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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

OLPC Evaluation Guide - First Impressions

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my new OLPC so I expect to write a lot about my experience with this new XO Laptop. I doubt I’ll be the only one writing about this unique device.


OLPC Evaluation Guide


Rule 1: Forget everything you already know.
The target user for this laptop are kids who have never been exposed to a computer before. You’ll need to look at using this computer as if you’ve never used Windows, Mac or even a C64 before.
That means forget about double clicking by tapping on the touch pad. The position of OK and Cancel buttons won’t match the Windows interface. You shouldn’t expect File/Edit drop down menus. Instead of Save, you’ll “Keep” your data and access it from your journal. Forget any concept of a folder based file system.


Rule 2: Forget about the price
In theory, the kids won’t ever know the market value of the OLPC laptop. It was supposed to be the $100 laptop but that price will have to wait. If you Give One to Get One, you are making a donation. Don’t expect your OLPC laptop to be anything more than a conversation piece or toy.


Rules 3: Take your Time
I had thought I could spend a couple days to evaluate the OLPC. I was really wrong. I keep learning more and more and there’s no way I can do justice to this machine until I spend at least a month with it. Nobody should publish any review for this laptop until at least next year.


Tristan taking his photo with the OLPC
Tristan playing with the photo/video/audio application.


OLPC First Impression


My first impression was disappointment but that’s already starting to change. The interface is different which is ok and expected. Unfortunately, it’s fragmented. It tries to be different but still tries to teach computer skills. I think there’s always been a gap between academia and real world. What sounds good in some white paper may not convert well to a real product(::cough:: Ada). Profit is sometimes the best motivation in the creation of great products.


Earlier this month John C. Dvorak wrote an article suggesting it might be better to just give $200 worth of food. John was just being a cranky greek and I still disagree. Giving this laptop is an investment and while risky it’s worth a shot. It’s not like it could hurt America’s image any more than the Bush Admistration has already done.


What I Like

  • The browser doesn’t suck: It’s quick enough and while limited, it supports Flash, Javascript, PDF files and Cookies(Yea that can be a good thing)

  • Applications are plentiful: It even includes a number of programming examples for kids to learn how to create their own programs.

  • Size: It’s small for kids hands.

  • Networking: It took a little practice but it now always finds my WiFi network and searches for any available Mesh networks.

What I don’t Like

  • No power crank: I thought this was the whole point.

  • Durability: I expected it to be a little more ruggedized.

  • Bugs: I’ve had my share of reboots and mouse weirdness. I can’t say if it’s hard,soft or firmware related.

  • No Popups: Some web apps actually use pop ups.

  • Sound quality: The quality is similiar to my old C64 but the speaker isn’t as good. Seems like MOS Technology’s SID chip could gotten cheaply.

One thing for sure, there is a huge need for some instruction books along with tips and tricks. I have to wonder if David Pogue is already working on “OLPC: The Missing Manual”.

Update: I spoke with David and we won't be seeing a book from him but Edward Cherlin directed me to OLPC help available at http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Publications. Edward also was kind enough to address my dislikes in the comments section below.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Corrine said...

I hope we will also get the benefit of Tristan's impressions. At his six-ish age,he doesn't have the same learning curve to adjust to for the differences between save|keep, folder|journal, key locations, etc.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Edward said...

Thanks for pointing out the difficulty of reviewing the OLPC XO, and the need for a new attitude to learning it. My experience has been similar to yours, but with, I think, some important differences. I got my first XO, a B2 prototype, in the summer on loan from Google, and a B4 later.

You say, "Don’t expect your OLPC laptop to be anything more than a conversation piece or toy."

I use my XO as my principal computer at conferences and other meetings. It is much lighter than my Ubuntu laptop, and does everything I need except heavy number crunching, video conversions, and the like. I use Google for e-mail and spreadsheets, until the native XO activities become available.

The real use of an XO is in education. "It's an education project, not a laptop project" is Nicholas Negroponte's most famous line. He is correct. The XO software is designed for collaborative discovery. You can't get that anywhere else. Children can invite others to chat with them, or to draw, or write, or play music together. They can play educational games together, or write games together.

You also listed some dislikes

* No power crank: I thought this was the whole point.

External crank units are available. Also string pull and others.

Renewable power is the point. The XO now has a standard power plug, and will run on anything between 10 and 15 volts. Anything that can charge a 12V car battery, then. Sun, wind, water, ethanol, biodiesel, animal or child power.

* Durability: I expected it to be a little more ruggedized.

It is extremely rugged. It has survived drop tests from four feet. A batch of XOs in a 60 degree C oven worked flawlessly during a 24-hour test. The designers at MIT have planned for operation in rain forests, desert, high mountains, and the Arctic.

* Bugs: I’ve had my share of reboots and mouse weirdness. I can’t say if it’s hard,soft or firmware related.

Yup. Definitely some bugs. Good thing it's field upgradable. The school server is meant to push new software to the laptops over the wireless mesh network at night.

* No Popups: Some web apps actually use pop ups.

Can't help. I have popups turned off in Firefox, and rarely enable them for anybody.

* Sound quality: The quality is similiar to my old C64 but the speaker isn’t as good. Seems like MOS Technology’s SID chip could gotten cheaply.

As cheaply?

How do you find it when you use headphones or external speakers. It's not too bad over my stereo system.

And you conclude

"One thing for sure, there is a huge need for some instruction books along with tips and tricks. I have to wonder if David Pogue is already working on “OLPC: The Missing Manual”."\

No, he told me he isn't doing Missing Manuals any more. Too busy. I'm working on XO manuals. See http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Publications for samples and an open invitation to join in.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Bill Pytlovany said...

Edward,

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your comments.

Obviously, I broke my own recommendations by commenting without spending some more time working with my XO. :)

I'm looking forward to digging in and exposing the power within this lean, mean, green machine.

Bill

8:43 PM  

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