve on the standard desktop-metaphor GUI - which may be the best UI ever created and impossible to improve upon, but this group seems to want to try. That the physical machine and the software are both targeted at a specific age range is consistent with most educational theory. Since so much developer time was invested in the software, the OLPC would probably have been easier and cheaper to develop if they'd just installed Gnome and been done with it. They didn't, because they thought they could do better for the purpose at hand.

(Whether they succeeded or not is another question, and I think it's much too early to tell.)

The point about standard interfaces being better because it's what the kids will see when they grow up has always annoyed me. I've seen too many Windows and Mac users have trouble moving from one to the other, or from one version to another, or lost when faced with Office 2007's new UI, or having difficulty learning to use new programs in general - not because the programs are too complex but just because they're different. Even if underneath the functionality is the same as what they're used to. I think this is sad - a UI that is reasonably organized should not pose an obstacle for anyone, even if it is unfamiliar. Adults seem to have this problem more often than kids do; most kids seem to play around, experiment, and learn, while many adults seem hung up on specific ideas of what an interface should look like and become hopelessly disoriented when it's different.

From what I've read about the OLPC's software, it actively tries to encourage exploration and experimentation and to emphasize concepts rather than their implementations. If you understand what a file is, you'll be all right whether it's represented as an element in a directory listing, an icon, or whatever. If I've read things right, the project is concerned with teaching kids to think and giving them tangible (virtual?) incentive to do so. If it is successful in its goals (which, again, remains to be seen) then the kids who have grown up using it will do just fine when faced with a new UI or a new OS. They'll have learned how to think and how to experiment. And they'll know that a computer is much more than just Windows or OSX, and - this would be the huge success - that it can be made to do infinitely many things.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 3:16 AM on December 25, 2007 [7 favorites]


The Xhosa tribe has had some interface issues, whenever it says "Click here".
posted by hal9k at 4:05 AM on December 25, 2007 [10 favorites]


delmoi: Pretty funny, given the fact that this particular XO had obviously been stolen and sold on the black market. Rather then partake in the legit Give-1-get-1 program, the guy did exactly what the makers of the OLPC were afraid of. Oh well.

He made the report linked to under 'P'. There is no reason to believe he got the OLPC off the black market.
posted by magnusbe at 4:39 AM on December 25, 2007


Delmoi has some points though. Here's an interesting discussion going on at White African's blog on this topic following Dvorak's rant against the OLPC leading to an ongoing debate. Time to listen to the Africans when they speak about what they really need and want?
posted by infini at 5:14 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Btw, I did check out the eeePC's interface - it has been set up to be easy to use, for an affordable, entry level machine that allows you to browse, email, blog and use basic documents, spreadsheets and presentations, its slick and about the size of a small hardcover book. I ordered mine on Saturday and its in the store for pickup tomorrow so I'll find out more then. I don't see it as direct competition to the OLPC - that's too politically tied up in its distribution system and entangled in its altruism to move forward with any speed, but the eeePC has certainly been inspired by the concept of a cheap rugged mobile information device. ASUS claims its for the next billion computer users - which the OLPC doesn't address since its for children in schools only - and I think that's a segment in emerging markets where its going to sell like hotcakes.

The OLPC has inspired an entire new category - something that's inbetween a smartphone/PDA and a fullblown laptop and cheaper than most smartphones. At a pricepoint equivalent to Kindle with greater versatility and availability, I think we won't see the true significance of these machines right now, but they'll be making waves 6 months down the line and not in the developed world either.
posted by infini at 5:24 AM on December 25, 2007


delmoi wrote...
You think these people are so poor they cant afford tables?

Okay, now that you've completely discredited yourself on conditions in the third world, is there anything else you'd like to add?
posted by tkolar at 5:41 AM on December 25, 2007


delmoi: "As if poor 3rd worlders can't handle a "real" computer."

In my experience, most first-worlders can't handle a real computer.
posted by Plutor at 6:06 AM on December 25, 2007 [4 favorites]


delmoi writes "First of all, the entire OLPC project is insulting to the people it's supposed to help. The entire project is very 'White mans burden.'

Man, normally I agree with delmoi, but shit delmoi, remind me never to give you a gift.

I really don't see what's insulting about the OLPC; it's made small and rugged because not because third-worlders "can't handle" a "real" computer, but because it's meant to be used by kids in places with less infrastructure. Frankly, I want one for myself, not because I can't afford a "real" computer, but because the OLPC has features that "real" computers don't have.
posted by orthogonality at 6:07 AM on December 25, 2007


Teaching the kids computing through a unique interface is a non-problem.

If the OLPC was designed to be the means to a rote button-pushing MCSE-style certificate, then there might be a problem. Instead, the OLPC is intended to be hacked; almost all the installed software is relevant to learning how to program (or accessing study materials), and if kids are sharp enough to keep themselves entertained by that, they can adapt to a commonplace windowing GUI easily.

It's practically saying, "Here, kids! Free computer! You'll have to figure out how to make it useful!" Which is more or less what me and my peers got in the early 1980s in classrooms full of Apple ][s without software but with a built-in Basic interpreter. And we turned out OK. And we all adapted to windowing GUIs too.
posted by ardgedee at 6:08 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually, delmoi, never mind. Carry on describing what the OLPC would look like if it really had been designed by someone who had never visited a refugee camp or even a remote Lesothan village.

"An OS they may actually use later in life?" What the hell are you smoking? Normally I'd ask for a toke, but it's got to be some bad shit.
posted by tkolar at 6:12 AM on December 25, 2007


OPk, couple of questions for OLPC owners: the OLPC throttles the WiFI signal to (?) 2Mbps. Is there a simple way to unthrottle that?

How's it for web browsing, and for e-book reading? Does it work well as a one-handed tablet, so I can read a book and eat a sandwich?
posted by orthogonality at 6:14 AM on December 25, 2007


It always confuses me when I see people bash the OLPC program. Some of the time it's pretty clear that they just haven't thought the issue through (like the argument, "But don't they need food more?"). But sometimes I can't figure it out. To attack the OLPC because it's aimed at kids is really strange given how many programs there are aimed only at children but don't get attacked like this. For right or wrong, products aimed at kids are designed with different aesthetics--given the number of groups and companies that do so, it probably does better appeal to children.

And the argument that we should give children a standard WIMP interface because that's what they'll "use" is just silly, and an argument that is condescending. Transitioning between GUI interfaces is pretty simple as long as you get exposed early to some computer it seems. Furthermore, who truly knows what interfaces will look like in 2017, when most of these kids would really be entering the "work" force.

It's a fun computer, not without its flaws, and the OLPC program isn't perfect, but not deserving of the weirdly hostile attacks above. (This comment typed on my XO.)
posted by skynxnex at 6:23 AM on December 25, 2007


I remember the Atari 400 and the Vic-20 both being way more expensive than the XO, required a roof, a TV and steady AC, and yet those of us who got one found ourselves, 20 years later, making the world a far better place. In 20 years, with kids who've been able to use information processing in dusty, un-powered shacks for since they were six, now adults, motivated and able to create their own world -- just what that world will look like. And if us old farts will have a place in it other than gazing on old Famicon favorites beamed directly to our retina via air-mirror projectors while rocking in our geezerchairs.

I don't give a shit who's "burden" it is, or what excuses were made to create it, or who's guilt it assuages. It is a world-changing machine, and even if it isn't perfect -- it's more than good enough. Stop quacking and start flapping -- you're going to be left behind the flock unless you start hauling ass right now.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:01 AM on December 25, 2007


As a Canadian, I'm very annoyed with the OLPC people. They completely and deliberately misrepresented the G1G1 program to Canadians on their website. There, they insisted they would do everything they could to get donors their machines by the holidays. For early American donors, they did. For early Canadian donors they did the opposite: they shucked us to the back of the line. Instead of shipping them in the order they were ordered, they just said, "Oh, Canadians, we'll worry about you later."

Two days ago they finally sent me a confirmation of this fact (though it had been reported on the web widely). In the email they said that I should have my machine by the end February at the latest. For those of us who'd donated early in order to get a machine as a Christmas gift for a child, this is insulting. I wrote OLPC back and asked for my donation back and indicated my frustration, stating clearly that had they been upfront and honest about delivery times I would not have bothered to participate in the program but would instead have just made a reasonable cash donation and kept the $200 "extra" that was meant as a Christmas gift on my end.

Rather than deal with my complaint in a professional manner they sent me back a form letter telling me they couldn't refund my donation as "it's in the queue to be shipped" and that if, when it arrives (sometime in Feb) I don't want it I could just refuse it from the postal carrier and when it gets back, they'll process it and refund my cash.

Utterly ridiculous.
posted by dobbs at 7:17 AM on December 25, 2007


Time to derail a common misconception.

"white man's guilt", "charitable initiatives" "But don't they need food more?"

Yes, some laptops are being given away in the buy 1 give 1 campaign.

But most of these laptops are being bought by the countries involved. It is not a charity. "White men" are not deciding for these countries that they should get computers instead of food. These countries are deciding for themselves that this is useful, so they are buying them for their schools.
posted by eye of newt at 8:14 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think the best comparison was the Volkswagen Beetle creating the market for low cost computers, i.e. the XO will become similarly iconic.

dobbs, G1G1 is designed to attract developers. $400 for two leaves only about $24 for shipping & handling. A standard commercial distribution channel would be charging like $350.

Here's one cute question : Has the OLPC met it's $100 price point if you extrapolate back the dollars decline?
posted by jeffburdges at 8:28 AM on December 25, 2007


It just doesn't make any sense whatsoever to spend these kid's childhoods training them to use an interface they will never see again as long as they live.

I agree. I spent my childhood on a Commodore 64, and I never ever understood any other interface than white letters on a a black screen.
And what are these 'mice' I hear about???? OMG my brain is incapable of assimilating this strange new paradigm.
posted by signal at 8:38 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


dobbs, G1G1 is designed to attract developers. $400 for two leaves only about $24 for shipping & handling.

That is 100% the opposite of the marketing slant they played. That's my point. They pitched the idea as "Get a laptop for your kid for Christmas as well!" In fact, they still pitch it that way. In the email they sent which said the thing wouldn't ship till Feb, they provide a link to a gift card "for the child" that your laptop is for so that you'll have something to put under the tree.

In previous threads people have also come to OLPC's defense saying donors are expecting too much--"it's a charity!"--but as far as I can tell we're only expecting what was marketed to us and OLPC lied with that marketing.

If the $400 didn't leave enough to ship to Canada promptly then they should have just said, "Canadians pay $425" or whatever. Or, they should have just been upfront and said they would not ship to Canada till 2 months into the new year. Instead, they advertised one thing and did another.

Either they deliberately lied to their donors or they simply did not think far enough ahead to consider the geography of the donors they'd decided to include. Either way, it's a pathetic way for any organization, especially a charity, to operate.
posted by dobbs at 8:51 AM on December 25, 2007


Thoughts about the OLPC, typed from an eee in a god forsaken airport:

At it's very worst, the OLPC represents a brilliant failure. Just the idea of a low cost laptop for children is powerful enough to cause people in Microsoft to worry. The push toward bigger and better computers has met diminishing returns for common computing tasks. With China and India middle classes ascendant, the niche for a small, easy to use, and most importantly cheap computers appeared. All it needed was the idea that they would be viable. So even if it fails in its educational efforts, by existing it has already spurred the creation of computers for the rest of the world.

As far as comparing the eee to the olpc, the eee is a small form-factor, cheap laptop. It is totally within the current paradigm of the current computing environment. The price leads to a flimsier construction than the olpc, but a more normal typing environment. I'm surprised someone typed as large of a comment on olpc above. Given the standard nature of the eee, and the somewhat standard nature of the linux distribution underneath, the hacking is a bit easier, just because of existing resources on the web. I was able to get vlc, and my cell phone's modem mode working on it with not much effort.

I don't know if the olpc will have the firepower to use vlc well enough. For text, html and pdf reading though, it would easily excel over the eee, especially with the black and white modem, in the sideways orientation. Resolution in that mode is about like an e-ink display, making for crisp reading.

The software doesn't have much polish though. WPA isn't supported without a script, and the touchpad is twitchy in some models, and the side touchpads don't work yet. The lack of polish also extends to the g1g1 program, with no notification or tracking given for the items, and Canadians got screwed.

For text reading and tinkering, I'd recommend the OLPC. For a mini laptop, the eee edges forward.
posted by zabuni at 9:07 AM on December 25, 2007


For those who want to try out the OLPC software, you can download a full virtual machine image from their wiki.

(The link says VMware, and that's what I use, but there is also info on making it work with other platform virtualization servers.)

Mine's arriving January 15th, apparently, and I already know (based on friends' reviews) that I'll need an external keyboard. I'll use it for basic web browsing (though I'll miss adblock), ssh to other things (via the shell via the developer console), and probably some light word processing -- none of which should require a more expensive/powerful machine, but all of which are still painful on a $200 (or $400) mobile device with a tiny screen.

And when I do need a more expensive/powerful machine, I've got one.

That's my usage pattern. It may not work for everyone, but I'm extremely glad to see that usage patterns beyond that of the mythical mainstream first-world consumer or equally mythical "power user" are finally being explored.
posted by jdfalk at 9:52 AM on December 25, 2007 [4 favorites]


NERDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:12 AM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Like the experimental GUI, rather then a normal windows/mouse interface used on every other computer in the world. will make it more difficult for students to move on and use business software.

So? Who needs to use business software when you can program?

Interface from the moon: It just doesn't make any sense whatsoever to spend these kid's childhoods training them to use an interface they will never see again as long as they live.

Nonsense. If you know how to read and program and think a bit, figuring out drop-down menus is pretty damn easy. Going the other direction is a bit harder.

The last few software booms were built by kids with soldering irons and computer kits, and then later Apple IIs, TRS-80s, Commodore-64s, and then later plain-text HTML editors, making up ways to gossip with their friends, play music and games, look at porn, and generally make cool shit, without all that "business software" and "IDE" and "DTD" and "factory pattern" cruft getting in their way. Ten years from now, some Malaysian or Congolese or Peruvian kid is going to bootstrap her m4d XO 5k1llz into a Fortune-500 company (after stopping for a few years at MIT or Berkeley to get most of a degree and some VC connections). This thing is gold.

Or it will be, as soon as it works. Right now it's still a bit busted.
posted by erniepan at 10:44 AM on December 25, 2007


dobbs: It's because of self-entitled attitudes like yours that they were initially planning on not selling them individually at all. They didn't want to deal with being a retailer, they wanted to just ship them by the container-load. Then Intel & Microsoft stepped up the FUD campaign and they found themselves with fewer government orders than projected. So now they're selling via G1G1, and they're flailing about somewhat because they hadn't hired a big crew of "fulfillment" people.

Mine will probably show up in January sometime.

For those complaining about the software — It's running X11, you can build and run whatever software you want! If you're not a developer by any stretch this might be an opportunity for you to learn (you know, like a kid) and stop treating computers as appliances.

I'll be using mine as a Terminal emulator, a Web Browser, an eBook reader, and a Media player — that's %99 of the GUI software I use on all of my other computers! I'll probably end up writing a columnar text formatter for the Sugar GUI in the first week I have the thing.
posted by blasdelf at 10:48 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


blasdelf, whether they wanted to sell them individually is irrelevant--do not blame the donors to the program because the divisors of the program didn't know what the hell they were doing. That's idiotic. The customer is not at fault when a corporation fails on the promises they themselves made.

As I stated above (and in my private communication with them), had they simply been honest and said, "Canadians will not receive their laptops until after we ship American units" there would be no problem. Were that the situation, I would have made a $200 cash donation to them and put the other $200 towards an EEE PC which I would have had by Christmas. Everyone would have won.

However, though there plan appears to always have been to ship to Canadians after dealing with US units they decided not to mention it until after they accepted international donations. If being disappointed about being lied to makes me self-entitled then so be it, but being a charity--and being a children's charity--does not excuse OLPC from the consequences of poor planning and customer manipulation.
posted by dobbs at 11:22 AM on December 25, 2007


their. sorry.
posted by dobbs at 11:23 AM on December 25, 2007


What's the deal with calling dobbs self-entitled? His whole point is that someone very specifically failed to do what they promised him.

On the other hand dobbs *is* privileged, in that he lives in a culture that considers a delay of a few months to be even noteworthy. OLPC doesn't have anything like the required infrastructure to support first world expectations, and it was a mistake to try.
posted by tkolar at 12:01 PM on December 25, 2007


They should have certainly outsourced their fulfillment operation for G1G1 to a more capable outfit, if they had I'd probably have my OLPC already.

But they're a small nonprofit with a dozen employees developing software, and Nicolas Negroponte dealing with PR. They were hoping to avoid this problem entirely, but Intel has a PR operation much larger than one person :)

There were quite a lot of qualifications on their site about the G1G1 program — no promises about actual delivery dates, nothing saying the software would be polished, lots of we're just a few guys give us a break

I'm hoping the project won't be killed by the massive amount of whining for support they're due to get from non-developers who get OLPCs via G1G1.

posted by blasdelf at 12:32 PM on December 25, 2007


…err </em>
posted by blasdelf at 12:34 PM on December 25, 2007


blasdelf wrote "I'm hoping the project won't be killed by the massive amount of whining for support they're due to get from non-developers who get OLPCs via G1G1."

Yeah, me too...or by the self-styled developers who're annoyed that it isn't just like their personal desktop linux choice. Perfection is the enemy of the good or the sufficient, and all that.
posted by jdfalk at 12:52 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


The more I learn and tinker with the OLPC the more impressed I am at how it is perfectly designed it is to empower it's target user. I'm struggling a bit to understand the mindset of the OLPC-haters, because their objections seem to be so far off as to resemble wilful deception or ignorance.

For instance, the notion that the choice of a linux platform is somehow a disadvantage is completely wrong-headed. Linux is the operating system behind the explosion of the internet. It is also capturing an increasing market share of smartphones and devices. I suspect that between the eee-pc and the xo we will finally see linux carve out and expand a niche in the low cost desktop market. The data servers that stand behind "standard" fortune-500 type windows corporate environments are often unix-based, and fluency in this environment has always been a huge competitive advantage for me as a (mostly) windows developer. Part of the intent behind these laptops is to bootstrap computing technology in 3rd world countries. Locking them into a proprietary computing paradigm where they are forced to pay for their software or pirate it is senseless. It is an opportunity to do things right from the start.

The keyboard is a bit small for comfort, but I can touch-type accurately even with my rockclimbing gnarled fingers. In person, the design is really beautiful, much more so than comes across in pictures. I'm excited about taking it outside and camping because it is so well engineered for rustic conditions.

I've often commented on how I envy the generation of kids growing up today with such bountiful access to information. As a child I treasured the few adult books I managed to beg, borrow, or steal and literally read them over and over until they fell apart. If I could go back in time and give one gift to that younger me it would be this OLPC, and it makes me tear up a bit to think that somewhere there is a child to whom the mate to this g1g1 is a portal to the world of ideas.
posted by Manjusri at 2:09 PM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


I just gave my wife an EEEPC for christmas. Until recently she used an Ibook G4, but continued to complain that it was too heavy to lug around, that it wouldn't fit in her handbag and that during meetings people seemed to vanish behind their laptops . A excellent typist, she would prefer a keyboard to a blackberry or these horrible Windows Mobile PDAs.

The EEEPC was received with general swooning and delight. The interface seems genuinely easy to use even for a non-geek, and setup was quick and painfree. The keyboard is far too small for myself, but for her more nimble hands it works beautifully.

I initially wanted to buy the OLPC, but unfortunately the B2G1 program did not extend to New Zealand.

Bummer.
posted by fordiebianco at 2:46 PM on December 25, 2007




Original Laptops, People Complain.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:25 PM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hey orthogonality, the OLPC in tablet mode would be good for your "sandwich eating" use case if your sitting position allowed you to rest the laptop against something. The OLPC is heaver than a dedicated e-book reader. You may experience fatigue if you hold it up for extended periods of time.

I'd be interested to know why you want WiFi faster than 2mbit/s. There isn't enough storage space on an OLPC to download large media files. In any case, I haven't heard anything about bumping up the transfer rate specifically, but this is Linux, so, yeah, I'd be shocked if it weren't possible.
posted by sdodd at 6:40 PM on December 25, 2007


If you watched the Yves Behar video marvin posted and thought, "Wow, they put way more thought into the industrial design of the OLPC than any computer I've ever owned," allow me to assure you that the same is true of the OLPC's hardware and software design. It truly is an amazing piece of engineering.
posted by sdodd at 6:59 PM on December 25, 2007


Ouch...this thread got a bit derailed early on. I've been following this project for about a year, and have donated via G1G1 (have had my XO since the 15th...and I must admit it's hard to put down).

The XO is not a commercial laptop, it's not even technically a laptop, but rather an educational tool...that's the number one point I want to get across, it's not aimed towards an end consumer market (a bad state of mind that those of us in the U.S., Europe, and Canada have to shake to get the full scope of this project) It is a laptop that is aimed towards education, and kids...nothing else. Unlike the Classmate PC (which Microsoft and Intel is pushing), the XO was meant to be taken home and kept by their owners.

Sure it looks and feels Fischer Price, sure the interface in its current incarnation doesn't appear to be useful for real-world adult apps...but actually, there's a reason why. It was designed exactly that way to be unattractive to adults who are used to a more traditional interface. This is a good thing as it increases the chances that these kids (who guard these things with their lives as is) will get to keep them without being robbed. But if you take the time to actually explore the design of that interface you'll find that's there's a lot more to it than the first impression gives. It's actually a very clever design that promotes collaboration.

I've been reading the negativity about this project for over a year now...the first types of pessimism pretty much said that they would never be manufactured...and now they are. I really think that the positives outweigh the negatives...this project brings technology to kids in a way that not only helps them with education, but also helps bridge the technology gap. Sure there are challenges, but seeing this one video in particular convinced me to participate with a donation.
posted by samsara at 7:22 PM on December 25, 2007


So I heard about the OLPC, didn't really care until I saw the Asus EEE specifications, which are very interesting. Now I didn't check around for better, but if my memory serves subnotebooks run easily over €1000 and damn if I need all that processing power in a pocket ; it's not that I wouldn't like it (there is no such thing as enough cheap number crunching) , but I do NOT need it.

What's obvious is this product is market as for KIDS, but as delmoi kind of attempts to point out, it's just being presented as a dumbed down pc ..for KIDS. Mind you, kids know a lot more than you kind about PCs...they learn a lot and fast, and usually "get it" well before many adults do.

In reality, the OLPC is for adults that are technologically challenged....

....but it also a starting point for a cheap hackable ultraportable, something the geeks out there would certainly appreciated ( I am tired of bringing 3.3Kg laptop on a daily basis, that brick has to become lighter and cheaper)

Manjusri writes "The more I learn and tinker with the OLPC the more impressed I am at how it is perfectly designed it is to empower it's target user."

That's a bit of an hyperbole, but I concur that a relatively (very relatively) unexpensive ultra portable pc is something I could buy right now, if I didn't have a palm telephone already, which is perfect for most non-writing tasks...but it still is NOT the same as an ultra portable pc with a decent screen, decent keyboard and battery life.
posted by elpapacito at 7:43 PM on December 25, 2007


My first computer was an Atari 400. I spilled liquid on the membrane keyboard more than once, and you couldn't really open the thing up beyond the cartridge. That was back in 1981 or so, and that computer is still at my parent's home -- and still works as of this year. I will be bringing it back from my next visit so that my kids have an early and easy introduction into the world of computers, as I did.

Kids break PCs. Heck, adults break PCs. That Atari 400 cost over $500 new, and you needed a television to attach it to (plus all it had without extra cartridges was a built-in notepad.) You're gonna hand my kid (or any kid in the world) a computer that costs $200 in today's dollars, has a built-in display, and can handle the kind of abuse that my old Atari 400 dished out...and have capabilities that, while dumbed down compared to your laptop or mine, are lightyears ahead of what the high line machines could do back in 1981?

To hell with you all and your snarking; that's an amazing achievement of industrial design, and my kids (and lots of kids throughout the world) are going to benefit extensively from it, just like I did from having that Atari 400 around with a 300 baud acoustic modem and the terminal cartridge.
posted by davejay at 9:47 PM on December 25, 2007


er, that my old Atari 400 TOOK, not dished out; my Atari 400 never hurt a fly.
posted by davejay at 9:47 PM on December 25, 2007


The idea that teaching our youth about computing should have anything to do with teaching them what familiar Windows-like graphic interfaces look like is ultimate fail and should be put down vigorously.
posted by 31d1 at 11:28 PM on December 25, 2007 [5 favorites]


Elpapa: That wasn't hyperbole, I am continually impressed by the design of this thing. Take a look at Marvin's link for a little taste of why. You don't seem to fully grasp that you and I are not the target user for the xo. It truly is designed for children, and details such as the small keyboard and cuteness factor seem at least partially intended to keep them in children's hands.

I'm not sure how you get the idea that the olpc "is being presented as a dumbed down pc", that the "real" users are adults, or that the screen is not "decent" (It's actually quite nifty). You might be confusing the OLPC with the EEE PC, or perhaps you're just confused?

The battery life is currently 3-4 hours for normal usage, which is quite a bit shorter than anticipated but certainly "decent". This can be extended by using the daylight viewing feature of the screen and there are additional power saving features pending a newer revision of the software that will extend the battery life further.
posted by Manjusri at 1:06 AM on December 26, 2007


The OLPC seems to make poor kids smarter and rich adults stupider. heh.
posted by srboisvert at 2:06 AM on December 26, 2007


When I first touched my OLPC I was shocked at the sense of quality that I felt. I know that it is cheaper than other notebooks, so I would expect it to feel worse than other notebooks but it doesn't. You know how macs have these little thoughtful features like a power cord with a magnetic safety release that people make a big deal about. On this thing virtually every aspect is like that I find myself saying to myself "oh I see what you did there". I'm used to keeping a notebook 2-3 years. I have a feeling that I'll be keeping this thing for 10 years or more. I'm not going to pretend that there aren't things that annoy me about the thing. At least some of the things are obviously meant to annoy me. Some of the things are just software issues that are not polished yet and hopefully will be later. I hate the keyboard and have to think that even for its target audience they could have done better... somehow.
posted by I Foody at 7:20 AM on December 26, 2007


Mine arrived last week, and every time I've taken it out in public, I've ended up spending most of my time explaining the project to people. At least three people asked me if I had a card where they could donate to the project.
posted by nomisxid at 8:54 AM on December 26, 2007


Under the hood of the $100 laptop via the Beeb
posted by infini at 9:48 AM on December 26, 2007


Here I am reading through this thread when I get a message from the front desk, there's a package for me up there. What is it you ask? It's my xo!

Wow, this thing is tiny.
posted by djeo at 10:43 AM on December 26, 2007


That's my usage pattern. It may not work for everyone, but I'm extremely glad to see that usage patterns beyond that of the mythical mainstream first-world consumer or equally mythical "power user" are finally being explored.

Hell yes. The last ten years have been a dark time for real innovation on the desktop, so it's nice to see anyone trying anything different.

(And, I've got to add, while I don't anticipate buying one of these, I want that view-source key bad. A proposed corollary to Greenspun's Tenth: any sufficiently complicated operating system contains a fuzzily-imagined, poorly-implemented, half-assed implementation of half of Genera.)
posted by enn at 11:29 AM on December 26, 2007


I have a feeling that I'll be keeping this thing for 10 years or more.

That's optimistic.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:37 AM on December 26, 2007


I received my XO Christmas Eve, Fed Ex played the role of Santa.

It really is very well built, those who mentioned quality construction are not kidding. The screen is great and The sunlight readable option is fantastic.

To the person who asked, you can use it to read while eating a sandwich. And to avoid fatigue I tried it without entirely flipping the screen over so it resembles an open book. If you slip your thumb through the handle opening and rest the XO against your hand you can then rest your hand and the bottom of the xo on the table. You'd have to press one of the buttons to scroll down though but with the weather resistant build you don't have to worry dirt getting between the keyboard keys.

As as far as regular use of the keyboard goes I've only used it for a few hours and think I am starting to get used to it. I can touch type on it to some extent but I'm no where near the speed I can get on my real keyboard. It is definitely a drawback for an adult user but since I can touch type on it with my adult (though slender) fingers, I can imagine children having no problem with it.

Nomisxid: I made some fliers awhile back as a quick and dirty sheet on the Give One Get One points. They're up on my flickr account available as color or black and white versions. Or here's a color pdf, full resolution version: http://www.offlinetshirts.com/temp/Give1Get1FlyerbyFricka.pdf
posted by Fricka at 12:09 PM on December 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


If the G1G1 program is really aimed at developers, I doubt they would have advertised on TV with the guy from Heroes.
posted by smackfu at 6:39 PM on December 26, 2007


Hey tell you what, we'll keep stripping your landbase of your resources and funding your dictators, but in return we'll give your kids this fucked up computer. Square?
posted by poweredbybeard at 12:15 AM on December 27, 2007


Tell you what, we'll educate your kids and give them the communications and organizational skills to address your country's problems the only way they can be addressed: on a local level by local people. How does that sound?
posted by tkolar at 5:05 AM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Poweredbybeard, I don't see how you can associate the government with a non-profit organization that is thinking outiside of nationalism, and just focusing on helping educate impoverished kids no matter where they are. The idea is to bridge the gap, so they can eventually depend on themselves...if anything it hurts cradles of civilization like that U.S. when third world countries are able to rise up and use their own resources to their own benefit.
posted by samsara at 6:49 PM on December 27, 2007


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