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Novel OS Drives the '$100 laptop' 174

Posted by Zonk
from the not-novell dept.
jrwr00 writes with a link to a CNN story about the $100 laptop's unique operating system. We've discussed the OLPC's UI before but the article offers a few new piece of information on the project, which is expected to roll out this year. From the article: "The XO machines are still being tweaked, and [OLPC UI] Sugar isn't expected to be tested by any kids until February. By July or so, several million are expected to reach Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan, Thailand and the Palestinian territory. Negroponte said three more African countries might sign on in the next two weeks. The Inter-American Development Bank is trying to get the laptops to multiple Central American countries."
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Novel OS Drives the '$100 laptop'

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  • Novell OS? Whoops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dreddnott (555950) <dreddnott@yahoo.com> on Thursday January 04, 2007 @07:39PM (#17466914) Homepage
    I read this story on CNN first as well, and my first thought at seeing the headline was nightmares about a Novell operating system.

    In any event, it doesn't really sound particularly novel to me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Kelson (129150) *
      I read this story on CNN first as well, and my first thought at seeing the headline was nightmares about a Novell operating system.

      Could be worse. I read through the whole article waiting for the point where they'd explain how SuSE was involved. Then I finally looked back at the headline and realized I'd misread it.

    • Re:Novell OS? Whoops (Score:4, Informative)

      by rholliday (754515) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @07:47PM (#17467020) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, me too. I don't think "novel" is the best choice of adjectives in the OS world.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 04, 2007 @08:24PM (#17467486)
      Most of Sugar, the OLPC's desktop environment, is written in Python [python.org]. The source is here:
      http://dev.laptop.org/git.do?p=sugar;a=tree [laptop.org]

      I just tried it out, and I am pleasantly surprised! It's amazing how much faster Python is for desktop applications than Java is. Even when using IBM's SWT for developing Java applications, they still feel far more bloated and slower-responding than OLPC's Python-based GUI applications.

      I would have expected Python to be slower than Java, but apparently that is not the case. It could be that the layers upon layers that make up Swing really slow it down. Maybe it's time for Sun to take a page from OLPC's Sugar project, and develop a UI framework that is fast and easy to use.
      • by Nasarius (593729) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @09:06PM (#17467994)
        Sugar apparently uses PyGTK, so all the heavy lifting is done in C. wxPython works the same way, and it's what I write most of my GUI tools with. Even with lots of callbacks into Python code, it still runs fast. It's amazing how much you can do with just a few lines of code and no need to compile.
    • I think I'm tired of all the posts from people who think their own inability to read is extremely funny. And did you bother to (mis)read past the headline? They've invented a new UI metaphor, one that sounds pretty interesting. Novel enough.
  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @07:43PM (#17466976) Journal
    From TFA:
    "In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint," Negroponte wrote in an e-mail interview. "I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.
    Go on my son! Kids should be exploring, not training to become the paper-pushers of tomorrow. Computers have so much more to offer than that.
    • by NineNine (235196)
      Where these kids are, they'll be lucky if they get to be paper pushers. I doubt that kinds in a modern developing third world country have a lot of education that's not vocational.
      • Little do you know that one of these kids has been chosen by by the matrix to be "The One",
        and the OLPC project is an elaborate plan to locate and train "The One" for his ultimate battle......
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Mogster (459037)
      I agree entirely kids should be using computers to build and develop their imagination, not become fledgling cubicle monkeys

      The $100 laptop hardware may be designed and destined for the 3rd world - but the interface could be put to use anywhere

      Anything which allows kids to explore and extend their imaginations whilst learning should be embraced wholeheartedly.
    • by Salvance (1014001) *
      I can agree that it's basically worthless to teach elementary school kids Excel and PowerPoint (or any spreadsheet/slidshow app) ... there's absolutely no reason for an elementary school kid to use either. While there's a small case for PowerPoint (e.g. photo slideshows), the alternatives are far better at fostering creativity.

      Word processing is a different story. I feel that every kid should know how to write, and know the basics for writing in at least one word processing package. I'm not talking we
      • by griffjon (14945)
        Also, the OLPC has a target audience of 6-16 year olds. Sure, 6 year olds shouldn't be locked in to learning spreadsheets, much less Excel specifically, but, for the upper end of the spectrum, some actual marketable skills for the kids not interested in programming in Scratch or whatever other wonderful things might come out of playing with the OLPC, just might be useful.

      • by 1u3hr (530656)
        Word processing is a different story. I feel that every kid should know how to write, and know the basics for writing in at least one word processing package.

        It includes Abiword, a very capable word processor.

      • by Bert64 (520050)
        Well, you shouldn't teach kids a particular package, rather teach them the concept of a word processor.
        When these kids grow up, they will almost certainly find that the programs available to them or being used at places where they work, are completely different to what they used in school, especially since schools typically have computers that are a few years out of date anyway. As an example, we had wordperfect for dos at our school.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Penguinshit (591885)

      Computers have so much more to offer than that.

      Like inexpensive, never-ending pr0n!!

  • Quote FTFA (Score:4, Funny)

    by dayid (802168) * <slashdot@dayid.org> on Thursday January 04, 2007 @07:45PM (#17467004) Homepage
    "It doesn't feel like Linux. It doesn't feel like Windows. It doesn't feel like Apple," said Vota, who is director of Geekcorps, an organization that facilitates technology volunteers in developing countries. He emphasized that his opinions were his own and not on behalf of Geekcorps. so we have: a) kernel b) operating system c) hardware vendor It doesn't feel like any of those? Wow.
    • by dreddnott (555950)
      This would have been even funnier in 1998 or earlier, when b) wasn't even an operating system, but a hacked-in DOS shell.
  • Where are the apps? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by guanxi (216397)
    Just because I like to repeat myself every time an OLPC story is posted, I'll ask again: Where are the apps for this platform? Can anybody name one app, accessible to end users (e.g., no recompiling required), that is compatible with the Sugar UI, mesh networking, low-end specs, and other unique features?

    A platform exists only to run the apps, not visa-versa. BeOS was a great platform, too. Many excellent gaming platforms have failed, because they lacked apps (i.e., games). Linux desktop is getting now
    • by QuantumG (50515) *
      It comes with all the apps kids need to form open and interactive communities, and write applications for their own needs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NineNine (235196)
      You're right, but I don't think that this thing was designed to ever do anything beyond what it does out of the box. It's primarily just a chat platform, which is supposed to be useful, somehow...

      I can only imagine that Negropointe envisioned (after his own media attention, of course), that kids on opposing sides of local wars would IM each other and work things out, and that it would later be portrayed in a movie starring Keanu Reeves (playing Negropointe), produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BobNET (119675)
      Linux desktop is getting nowhere, despite it's technical excellence, because it lacks key apps (i.e., Office).

      Bluh? Is OpenOffice.org that bad on Linux? Admittedly I've only ever used it on Windows and OpenBSD, and can't really compare it to Microsoft Office since I've never actually used that (mostly because I've never had to)...

      • > Is OpenOffice.org that bad on Linux?

        It's not. BTW, at work i prefer to access our SSL web app using a 400 mhz ubuntu spare box instead of the 3ghz windows workstation as the former is more responsive. Workstation is probably borked after one year of installation and running a handful of non-pirate apps, with av and firewall for the whole subnet. If they won't go with linux next time we have to upgrade i'll push for macs.
    • by uwog (707498) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @08:19PM (#17467440) Homepage
      AbiWord. We have kicked abiword into a library, with the GUI stripped off. This allows one to build a GUI on top of it in python, like the rest of Sugar is. Seamless integration. This will be the writing Activity the children will use. Then we are working on special import/export filters for abiword to read/write the 'fileformat' of choice of sugar: crossmark. This will allow perfect integration with the Journal. Neat trick is that you can even embed abiword in mozilla to do inline editting.

      Also, a collaboration plugin for abiword is being worked on, that will use the mesh infrastructure and sugar presence framework to find and communicate with other users. This will allow realtime collaboration on documents (for example, 2 or more children working on an assingment simultaneously).

      So there you have an application that takes full use of the offered platform.
      • by zsau (266209)
        Is more info available about this? (webpage, mailing list, source or something?). OLPC (and this version of AbiWord) sounds awesome but I don't know anything about it...
    • by Nazgul_Cro (868869) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @08:30PM (#17467562) Journal
      OLPC can give kids Internet connection where they would usually have none.
      Web browser is, overall, the killer app. The pure difference in being able to access the Web, and not access it is remarkably huge. By giving children access to Google, Wikipedia, Slashdot, and billions of other sites and web applications it is the single most useful tool a child could have. It also comes with RSS reader, chat, AbiWord and eToys along with several games.

      Mesh networking is the point by itself, as its main function is not only to connect OLPC laptops together, but to also connect them to an Internet gateway, which will be provided by schools... This will have an overall effect of propagating Internet access through OLPC-targeted countries.

      I just don't see what would children "need" Office and Photoshop for.

      In developed countries, a child will have its computing needs satisfied already, by having access to regular computer. OLPC targetted child has no such privilege, and a difference between owning an OLPC laptop and not owning it will be huge.

      Porting software to OLPC is not hard. While Sugar is the interface, it is still founded on X Window System, and it runs Python apps as well... And newer versions of OS will have more apps that are already announced.
      Plus, judging a platform for not having enough software for it when it hasn't actually been released to its end-users yet isn't really fair. I predict it will create a very decent software library of its own, and that we'll see first of it quite soon after it goes fully public. It has happened to pretty much every platform around during the last 50 years.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by muszek (882567)
        By giving children access to [...] Slashdot [...]
        ... you give them one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn how to calculate maximum amount of pr0n that fits on any cutting edge storage devices.
    • by Vellmont (569020) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @08:33PM (#17467610)

      Where are the apps for this platform?

      How about a web browser, or an e-book reader? Those certainly sound like important apps for learning. Or how about a scientific graphing calculator? Perhaps some interactive learning software? There's already apps that could be very usefull. Really the hard part isn't really the apps, it's the content and curiculum that're more important.

        Can anybody name one app, accessible to end users (e.g., no recompiling required), that is compatible with the Sugar UI, mesh networking, low-end specs, and other unique features?

      You're asking the wrong crowd here as there's not many people on slashdot develop for, or familiar with this machine. Just because no one has given you an answer means very little.

      Go into a shopping mall and give a random person an OLPC -- what would they do with it?

      Huh? What does a random person in a shopping mall have to do with the needs of someone in a 3rd world country that's never even used a computer have to do with each other? I think you're really missing the point here.

      Hardware has always suffered from a chicken/egg problem. You need interest in the hardware to generate interest in developing software, but you need available software for the hardware to do something.

      My guess is the hope is that more specific apps will be created for the purposes of learning. But using a pre-existing OS will bring enough apps that're already available for Linux to make the thing usefull from the start. Personally I'd be more worried about the curriculum and infra-structure for kids to learn how learn from these things.
      • by JoshJ (1009085)
        There are several very good calculator programs on Linux. But with all that you said about learning, I'm curious why this project didn't work together with Edubuntu in the first place.
        • by Vellmont (569020)

          I'm curious why this project didn't work together with Edubuntu in the first place.

          Different hardware requirements. The OLPC is a specific piece of hardware with lower memory, disk space, and a specialized screen.
      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Friday January 05, 2007 @01:57AM (#17470084) Homepage Journal
        Ya know, back when I was 11 years old, I would have given all my pocket money and done weeks and weeks of chores just to be able to write BASIC on one of these things. These kids, who have never even seen a computer before, will get to code in Python/Smalltalk, browse the web, talk to their neighbours, and write a blog..
      • by tfinniga (555989)

        Hardware has always suffered from a chicken/egg problem. You need interest in the hardware to generate interest in developing software, but you need available software for the hardware to do something.

        Quoted for agreement. If I could get my hands on an OLPC, I would be writing software for it. Here's hoping that some make it into the north american market, even if at $200 or whatever. I imagine after they hit, it won't take long for a ton of software to be out there.
        Also, to the grandparent poster, s

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Starji (578920)
      How about Opera?

      http://people.opera.com/howcome/2006/olpc/ [opera.com]
      • by Starji (578920) Alter Relationship on Friday January 05, @09:38AM (#17467654)
        How about Opera?
        ===
        Yeah, because proprietary software is what this project is all about.

        L
    • Linux desktop is getting nowhere, despite it's technical excellence,

      1. It's very easy to argue it's getting somewhere because of the variety of distros out there. Just because NetCraft or whatever research name you look to for credibility can't/won't measure or validate the progress means absolutely nothing.

      2. Putting together a coherent desktop is difficult to say the least. Your average Linux desktop won't be competing directly with apple/microsoft, but you will find pragmatic IT people deploying them e
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      Go into a shopping mall and give a random person an OLPC -- what would they do with it?

      Last I checked, the target market for the OLPC was not "random people in shopping malls".

      Sure, it has some included apps, but that can't be sufficient to meet the needs of millions of kids with every need and in every environment imaginable.

      Correct. Many things that children might conceivably want out of a computer will not be provided by the OLPC. It will not be a game platform to rival the PS3, for instance.

      Its an educa

    • by fm6 (162816)
      There are no applications because running applications is not the platform's purpose [laptop.org].
    • by wall0159 (881759) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @09:10PM (#17468022)
      Where are the apps for this platform?

      The OS is Linux, so it will run anything that runs on Linux (subject to computing power, RAM, etc).

      no recompiling required

      There will (hopefully) be hundreds of millions of these machines. I think someone can make binaries for the kiddies if they want.

      Linux desktop is getting nowhere, despite it's technical excellence, because it lacks key apps (i.e., Office).

      Ahhh! so you really mean commercial applications. I don't see why 'perfect' compatibility with Word documents is so important to children.

      Look - it comes with applications: Broswer, RSS reader, text editor, and others. And it has a compiler, so kids can write their own applications. This computer is about liberating these kids, and giving them computer expertise - it's not about making them consumers of software. Difficult to understand, I know.

      I like to repeat myself every time an OLPC story is posted

      Well, saying the same thing many times doesn't make it more true or relevant.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Cal Paterson (881180)
        And it has a compiler, so kids can write their own applications.
        Perhaps a little ambitious, considering these children are probably seeing a computer for the first time.
        • by jackbird (721605)
          My first interaction with a computer was programming an Apple II. I was six. Granted, I didn't need a compiler, but I certainly wanted one before leaving elementary school.
        • My first experience with a computer was one that I programmed in BASIC at the age of 5. I'm sure there's plenty of other Slashdotters with a similar experience. It's not unreasonable to think that some children in a third-world country might have the talent for programming.

          The only problem I see is that without access to decent tutorials and documentation it is hard to learn programming. Perhaps what's on the internet will be enough but perhaps not. In my case I had the Hands-on BASIC for the IBM PCjr

        • by swillden (191260) *

          Perhaps a little ambitious, considering these children are probably seeing a computer for the first time.

          Bah!

          *Most* geeks who started playing with computers before the mid 80s or so were first exposed to computers that came with no software other than a BASIC interpreter. And guess what? We found them absolutely fascinating and had lots of fun creating little programs for them.

          My own first exposure to computers was with a big teletype connected to a University mainframe via an acoustically-coupled modem in fifth grade (1979 or thereabouts). The very first thing I ever did on a computer was:

          10 PRINT "

          • (though mine *are* learning Python, when I make them stop playing games).


            Check to see if they've installed PyGame/Livewires/SDL. You never know, they might be learning Python to make games. :-)

            • by swillden (191260) *

              (though mine *are* learning Python, when I make them stop playing games).


              Check to see if they've installed PyGame/Livewires/SDL. You never know, they might be learning Python to make games. :-)

              I installed Livewire for them. I think it's great if they're learning Python to make games. That's certainly how I started.

        • Perhaps a little ambitious, considering these children are probably seeing a computer for the first time.

          Shows how times have changed and expectations have altered. I cut my teeth on a TRS-80 Model III and Model 4. After playing with the crude productivity apps for about three minutes, I immediately began learning to write simple programs in BASIC. I had much fewer resources than are available via Google or Barnes & Noble today; essentially the owner's manuals that had some primitive tutorials. I recall a few years later when I got my Tandy 1000 PC with DOS how cool it was to finally have a real progr

        • by repvik (96666)
          Not really. Many of my friends who got a C64 were programming in basic within a couple of weeks. Granted, the learning curve of c64 basic wasn't too steep. But for a determined child, learning to program in C (given a pointer to documentation), won't take long.
    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      Where are the apps for this platform? Can anybody name one app, accessible to end users

      http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Software_components [laptop.org]

      Applications on B1
      a web browser built on xulrunner
      a simple document viewer based upon evince
      TamTam, a music synthesis tool
      Memory, a musical memory game written in Csound that exploits the mesh network
      eToys (see above)
      PenguinTV RSS reader
      Abiword, a word processor
      a simple application to demonstrate the camera by putting its video onto the screen.

      Applications (and ports) under d

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by smoker2 (750216)
      Why don't you try [vmware.com] it [tuttlesvc.org] for yourself ?

      Then you can have an opinion.

    • by KillerBob (217953)

      Just because I like to repeat myself every time an OLPC story is posted, I'll ask again: Where are the apps for this platform? Can anybody name one app, accessible to end users (e.g., no recompiling required), that is compatible with the Sugar UI, mesh networking, low-end specs, and other unique features?

      It's Linux. It's running on a 500MHz Geode processor, which is 32-bit x86 compatible, and 128MB of DDR266. If you replaced the 512MB Flash drive with a suitable hard drive, you could run Windows XP on it. T

    • by guanxi (216397)
      To respond to everyone at once; I see the following responses, beginning with the most interesting:

      1) The web browser is really the app platform -- it provides access to all the hosted Internet apps (gmail, etc)

      Interesting, but two concerns: Will the OLPCs have reliable enough Internet connections and will they have enough horsepower to run modern hosted apps (e.g., AJAX, Java, etc).

      2) It's not designed to be a general purpose laptop, it's a communication appliance with a few apps

      This answer really solves t
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You are arguing like you don't care about other people's replies, you are just pulling out ones to support your arguments.

        First off, "killer" applications: text editor and browser.

        Even something that can display simple HTML is a big plus to not having access to the Internet at all. You don't seem to understand that there is a lot of compromises that have to be made here. There's cost, physical/environmental conditions, the purposes it is being used, etc.... You should think of these machines more as educati
    • A platform exists only to run the apps, not visa-versa.

      Ah, yes. The computer as toaster paradigm.
  • Surely, it must be possible to build the same "Sugar" interface on any full install of a moder Linux OS... Where are the OS packages? Where is the SVN respository?
  • For awhile there I thougth devs had totally changed their mind on things and were going to use Suse as their upstream distro instead of Fedora. Not that I have anything agaist Suse...just Novel, the tech. company.
  • Screenshot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by youngerpants (255314) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @08:29PM (#17467552)
    http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Sugar_design_review_3/ [laptop.org]

    Lameness filter is a lameness filter
  • OS is Fedora based (Score:3, Informative)

    by GodWasAnAlien (206300) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @08:46PM (#17467736)
    The word "OS" is not mentioned in the article.
  • I took a look at Koobox PC's. Sure it starts out cheap. But then you have to replace the 40GB drive and quadruple the RAM. And by the time you're done it's a $600 unit. They price a harddrive upgrade for 120GB @ more than a hundred bucks. They want $129 for the RAM. I'd be happier if they didn't include anything at all. Straight retail mail order would be cheaper for the parts.

    So I'm pretty sure we could all have $100 laptops if pricing was semi rational.
  • I love this (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger (617870)
    quote FTA: ""In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint," Negroponte wrote in an e-mail interview. "I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.""
  • I do not quite understand the logic behind the choice of the CPU.

    It is quite a specific operating system and environment (not quite windows xp). Linux has been ported to many arches. So why not go with Alchemy or ARM9 chips? Lower power lower price. Why x86? The only reason to stick to x86 is to run windows or standardized Linux distros like redhat.

    And if they had to go with the geode and 128mb ram, why not use the lx800 chip which uses lower power?

    I would imagine an ARM9 chip would take less cranking to la
  • ...aspects of this project? Kids would figure out how to use a traditional UI. I'm more interested in, for example, how they plan to promote educational tools bundled on the OLPC like [laptop.org] Squeak [flickr.com]. I've heard plenty about Sugar. Sugar is just candy, pun intended.

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