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David Pogue Reviews the XO Laptop 303

Posted by Zonk
from the little-engine-that-could dept.
Maximum Prophet writes "David Pogue, technology reviewer at the New York Times, has taken a first-hand look at the XO laptop, also known as the 'One Laptop Per Child' project, or the '$100 Laptop'. His reaction is very favorable, having tested it out via several criteria. And ultimately, he writes, the laptop is about more than just technology for the people. 'The biggest obstacle to the XO's success is not technology -- it's already a wonder -- but fear. Overseas ministers of education fear that changing the status quo might risk their jobs. Big-name computer makers fear that the XO will steal away an overlooked two-billion-person market. Critics fear that the poorest countries need food, malaria protection and clean water far more than computers. But the XO deserves to overcome those fears. Despite all the obstacles and doubters, O.L.P.C. has come up with a laptop that's tough and simple enough for hot, humid, dusty locales; cool enough to keep young minds engaged, both at school and at home; and open, flexible and collaborative enough to support a million different teaching and learning styles.'"
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David Pogue Reviews the XO Laptop

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  • by Mahjub Sa'aden (1100387) <msaaden@gmail.com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:30PM (#20857637)
    If you take a path no-one has taken before, you're basically risking your reputation (and I guess in the countries in question your life as well) on something that isn't proven to work. Or, in the case of Windows, isn't proven to sort of work.

    The real question becomes, then, how afraid are you? Innovation always involves fear. But it involves ridiculous rewards when you're right.

    When you consider that the course of action in question involves the betterment of an entire generation of children, and quite possibly their children as well, you can't be faulted for at least trying something new. Even something untested, because face it, your old and busted way isn't working very well.
  • Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:31PM (#20857653)

    Big-name computer makers fear that the XO will steal away an overlooked two-billion-person market.
    Why should anyone care what they think? If they're not going to produce a similar product that that two billion person market can afford, to heck with them. Of course they'll loose the sale if no one can afford their product.
  • by DrXym (126579) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:33PM (#20857695)
    I'd possibly buy one for $400 but I wouldn't want the software that comes with it. I hope Bitfrost is disabled and you can flash an alternative OS onto it. Otherwise it's the Asus Eee PC for me. To be honest I really need something like these PCs. A normal laptop is too heavy, too expensive, too fragile to take on short breaks or travelling. These things fit the bill perfectly. I can see an enormous market for them.

    Maybe they should even sell a proper commercial OLPC (in black perhaps) to consumers expressly for this purpose. Use the profits to subsidize the educational version.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:36PM (#20857733)
    How can you "steal away" something that is being overlooked?

    It sounds like they may be defining a new marketspace that others will be free to join and compete in.
  • by semiotec (948062) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:38PM (#20857761)
    What critics like you never seem to consider is that perhaps they _have_ considered the possibility and concluded that the benefit it will bring these countries and children outweighs the harm that some individuals might do?

    Or are you advocating that we should just cut them loose entirely? embargo the entire continent until they've managed to pull themselves up to the first world standard, just in case any aid we give them backfires on us? (yes, I am well aware that I am exaggerating for the sake of dramatics).
  • Less is More? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rueger (210566) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:43PM (#20857843) Homepage
    A rather thin article to be sure, but this machine does offer something appealing - less of everything.

    More and more, after years of Windows, then a Mac, then dabbling with various Linux distros, I find myself questioning just how much of the junk on my computers is essential or even useful.

    Less moving parts, simpler and fewer applications, and limited capabilities, all sound like positives, not negatives, if only because it could slow the endless stream of updates and fixes, each of which seems to introduce other problems.

    I can see an OLPC machine as really good daily machine for e-mail, browsing, and some everyday tasks like word processing, at least with a bigger hard drive. With the option of maintaining a desktop PC, even a generation older, to handle the heavy lifting of Adobe and similar tools, I could probably get by nicely with this little unit.
  • by Turing Machine (144300) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:48PM (#20857937)
    Critics fear that the poorest countries need food, malaria protection and clean water far more than computers.

    'Cause there's no way that you could possibly use one of these things to learn about sustainable agriculture [wikipedia.org], malaria prevention [cdc.gov], or safe drinking water [who.int], right?

  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:51PM (#20857991) Homepage

    That's flat out moronic. It's an amazing machine.

    So why not sell them in the US?

    • "It don't fit my hands?"
    • "Where do I put the CD?"
    • "Where is the start menu?"
    • "Why can't my kids play XBox on it?"

    These are ingenious little machines. It would be very smart to sell them to US consumers, but frankly I think the US computer market (something that includes me) tends to be... on average... far too ignorant to be able to buy these effectively. They will consider them all broken because they aren't "normal" computers.

    All this is ignoring the fact the whole point of this project is to help 3rd world people, not give Americans another way to IM their friends.

    They aren't underpowered, they have plenty of power. You don't NEED a dual CPU 2.x GHz laptop with 2 gigs of RAM to compute. This think would kick my Mac LC II around the block so bad it wouldn't be funny.

  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:57PM (#20858079) Homepage

    Bad comparison. Is you Compaq designed to take all sorts of abuse, and be able to withstand water and dust and such? How long does your Compaq run on battery? Does it have no moving parts other than the keyboard? Or is it rather fragile.

    This is not designed to compete in the regular laptop market, but if they upped the keyboard to adult size it would probably work for 90+% of US citizen's real needs.

  • by Deadplant (212273) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:57PM (#20858087)
    and? your argument seems to be that people should be kept ignorant and powerless because some people will use knowledge and power for evil.
    I don't think you've thought your cunning plan all the way through...

    (I think I'll just bite my tongue on the porn issue for the moment)
  • by Mahjub Sa'aden (1100387) <msaaden@gmail.com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:58PM (#20858089)
    If it were merely education in a classroom setting, I could see it as a distraction, a detriment of some kind. But the XO is about a different kind of education entirely, one not driven (necessarily) by classroom learning. It's about enabling a generation to become familiar with computers, with computing metaphors, and even better, UNIX.

    It could be like a quantum leap for an entire generation of kids. They might take it to the next level. Punch it up a notch. Fly high. Other metaphors and similes.
  • by Braino420 (896819) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @04:58PM (#20858093)
    Ya, it's a good thing that scams and porn don't happen on America's internets. Because if it did, that would definitely outweigh ANY benefits whatsoever and should definitely be shut down. If it can be used for bad, I DONT WANT ANY. Seriously though, are you joking as much as I am?

    I love it when people take initiative to do what they think is the right thing, and then the people sitting on the sidelines are like, "Oh, you're doing it all wrong, you should do absolutely nothing like me." It really makes life entertaining for me.
  • by whistlingtony (691548) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @05:05PM (#20858215)
    Ha!

    If those kids become socially, technically, and linguistically educated enough to run the scam, I'd say the laptop is a success. The kids will have learned english gooder... :D They'll have figured out the wonders of email, not to mention begun a lifetime of tinkering with the backgrounds of things instead of taking what's presented to them, and they'll have savvied up to American culture. They'll be reading more, writing more....

    It's jaded and crappy, but how is that not a success still?

    And Porn? Well, you could make a case that porn, put in the hands of a kid that doesn't understand that the context, could warp normal sexual relationships. I think the rampant religion has already done that though, so no worries.... Remember, sex is BAD kids! The dinosours died because you touch yourself at night.
  • by tmdybvik (70460) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @05:38PM (#20858781) Homepage
    The "Give 1, Get 1" program is in many ways a great initiative, that could allow this program to gradually become self financing, at least considerably less expensive. It also drives manufacturing scale, reducing unit cost, at least initially.

    There will be plenty of takers for the foreseeable future. The program caters to peoples vanity, allowing the giver to flaunt their generosity. Nothing appeals more to the western world than gadgets and vanity, and if our obsessions can fuel third world education, then that would be the best thing since sliced bread.

    Governments could also benefits from a relatively low-cost rugged PC. Try to get a reasonably equipped, rugged piece of hardware for $400. You can't.

    However, the laptops for sale should be of a different colour, for instance red. This would alleviate one of the biggest concerns of the program --- that stolen green laptops became a major source of revenue to corrupt government officials, or to parents who found a few dollars more tempting than their child's education. The goods will eventually end up in the hand of westerners who act like Santa Claus but are actually stealing from the kids --- a disturbing thought.

    Selling the standard green laptop is a gigantic mistake. By all means keep the production line the same, but please change (at least) the colour of the enclosure for the resale variant. Help keep the green XO in the hands of its intended users.

  • by GnarlyDoug (1109205) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:12PM (#20859223)
    I really love the mesh network concept. That should be in the big three operating systems already. Hopefully this will spur the adaptation of this concept to the big operating systems. I can see huge uses for it, from collaborative projects to gaming and of course education.
  • by nuzak (959558) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:51PM (#20859761) Journal
    Birds eat bugs. But I guess we can just pour on more DDT to make up for their being gone.

    And most of the people in these countries would prefer that rich white people stopped poisoning their environment.
  • by KnowledgeKeeper (1026242) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:39PM (#20860297)
    At the risk of getting flames from a tech-oriented /. crowd, I still don't agree or possibly don't fully understand the mentality behind a push to get laptops into the hands of children in poor countries. I see it as folly, and missing the point of what people really want.

    No need to flame, just listen to an explanation - what if those laptops came with a tiny version of wikipedia? Math, physics, engineering, agriculture texts and some instructional videos. Maybe some chemistry and biology. Perhaps they even start some knowledge oriented communities. Using that they can get to know about their surroundings and after some time even innovate. They could use our tech to set up their environment for a more comfortable and pro-intellectual atmosphere.

    Who knows, maybe somebody out there gets to start a herbal-oriented medicine wiki and we get some use of it. If that's the case, it's worth it. Who knows what _WE_ are missing by not doing this ten years ago. Cure for cancer, cure for baldness (ha, got your attention there, have I? :) ), ebola or even foot and mouth disease. Whatever the case, with this thing the future looks bright - hopefully, our civilization could get a few thousand great scientists more a year in ten to twenty years (considering African birth rate and assuming less baby, children and adult deaths due to less stupidity, STDs and wars).
  • The fact that the OLPCs are not offered in US toy stores even before pushing them abroad makes me suspect that they are seriously underpowered machines

    The XO is not a toy, it's an educational tool. I don't see math textbooks in U.S. toy stores.

  • I'ld like to add that they need to produce millions of near identical computers to get the economy of scale to produce it at $150-200 cost.

    I'll add that it would help if the laptops were produced in the country if not the region that buys them. One nation mentioned as buying or having an interest in buying the XO is Brazil. If OLPC were to open a factory in Brazil to build them n ot only would it benefit education in Brazil but it would create jobs there too. They might not last long but the skills gained by the workers can be used somewhere else, a group of workers could start a business building computers and selling them. Others can write software.

    Falcon
  • Re:Eh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Enrique1218 (603187) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:11PM (#20862533) Journal
    I would be afraid if dell made a $200 laptop. They can't keep a $1,000 laptop from exploding. Can you make a laptop any shittier?
  • Re:Surfing Pr0n (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamacat (583406) on Friday October 05, 2007 @12:19PM (#20869187)
    Are you under the impression that children in developing countries are deprived of viewing nudity and sex? How do you think babies are breastfed? How do girls of their own age swim when they van not afford those fancy swimsuits? Where are their folks doing "it" in a shack sans multiple bedrooms?

    Prudishness is an american problem. And here viewing pr0n can be argued to have educational value more important than math.

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