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First Look At Final OLPC Design 224

Posted by kdawson
from the thinking-of-the-children dept.
blackbearnh writes "At the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday, AMD hosted a presentation of the final Industrial Prototype (Beta 1) of the One Laptop Per Child XO Laptop. Linux Today has extensive reporting, including new photos and details about power consumption, networking, and the logistics of distributing and servicing what will be the largest rollout of any computing platform in history: 5 million units in the first year. This will represent nearly a 10% increase in the total worldwide laptop production for 2007."
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First Look At Final OLPC Design

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  • Couch-device? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @07:20AM (#17537544) Homepage
    I have to admit that the more I read about the OLPC the more it seems like an ideal device for couch-centric web surfing and ebook reading... ;)

    But respect to the project for getting this far, I for one hope they make it all the way. Information wants to be free, after all.
  • by VE3OGG (1034632) <VE3OGG@@@rac...ca> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @07:22AM (#17537566)
    I saw the pics (which are quite nice!) and the first this that jumped into my mind was the ages old (by hardware standards) but infinitely cool eMate 300 [wikipedia.org] based on Apple's Newton platform. Those things were nigh indestructible and were marketed at he education market. All of those schools that are looking to invest thousands of dollars for computer equipment should really turn an eye to this unit -- cheap, infinitely flexible, and incorporating a lot of things that could be educational...
  • by GreatDrok (684119) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @07:29AM (#17537616) Journal
    MS has had prototypes to try and install XP on, does anyone think they were successful? It looks like an amazing amount of thought has gone into the design and execution. MS must be scared to death of this thing.
  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @07:36AM (#17537670)
    I'd pay $300 for a rugged laptop that runs 6 hours, can be stuffed into a small bag, has wifi, browser and other functionality. I'm sure a lot of other people would too - who knows perhaps it would be great way to subsidize the educational version.
  • Software (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cheesey (70139) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @07:51AM (#17537786)
    There is one aspect of the OLPC that really worries me: the software. The machine will ship with many pieces of entirely new software, or at least new frontends for existing programs (e.g. Firefox). I think that this is a significant risk. There is a lot of code to be designed, written, and thoroughly tested before their first deployment on millions of machines. Those machines may not see a network connection after they are sold, so the software has to be right first time. It also has to be secure.

    However, the OLPC folks seem unworried:

    With two more betas to go before the summer, Bletsas was unfazed by the glitches. He also called the current state of the software "barely useable," but again was confident that it would be where it needed to be by launch.

    I hope that this confidence is not misplaced.
  • Re:Software (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jalefkowit (101585) <jasonNO@SPAMjasonlefkowitz.net> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:14AM (#17537958) Homepage

    You don't have to take their word for it; you can grab the complete software stack and test it yourself, if you want. The OLPC team provide OS images [laptop.org] that you can use to run the software in any x86 virtualization platform (they recommend qemu, but people have it running in VMWare and Parallels as well).

    It's worth checking out just to see their new "Sugar" UI -- which is pretty cool IMHO.

  • Re:Software (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vhogemann (797994) <victor@hoge[ ]n.com ['man' in gap]> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:14AM (#17537962) Homepage
    That's where Python comes into.

    It's not like you can't shoot yourself in the foot with python, its just harder to do so. You don't have to worry about pointers, it has a HUGE and stable library, and integrated unit testing.

    Also, the GTK bindings are very mature. So if all you need is rewrite some UI code, Python probably is your safer bet.
  • by Aladrin (926209) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:15AM (#17537974)
    That's great, until you realize that ebooks hardly cost less than physical books.

    I'll admit that there's quite a few free ebooks, but the majority of them are 'literary classics' that a child couldn't read if it wanted to and college-level textbooks that a child couldn't read if it wanted to.

    If they can get some ebook publishers to donate books for use on these OLPCs that'll be great, but I'm not holding my breath. With the exception of MIT, Gutenberg and Baen.com, I haven't seen a lot of generosity in the form of books. (Physical or electronic.)
  • by haijak (573586) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:54AM (#17538478) Homepage

    It would not surprise me if others have brought this up, but I have not seen it.

    Is the target market for this thing really those kids we see on the Christian Children's Fund adds? If they are, I think a better goal for the worlds resources would be something like "A pair of shoes for every chilled" I would imagine that starving people in the Sudan, or wherever they end up distributing these things, will pass them of in a heartbeat if it gets them a meal for a day.

    If the goal is to give computers to people who don't have them, a good place to start would be in developed and nearly developed countries. Right here in the US, 2000 census [allcountries.org] claims 42% of American households have a computer, and only 22% have internet access. That leaves millions of kids in American schools who don't have a computer. I think they, and those like them in other countries, should be the real targets of a project like this.

  • by ericlondaits (32714) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:01AM (#17538540) Homepage
    I live in Argentina, which is one of the target countries for OLPC. Daily through the streets of Buenos Aires I come across many many indigent children who either beg for money, perform little juggling acts for coins, sell small items or collect cardboard and other materials from the trash which they later sell. These kids were usually found as well in Arcades, playing with some hard earned coins, out of someone's good will, or hungrily peeking over someone's shoulder. They normally play real good and act as on-site advisers for kids with money to play. When Arcades started disappearing in favor of small joints dedicated to on-line games, they moved over... and now they sometimes spend hard earned change for an hour of Counterstrike (historically the most successful on-line game for this kind of places). ... So I assure you... poor kids certainly do care about games, and I have no reason to think they'd rather read a book.

    And if you aim higher, towards the working class children, the lower middle class, or middle class, then there's no question either: as a rule kids don't like to read in this country. I think it's likely that overall children books are less popular here than in the US, and reading in adults is less popular as well. Kids normally don't like school or studying (no surprise here, I guess), and they avoid it as much as they can. We don't have SAT exams here, or any other kind of exam which require a certain level (except for some high schools which have an acceptance exam), so most kids stick to getting marks just high enough as to pass the class.

    So I can't imagine why someone would think that kids would rather use the computer to read a book than to play games. What I would believe, is that many kids would rather chat and browse through social network sites (Fotolog.com is very popular in Argentina and Brasil) than play games. Girls specially. In fact, I'm really happy that thanks to SMS and IM apps, kids now have a reason to read and write ten times more than they did before... even if they do it in garbled kl00l3z-5p34k. I'd like teachers to embrace this fact and help kids improve their on-line writing.
  • by vtcodger (957785) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:10AM (#17538656)
    ***It seems that they got the design requirements wrong! Where I came from, people couldn't care less about books as long as they could play Tetris....***

    Of course the kids are going to use the OLPC to play Tetris and other games. It's not an either Tetris or read "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch" thing. The OLPC looks to be able to do both, and it's a safe bet that it will be used for both.

    When I worked in a K-8 school, I asked some teachers if I should take Solitaire of the Windows machines. Some didn't care. Some WANTED it on the machines so the kids could play it at appropriate times. Nobody wanted it to be disappeared.

  • Speaking as a publisher, there is no chance whatsoever that children's textbooks need to cost twenty bucks each to print.

    Go for it, you find me quotes from printers for runs of over five thousand books where they cost any more than, oh, five bucks apiece. And that is assuming conventional paper, hardcover (which is, btw, a terrible design approach compared to, say, tyvek over soft plastic), and the book being the awkward size and design of "normal" textbooks.

    But then what would I know? I've only done textbook production work for Harcourt-Brace, Houghton-Mifflin, and Scholastic, not to mention collateral materials and periodicals production for The Trumpet Club, Time, Inc., McGraw-Hill, and, oh, right, my own publishing company.

    No, the pricing of textbooks is a result of back-assed production systems, government contractor pricing, schoolbook adoption board warping of design, and terrible legacy choices related to all of the above. And with new digital printing systems coming on line all the time, real world limitations are dropping every year.

    Admittedly, I'm delighted at all of the above. I'm just now bringing my first bound products to press and I expect to underprice the buggers by fifty to eighty percent.

    But don't believe them when they tell you their mahooah about printing costs. You might as well take Halliburton's word for it on their costs.
  • the Newton (Score:3, Interesting)

    by perfessor multigeek (592291) <pmultigeek@earthlink.cAUDENom minus poet> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:47AM (#17539144) Homepage Journal
    Agggh, the pain! Yep, the wondrous, neglected Apple Newton, stranded to die an abandoned death by the Jobs regime for reasons they never did really justify.

    "It canniblizes our other sales"
    Really, now? The Marine corps wants to carry iMacs into battle?

    "It puts us in marketplaces we can't afford to focus on."
    Oh, you mean like education, already a core market, and vertical stuff like insurance that is vastly profitable?

    "There was never really any demand."
    Funny, that's not what, say, Infoworld said, let alone teachers, doctors, mobile salespeople, and, as mentioned above, the U.S. Marine Corps.

    "Shareholders are upset about all that investment in plant."
    So better to just write it all off and cut your profit numbers down further?

    "We can't afford the distraction from important projects."
    As CNet showed two months ago, the Newton is still better than most of what's out there. And from the scuttlebutt I heard from folks inside Apple, there were plenty of people wanting to buy the rights to the molds, the IP, the whole damn package. Apple (read Jobs and buddies) was just too snitty to accept any of the offers.

    I'm impressed by what I'm seeing about the iPhone, though a little more comparison to the Nokia 800 and various Psions would be appreciated. But this is pissant compared to what we would have now if we had gotten TEN FRICKIN' YEARS more improvement of the Newton.

  • by couchslug (175151) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:08AM (#17539472)
    "A child doesn't want to play the latest video games. he wants to be able to read a book."

    The children that this will help DO want to read a book. In order to reach the kids who will matter, one must offer opportunity to the group.
    Let's face it, most PEOPLE, anywhere, don't amount to sh1t. That is not a problem. Reaching the few who will learn and use that learning along with the personal ambition and ability to succeed matters.

    Geeks and technically able people are a minority in ALL countries, but we matter.
  • by smithbp (1002301) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:13AM (#17539544)
    I agree that there is a benefit to reading outside of your "age-appropriate" level. When I was 10, I picked up novels that I saw in a bookstore and my father would be more than happy to oblige getting it for me to read. It's important to develop a reading habit and love in a child at an early age. The only thing that frightens me about the OLPC model for book distribution is that kids will associate reading with being in front of a PC to do it. There is nothing quite like getting a new book in your hands as a kid and looking at the cover, reading those first few pages, etc. The way that an ebook is delivered removes that experience from the equation. There's also the eyestrain from reading a book on a PC over a prolonged period of time to deal with as well. While it's a great idea to get the OLPC initiative into action and deployed, it is also going to cause all kinds of debates and overall bitching as time goes on.
  • by phaggood (690955) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:55PM (#17551050) Homepage
    >There's absolutely no reason in the world why we shouldn't have a complete set of open content textbooks covering all of a basic liberal education
    Agreed, tho the $100M you mention seems more than should be needed; Wikipedia just raised nearly $1M all from small donations. I can't believe that textbooks for the basic 4 subjects, math, reading, science, history, for 1-8th grade, couldn't be written by a small group of writers in a year for $1M. I bet if you offered a bounty, like 'RentACoder' on two smaller projects, one that created the 'table of contents' for the books, then another to actually write all the chapters, you'd end up with free-to-use e-books that could be used by any district that wished.

    Maybe some of these 'free textbook' sites are a good place to start:

    http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikibooks.org]
    http://www.businessbookmall.com/Free%20Business%20 Books.htm [businessbookmall.com]
    http://digg.com/tech_news/Hundreds_of_Free_Textboo ks_on_one_website [digg.com]
    http://www.textbookrevolution.org/ [textbookrevolution.org]

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