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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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  • You have to look at this through the needs of a child [in the developing world]. A child doesn't want to play the latest video games. he wants to be able to read a book.
    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....
    • by ericlondaits (32714) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:01AM (#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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vtcodger (957785)
      ***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.

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

    by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:20AM (#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 @08:22AM (#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...
    • the Newton (Score:3, Interesting)

      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, le

  • by GreatDrok (684119) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:29AM (#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 ozbird (127571)
      MS has had prototypes to try and install XP on, does anyone think they were successful?

      Probably, based on the colour scheme. =8o

      (Yes, I know it's aimed at kids and will no doubt be available in other colours; put me down for a red one to go with the devil-horns antennas.)
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      XP is so 2006. I want to see Vista running on these machines.
  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:33AM (#17537644)
    "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."

    Well, so much for the C64 world domination. It was fun while it lasted.

    ... Wait! With this production rate, it's more than three years to go, isn't it? Hmm, I guess I can snog my little lovely breadbox for some more time.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      The C64 is part of why this project never really impressed me much. I can buy a C64 brand new for $15. No, I'm not talking about NOS, I am talking about a C64 manufactured within the last year. Yes, you would need to add a keyboard, Monitor, Wifi, larger case, and foot peddle, but when I went online, I found that I could put together a rugged, human powered computer for ~$90. This was right after the OLPC project was announced, and was single unit, retail pricing. No doubt that if parts were bought in
      • by nuzak (959558)
        > I can buy a C64 brand new for $15.

        And I can buy a calculator for $10, and it probably has a more advanced processor. I had a C64 for years and years, but unless you're doing embedded work, it's time to let the 8-bit era go.
  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:36AM (#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.
    • by alnapp (321260) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:50AM (#17537780) Homepage
      Via Ebay ? ! ?
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6246989.stm [bbc.co.uk]

      As posted below, but more pertinaint as a reply to your post
      • by DrXym (126579)
        Interesting. If that were the conditions, I'd say yes to it. I wouldn't want sugar UI - just Fedora & GNOME / xfce or similar, but other than that I can live with it the way it is, even down to the lime green finish.
    • I could use thousands of machines like these and at the moment am stuck between using full laptops with all of the associate cost and bollocks or palm like devices which are useless for anything but reading the occasional appointment.

      These machines are substantially below the market value, in particular the built in mesh networking is interesting. What's going to happen is that they will be diverted in large numbers to places like ebay. What would you do if you were handed something worth a year's salary? T
      • Yea... I could see lots of potential as field computers for engineering purposes. The ability to charge it via the crank itself is a good option in necessity. The size and form and apparently weight is great. You don't need top of the line laptops for the purposes I have in mind... but handhelds are just too darn small. This would be the perfect solution.
    • "The backers of the One Laptop Per Child project plan to release the machine on general sale next year." according to the BBC [bbc.co.uk].
      and it will be twice the price (so $300 seems about right as they cost $150 to make at the moment)
    • by mwvdlee (775178)
      Although I agree these laptops could be useful (I currently use a $500 laptop for browsing, e-mail and chatting primarily), I do wonder whether the UI (both hardware and software) and storage limitations are sufficient for western adults.

      The software side can probably be changed (given it's linux based, I expect major improvements will happen if the OLPC becomes popular in the west). Perhaps a different color (black or white instead of green?) would make it more appealing. But storage would be a serious iss
      • by DrXym (126579)
        Although I agree these laptops could be useful (I currently use a $500 laptop for browsing, e-mail and chatting primarily), I do wonder whether the UI (both hardware and software) and storage limitations are sufficient for western adults.

        I think Sugar (the UI) would be hateful, but it is just Linux running underneath so I expect you could shove a cut down dist onto the thing and it work pretty much like a regular laptop. In terms of usefulness, I think that if it were bundled with Firefox, Thunderbird, Op

  • And we can get them (Score:4, Informative)

    by alnapp (321260) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:37AM (#17537680) Homepage
    • Selling the laptop via an eBay store (especially when being sponsored by ebay corp.) actually makes sense. eBay already has the server-rack space, huge bandwidth, order processing capabilities and other online-retail amenities at the scale needed for something like this to work well. This makes it an easy step for the OLPC project to go retail without having to reinvent the wheel.
  • What about heat? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Yeti.SSM (869826)
    Just wondering... What happens when somebody forgets the thing on direct sunlight (which is IMHO quite likely with kids)? Won't it damage the LCD or battery if left there for a while?
    • by slim (1652)

      Just wondering... What happens when somebody forgets the thing on direct sunlight (which is IMHO quite likely with kids)? Won't it damage the LCD or battery if left there for a while?

      They've suggested that one reason they want to give the machines directly to kids, and not to schools, is that the kids will value them more that way, have a sense of ownership, and look after them better. By that logic, once they've learned that leaving one out in the sun kills it (if that's the case), they won't do it again.

      The question then is, how easy is it to get a replacement? Make it too easy, and you lose the incentive to look after the one you have. Make it too hard, and there'll be deserving chi

      • by jandrese (485)
        I'm starting to wonder if anybody at the OLPC project (or even on Slashdot) has actually watched kids in real life? Even when a kid has a sense of ownership, that doesn't mean they won't leave the thing sitting on the floor of the living room for someone to step on, or next to a window that will get direct sun in 12 hours. Kids don't work like that.
        • by slim (1652)

          I'm starting to wonder if anybody at the OLPC project (or even on Slashdot) has actually watched kids in real life? Even when a kid has a sense of ownership, that doesn't mean they won't leave the thing sitting on the floor of the living room for someone to step on, or next to a window that will get direct sun in 12 hours. Kids don't work like that.

          You generalise. Also we don't know what age kids we're talking about.

          When I was -- ooh -- 9 years old perhaps, my parents bought a BBC Micro for the family. It cost £400 -- a lot of money in those days, and a big investment by my parents. They sat me down and explained that it was an expensive and precious thing, and that I wasn't to boast about it at school because other kids would be envious. I was as good as gold, I used it every day, and I treated it with great care, and I most certainly did not

    • Re:What about heat? (Score:5, Informative)

      by gradedcheese (173758) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:41AM (#17538314)
      As I recall from the couple OLPC mailing lists that I read, they did (and continue to do?) a lot of LCD and overall 'destructive' testing. The LCD was sourced very carefully can contains a special UV filter, in fact last I heard there was a 'desert' and 'not desert' version of that to deal with the different environments. Similarly, they've done a lot of battery testing and there are improvements that will go into the revised and more final hardware.

      The OLPC does not contain any real moving parts (hard disk, etc) and the motherboard is behind the LCD panel, not under the keyboard (where the battery is). The processor runs nice and cool (in fact, it's underclocked).

      I worked at one for a while and it was a welcome relief from my 'burn your lap' ThinkPad with a PIII : ) That said, proper suspect and power management isn't done yet, so they have a lot more to do in these areas.
  • Software (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cheesey (70139) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @08:51AM (#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) <jason@jasonlef k o w i t z . n et> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:14AM (#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@NoSpaM.hogemann.com> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:14AM (#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 Bert64 (520050)
      Security is not really a great concern in the ones which will never get networked, and those that do can be updated.
      • by slim (1652)

        Security is not really a great concern in the ones which will never get networked, and those that do can be updated.
        But the intention is that the vast majority will be networked. Almost all will join a mesh with nearby machines. Provision of Internet access to communities is part of the project.

        One nod to security is that each application runs in its own VM. (Why am I replicating TFA??)
    • "There is one aspect of the OLPC that really worries me: the software"

      I thought OLPC [fedoraproject.org] was based on Fedora Core [redhat.com] sponsored by Red Hat Inc. so I wouldn't worry.

      "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.

      If they won't be seeing a network then how would security be a problem.

      However, the OLPC folks seem unworried:

      With two more betas to go before the summer, Bletsas was unfazed by the glitches. He also

    • by smagoun (546733)
      There is one aspect of the OLPC that really worries me: the software.

      There are alternatives - Pepper Computer's [pepper.com] Linux environment runs on the OLPC [youtube.com]. It's more mature than the OLPC software, and was designed from the beginning for consumers. It focuses on web browsing and media rather than education, although it's possible to run things like eToys too. Pepper integrates Firefox, MPlayer, Helix, and a number of other open-source projects into something much simpler and easier to use than your standard GNOME

  • The four buttons just below the screen and to the right are marked Triangle, Circle, Square, X.

    What's the story there? Did Sony suggest it? Were Sony asked for it? Is it product placement, or did the OX designers see merit in the culture-agnostic use of geometric shapes?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by daranz (914716)
      It's another one of Sony's uncoventional and widely ineffective marketing campaigns. This one targets third-world children as potential PS3 users.
  • "You have to look at this through the needs of a child [in the developing world]. A child doesn't want to play the latest video games. he wants to be able to read a book."
    What reality does this dude live in that he believes a kid would choose "Pride and Prejudice" over Halo?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BigTom (38321)
      And that, in a nutshell, is why the next generation of US and European kids are going to be serving coffee and noodles to the highly motivated, well educated immigrants who will be doing all the real work by then.
      • by Daemonik (171801)

        And that, in a nutshell, is why the next generation of US and European kids are going to be serving coffee and noodles to the highly motivated, well educated immigrants who will be doing all the real work by then.

        Please, if 3rd worlders were that educated then 419 scams wouldn't be half as funny.

        Furthermore, I'd take the general knowledge base of an average American any day of the week over someone who grew up in a country where it's 'common knowledge' that sleeping with a virgin can cure AIDS.

        • by slim (1652)

          Please, if 3rd worlders were that educated then 419 scams wouldn't be half as funny.
          Yes, because all Nigerians are 419ers, Nigeria is just like every other developing country, and every developing country is just like Nigeria.

          Tsk.

    • by slim (1652)

      What reality does this dude live in that he believes a kid would choose "Pride and Prejudice" over Halo?
      "a kid"?

      I bet if you sampled a typical mixed classroom of British 14 year olds, at least 10% of them would choose Jane Austen over Bungie.
      After all, more than half of them will be girls, and while many girls do enjoy gaming, Halo's a particularly macho example.

      But, you know, you can have both. Monday: save Princess Peach. Tuesday: The Old Man and the Sea.
  • Out of touch? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hodr (219920)
    "You have to look at this through the needs of a child [in the developing world]. A child doesn't want to play the latest video games. he wants to be able to read a book."
    - Bletsas

    They may be in the third world, but believing that most children would rather read an e-book than play a video game seems a bit out of touch. And before the rabbid Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter fans chime in, a couple things to keep in mind are that not all children can read, and of those who can and want to read, books tend to
    • Heck, as literary works go, there are many PD texts far superior to Harry Potter: just about anything by Mark Twain, for starters, and Dickens for the older kids. Heck, I even enjoyed "Anne of Green Gables" and sequels, and I'm not even a girl...
  • Something I was wondering in general (but which might apply well for OLPC laptops due to the lower processing power) is if it would be feasible to implement a multicomputer parallel processing capability. That is, use the mesh network to divide processing between multiple laptops, based on a language like Erlang (if it requires substantial changes or simplification maybe give it a new name like IntErlang). I imagine it would use a BitTorrent approach to managing jobs and transferring data, and the connected
    • by slim (1652)

      Something I was wondering in general (but which might apply well for OLPC laptops due to the lower processing power) is if it would be feasible to implement a multicomputer parallel processing capability. That is, use the mesh network to divide processing between multiple laptops, based on a language like Erlang (if it requires substantial changes or simplification maybe give it a new name like IntErlang). I imagine it would use a BitTorrent approach to managing jobs and transferring data, and the connected laptops each run a safe process that handles computation & calculation (like is done with SETI@home).

      Doing all this would seem to create a virtual community-based supercomputer, but I don't know enough to identify if there are any showstoppers.

      Translation: "Imagine a Beouwulf cluster of these things"

  • According to TFA: "In general, the XO uses what Bletsas calls 'Extreme Suspend,' going to sleep after two seconds of inactivity, but waking up within 300 milliseconds of an action."

    When I'm reading something online, I don't scroll more frequently than two seconds. I would probably find something else to do if I had to keep jogging the touch pad to keep the display active. Maybe I'm misinterpreting this?
    • by slim (1652)

      According to TFA: "In general, the XO uses what Bletsas calls 'Extreme Suspend,' going to sleep after two seconds of inactivity, but waking up within 300 milliseconds of an action."

      When I'm reading something online, I don't scroll more frequently than two seconds. I would probably find something else to do if I had to keep jogging the touch pad to keep the display active. Maybe I'm misinterpreting this?

      I understood this as being the CPU suspending, not the whole machine. The display subsystem would stay up. I could be wrong also, though.

    • This is a reflective display, so it doesn't need a backlight. There is a special chip to keep it going when everything else is shut down. This requires very little power.
    • Even with the main machine shut down the DCON chip can maintain the last image on the LCD since it has its own frame buffer and power domain. So you can read for as long as you want and only if you press a button will the computer wake up to change what is on the screen (to go to the next page, for example).

      In the same way, the wireless chip also is in a separate power domain and can keep working (routing packets on the mesh) even when the rest of the machine is off.
  • From TFA: "One way that costs are being kept down is to deliver the units en-masse to governments for delivery along the same channel as they currently use for textbooks, keeping the OLPC out of the distribution business. 'If we were selling this laptop through normal consumer channels, it would be more like a $250 laptop.'"

    My guess is that the implicit $150 "savings" in distribution cost -- which is a cost shift (to developing economies) and not a cost savings -- is based on distribution costs in develo
  • by Da_Weasel (458921) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:37PM (#17540976) Homepage

    In addition, Bletsas indicates that the units have been designed around low-failure operation, with no moving parts. For example, the motherboard sits directly behind the LCD, avoiding the need for a failure-prone connecting cable.
    So then how is the keyboard on the lower portion of the device communicating with the mother board? Is is using a low power radio transmitter or something? What about the touchpad? And power from the battery?
  • Have they solved this problem yet? The decision to go with Marvell (instead of some better supported chip, say, RealTek) seems to be arbitrary rather than informed.

    The choice of Marvell Wifi chip contradicts the very philosophical goal of OLPC itself. Disgusting.

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