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Hacking the XO Laptop 95

Posted by Zonk
from the new-uses-tiny-toys dept.
dulceLeche writes "While the OLPC was not designed with the American consumer in mind, people that took part in the Give One Get One program have been having fun with their XOs. The XO has a number of limitations, but with some work you can get Opera running, chat over your mesh network, and much more. An article at Geek.com explains what a few folks were able to do with their XOs."
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Hacking the XO Laptop

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  • by Rie Beam (632299) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @07:46AM (#22116196) Journal
    Imagine a Beowulf Cluster of theOH GOD MY EARS
    • by Rie Beam (632299) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @08:48AM (#22116336) Journal
      Obviously mods missed the joke, so I'll explain. The XOs make a chirping noise (that's my best description of it) to locate one another. A Beowulf cluster of these would, therefore, be very noisy, and having a room full of these is, indeed, noisy, as several users have posted previously on /.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by itismike (582070)
        I had the opportunity to get my hands on one of these last week and was very impressed. I wish the give-one-get-one deal was still available.

        [joke spoiler] The laptop is silent in normal operation. They only chirp if you launch a specific classroom activity designed to use acoustic signals to measure the distance between two laptops. It's quite neat actually. I guess if you have a classroom of students who all launch this particular application at once, it'll be pretty noisy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by WK2 (1072560)
        So, would these not be appropriate to bring into a classroom?
  • Go on (Score:4, Informative)

    by saibot834 (1061528) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @07:53AM (#22116212) Homepage
    After all, the XO is designed to be hackable (unlike most hardware today, unfortunately).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well, it should be, I figure kids will be able to learn more through slowly screwing up their XO's. (I know I did back in the day.)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 20, 2008 @09:05AM (#22116388)
      I'm curious as to what hacks for the XO exist that exemplify it as a (hardware) platform "designed to be hackable".

      Mind you... I don't consider the things from the article to be hacks. Using the CLI is not hacking, downloading and installing software is not hacking, and hooking a sensor up to a soundcard MIC in and using a monitoring app (could easily have been any ol' sound recording app) to look at the sensor's output is hardly a hack either (using the USB for power isn't a hack by any stretch, as the ports are designed with this very thing in mind). Not to mention that all of these can be done on -any- computer.

      I may have missed something more subtle, but I really don't think the XO is any more, or less, hackable than any other computer - and I'm really not too sure about 'hackable' being a design goal for the thing. Cheap, rugged, open and all the other things... but hackable? Especially in terms of hardware?

      ( Don't mod this up - this is just a question post to which I honestly hope to see an answer that makes me change my mind. If one does get posted, please mod that up instead. ~ aether)
      • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday January 20, 2008 @10:58AM (#22116738) Homepage Journal

        software is not hacking

        Huh?

        I really don't think the XO is any more, or less, hackable than any other computer

        Since when does hacking refer only to hardware? And from a software perspective, Sugar is clearly more hackable than anything outside of a Squeak environment. Sure, you can hack anything you like on, say, Ubuntu, but there's a world of difference between that and pressing the "show source" key and modifying the app you're running. And, of course, there's simply no comparison with a closed system like Windows or OS X.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Installing software is not hacking... come on mate, you dropped the 'installing' off your quote. at least be fair.
          • by swillden (191260)

            Installing software is not hacking... come on mate, you dropped the 'installing' off your quote. at least be fair.

            Yes, I did, but I didn't -- and don't -- consider it misleading because the rest of the post seemed to assume that nothing related to software could be considered "hacking". Though the specific phrase was taken out of context, it was well within the spirit of the larger context.

            Not only that, installing software certainly can be hacking. Doing something that wasn't intended by the designer and requires significant cleverness is hacking, even if it's just installing software.

            • by SimHacker (180785)

              Installing software is only considered hacking if you wrote the software you installed.

              -Don

              • by swillden (191260)

                Installing software is only considered hacking if you wrote the software you installed.

                Do you not consider installing Linux on an XBox a hack?

                • by SimHacker (180785)

                  Porting Linux to the XBox was a hack, but just installing something that somebody else created isn't a hack.

                  Just as writing and performing music is creative, but simply pressing the play button on an iPod isn't creative.

                  -Don

                  • by swillden (191260)

                    Porting Linux to the XBox was a hack, but just installing something that somebody else created isn't a hack

                    But you said it had to be software you wrote yourself in order to be a hack, and the XBox team didn't create Linux. In fact, it required very little new or modified code, and porting Linux is so well-understood that the code changes required almost no cleverness (cleverness was required, but not in the code). Porting Opera to the XO also required code changes, and some cleverness to find a way to get it to run in Sugar's unusual GUI environment.

                    So what, then, distinguishes a "hack" from a "non-hack",

                    • by SimHacker (180785)

                      Let's put it this way: typing "yum install foobar" or even "./configure ; make ; sudo make install" is NOT hacking. I assume it took considerably more cleverness to get Linux running on the XBox, so that's probably hacking, if it required some kind of cleverness. Simply doing something you weren't intended to do, but that that doesn't require any cleverness, is not hacking.

                      -Don

                    • by swillden (191260)

                      Let's put it this way: typing "yum install foobar" or even "./configure ; make ; sudo make install" is NOT hacking.

                      Sure. Are you saying that's all it takes to install Opera on an XO? That's not the impression I got.

                      I assume it took considerably more cleverness to get Linux running on the XBox, so that's probably hacking, if it required some kind of cleverness.

                      Agreed -- to be worthy of the name hack, what's required is cleverness. Not hardware modification, and not necessarily even writing software. I believe that's where I started in this thread :-) Actually, just cleverness isn't sufficient, some unorthodoxy is also required, and perhaps a little insight, and writing software or modifying hardware is often involved, but they're not required. After all, t

                    • Perhaps your definition of hack is not broad enough.

                      You could look at the jargon file [catb.org].

                      I rarely use definition 2 there (something difficult and clever). It tends to be 1. (something quick and dirty)

                      Like "I hacked a shell script to work around your kernel module's bugs."
        • by Isauq (730660)
          "I'm curious as to what hacks for the XO exist that exemplify it as a (hardware) platform 'designed to be hackable'." Wish I could answer GP's question, but as it is, I think I'll just chuckle that he got modded up anyway.
      • by x1n933k (966581)
        Just because I wanted to be a buggar:

        hacking
        v. intr.
        To chop or cut something by hacking.
        Informal
        To write or refine computer programs skillfully.

        I would say from reading the article these guys do some hacks. Nothing done here could be achieved easily by a casual user nor are options explained by the manufacture for the casual user.

        You can also check out this detailed explanation of hacking and hackers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker [wikipedia.org]

        [J]
      • a strict definition of hacking is that you're doing something with it that's not designed, so it would be impossible to design something to be hackable. i think what the grandparent poster means is that this is designed to be able to have new software and functions added to it, in contrast to other low cost devices designed to be used by kids that are really locked down. i.e. the design allows you to do things that would require a hack on another device
      • by PaintyThePirate (682047) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @01:47PM (#22117792) Homepage
        You're right, it's kind of a stretch to call anything in that article hacking, but it is designed to be (software) hackable. Though, the line in voltmeter is unique in that the audio hardware was chosen to make that possible.

        It's the only laptop I've ever heard of that uses Open Firmware, or any open source BIOS. There are even tutorials [laptop.org] on hacking it in the wiki. Plus, most of the GUI and applications are written in Python and are designed to be relatively easy to modify.

        The hardware itself is far from hackable though. There is very little, if anything, that can be modified inside the thing, even though it is easy to disassemble. I imagine its the result of making it as cheap and rugged as possible.
      • What I had in mind was the iPhone and similar devices, where the manufacturer tries to stop you from modifying them.

        The XO has no such restrictions - the source is free and changeable, so you can do whatever you want with it.
      • by dasunt (249686)

        I'm not trying to sound like an astroturfer for the EeePC (I like the XO better), but there is an interesting project where someone hardhacked an EeePC with bluetooth, more USB ports, wifi, larger solid-state storage, etc.

        It only cost him several hundred dollars to turn the EeePC into a midrange laptop. :p

        I'd link to the site, but it is down.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The XO software is designed to be hackable.

      The hardware, not so much.
    • by DrXym (126579)
      After all, the XO is designed to be hackable (unlike most hardware today, unfortunately).

      Well not really. The XO is designed to be hacker resistant. The machine has a security system called bitfrost which is meant to prevent the machine from working if it is stolen, and to also prevent programs from obtaining certain combinations of rights, such as video camera & internet functionality at the same time. I suppose it would be possible to hack programs to work within that framework, but certainly not as

      • Bitfrost also causes the whole laptop to be incompatible with GPLv3.
      • by Tacvek (948259)

        After all, the XO is designed to be hackable (unlike most hardware today, unfortunately).

        Well not really. The XO is designed to be hacker resistant. The machine has a security system called bitfrost which is meant to prevent the machine from working if it is stolen, and to also prevent programs from obtaining certain combinations of rights, such as video camera & internet functionality at the same time. I suppose it would be possible to hack programs to work within that framework, but certainly not as easily as an Asus EEE PC for example where you can pretty much do anything you like.

        Yes, but with a developers key virtually all of the bitfrost features can be disabled. Further all combinations of rights are possible, but an unsigned app wanting certain combinations requires manual user involvement. This can be a good thing if it is not too frequent. For example, if an internet application that had nothing to do with video requested video rights, users may become suspicious. However, they would not find it surprising that a videophone application wants to have camera rights, or that it

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 20, 2008 @08:15AM (#22116258)
    According to the linked article, none of the hacks were completely successful.

    Everything about the OLPC is optimized for its intended end use. It isn't just a bunch of computer bits slapped together. If you want to hack the OLPC successfully, you have to take a bunch of stuff into account otherwise the results will be suboptimal.

    Example: The browser that comes with OLPC is optimized for the display and works about as well as could be expected. Opera, on the other hand, gets worse results display wise.
    • by pallmall1 (882819) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @09:05AM (#22116390)

      Opera, on the other hand, gets worse results display wise.
      It's working great for me. I'm posting from my OLPC XO right now, from the Opera browser. The XO is great. It's small, light, and rugged. Not only does Opera work, but so does wvdial, so when I'm in the field in rural locations I'm able to use my cellphone as a tethered modem. Works great for reading pdf's and ebooks, too. The Youtube vids are a bit slow, but I've got a developer key so I can try out other optimized linux distributions made for multimedia performance.

      Maybe you should try one if they offer the "Give-One-Get-One" program again. Maybe the kid who gets the XO you donate will create hacks you might find satisfactory.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        One would think that Opera would be straight forward. After all, OLPC seems to already have solved the problem.

        The Opera web browser and the Real Networks Helix(TM) platform have been ported to the laptop and are available for download but not part of the standard distribution.

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

        When we look at what the guys in tfa went through, we get the idea that they didn't know something the OLPC people knew.

        Next up we decided to pull Opera down onto the XO since the built-in

    • by Fred_A (10934)

      According to the linked article, none of the hacks were completely successful.
      Are you saying we shouldn't be imagining a beowulf cluster of those ?
      But they're hot grits proof !

      (sorry, got carried away there, keep going)

    • by Ksevio (865461)
      Opera released a version just for the OLPC project: Opera OLPC Edition [opera.com]
  • Sad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WarlockD (623872) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @08:17AM (#22116262)
    Ordered mine last November and still haven't got it. Getting worried too as the email they sent said it be in before the 15th of this month and the website doesn't seem to do anything when I put my confirm number in....

    I want to play with the damn thing:P Maybe I will look into getting a a Zipit 2z [zipitwireless.com]. I have the first generation and the second one looks very nice.
    • Re:Sad (Score:5, Informative)

      by supersat (639745) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @10:09AM (#22116590)
      Apparently, there's been several issues with G1G1 fulfillment. They expected to have shipped every laptop by now, but discovered at least 5,000 orders that have fallen through the cracks. Those will be sent tomorrow, if possible. More information is at http://wiki.laptop.org/go/G1G1_Fulfillment_Information [laptop.org]
      • A closer look at your site/link reveals that indeed 5,000 laptops are to ship, but that does imply that all of the unfulfilled orders have been solved and will ship tomorrow. I know this as I am one of those unresolved laptop problems.

        "During the reconciliation process of the "get" laptops shipped during Give One Get One, a number of unfulfilled order records were uncovered. We expect another ~5000 XO laptops will be shipped on Monday (January 21)."
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mr. Slippery (47854)

      Maybe I will look into getting a Zipit 2z [zipitwireless.com].

      What a painful and useless website this product has! Looks like it was desgined by a fourth-grader. Someone, please beat their web staff with a clue-by-four.

      Since you've got one of these gizmos, can you give us a quick rundown on what it is and why you find it useful? 'Cause I sure can't figure it out from their site.

      • by LDoggg_ (659725)
        You aren't kidding.
        Who are these idiots that make a flash-based piece of crap website with substance at all?

        Would be great if there were some specs or even a small amount of real info available instead of the wannabe mac-marketing pictures.
        • by LDoggg_ (659725)
          preview, preview, preview... I must be new here.

          Who are these idiots that make flash-based piece of crap websites with NO substance at all?
          • by WarlockD (623872)
            Marketing department? God I know. That site is horrible.

            A better review is here [linuxdevices.com]

            It looks like they are caring about the hacker community. Whats cool about it is not only does it support Wifi but SMS messaging.
  • by rindeee (530084) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @08:30AM (#22116290)
    Yeah...because what American consumer wants a rugged, durable, affordable, polished, easy to use *nix based laptop that can run untethered for extremely long periods of time. No interest here.
    • Actually, it looks a hell of a lot harder to use than normal distros, at least for what they were trying to do. What's this nonsense crap about running an embedded X server just so you can run opera? One X server isn't enough?
    • [Ob] So... a Mac, then?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      but can it play WoW?
    • You can buy one right now.

      Ibook G4 12". Best linux laptop you will ever own and I get 5 hours runtime out of mine daily.

      and they are cheap on ebay, if you look hard enough. only problem is that they are not rugged or durable.

      Now, the XO peaks my interest as a backpacker/bicycle camping laptop. if you can rig a solar charger for these that would be perfect for the outdoorsperson that wants to have a pc with them (blogging from the backwoods W00t!)

      anyone know if they are fine with being used open in the r
      • by happyDave (155169)
        Do not anger happy fun ball...er...The XO comes with a nice little pictogram chart of "things to not do with the XO Laptop" and immerse in water is one.
      • by Khalid (31037)
        Now, the XO peaks my interest as a backpacker/bicycle camping laptop. if you can rig a solar charger for these that would be perfect for the outdoorsperson that wants to have a pc with them (blogging from the backwoods W00t!)

        It's also very intersting as an ebook reader, in fact, just for that it's worth the deal. It was designed with that functionaly in mind, it's very useful in places where books are often very expensive and not easy to get.
      • by RockoTDF (1042780)
        I have one of those, and it even runs leopard like a dream.
      • by Cervantes (612861)

        Now, the XO peaks my interest as a backpacker/bicycle camping laptop. if you can rig a solar charger for these that would be perfect for the outdoorsperson that wants to have a pc with them (blogging from the backwoods W00t!)

        IIRC, part of the point of the XO is that it can be used where there is no power. There is a hand crank you use to generate power. A few minutes of cranking gives you a decent charge. There is also an optional solar panel that they sell.

        Also, while they're not supposed to be immersed in water, they are rugged enough that supposedly a little rain won't kill them. YMMV.

        (the above is based on my recollection of last years story, I'm pretty sure it's accurate but too lazy to go look)

    • You will in a short time-frame.

      (according to this http://www.newstarget.com/z019659.html [newstarget.com], plain html, and this http://www.alternet.org/workplace/74262/ [alternet.org], as examples)

    • Well, being unable to use WPA out of the box - and still being unable to connect to a hidden ssid - doesn't count as "polished" to me.

      The hardware is beautiful, but the software needs some work.
    • When I look at some of what the XO was designed to do I can think how useful it can be in the developed countries (not just the USA).

      Think of what mesh networking capability can do in a city where many people's hardware does it by default. Would you need to purchase connectivity? Can P2P connectivity do to the telecoms what P2P file transmission has done to the mafiaa? (or at least what the mafiaa believes it is doing to them?) Now could one push such a project where the aim is letting people communicate fr
  • OOLPCPLH (Score:3, Funny)

    by jovius (974690) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @08:41AM (#22116322)
    Featuring One One Laptop Per Child Per Linux Hacker
  • Perhaps they have kacked one of the XO's to be a web server.

    Anyway the site was broken for me, so the XO webserver hack needs a bit more work.

  • by DrSkwid (118965) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @09:14AM (#22116416) Homepage Journal
    pfft, that's not hacking

    http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Inferno [laptop.org]
  • Were installing wxMaxima and Gnumeric via yum from the terminal: "yum -y install wxMaxima Gnumeric" then run wxmaxima and/or gnumeric on the command line to start the programs.
  • Xubuntu on the XO (Score:4, Informative)

    by quixote9 (999874) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @10:59AM (#22116742) Homepage
    I got one of these Dec 21st, and the whole rest of my life has disappeared while I play with it. Very addictive little machine.

    I have Xubuntu on it in a dual boot system, with ubuntu on an SD card. Followed moocapiean's directions [olpcnews.com]. Works great. No glitches.

    So, as for it being hackable, I'd say that it's easy to *change*, in ways it wasn't originally intended to run. You don't have to break anything to do that, so maybe it's not strictly speaking hackable. But then, nothing open source is hackable.

    Depends on your definition hackable.
  • by karmaflux (148909) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @11:03AM (#22116766)
    I guess you have to be pretty leet to do "yum install opera." I got slackware up on mine. Freelikegnu [freelikegnu.org] got ubuntu running on his. There's a guy on IRC who put a tiny usb GPS dongle inside the thing, soldered to the mainboard. These are hacks. "yum install opera" is not.
    • by emurphy42 (631808)

      Are you sure it's that simple? (I don't know, I'm asking. Maybe it should be, and these guys did a Rube Goldberg for no good reason.) Anyway, from TFA:

      Next up we decided to pull Opera down onto the XO since the built-in browser gets the job done, but not quite the way we want. In order to do that we created a nested X server, since there's already one running that you don't want to disrupt. So, we basically ran one X server within another, and the nested server-software called Xephyr-ran outside of th

  • Basically they were able to get their XOs to do what every other computer system can do already, so let's start distributing real-world computers to these kids so they can actually have computer skills that apply to today's world, not some fantasy land that's a slighty skewed dimension from the real world. Honestly, you computer programmers go completely XO and see how easy it is to get hired.
    • by anothy (83176)
      what are you talking about? what "computer skills" are kids not going to be able to learn on the XO? Microsoft Word? oh, the horror.

      please. OLPC isn't about vocational training for office clerks, it's about fundamental educational opportunities. textbook replacement, communication, experimentation, classroom tools, and so on. for all those things, it's a nearly ideal platform. the fact that it doesn't run MS Office is just gravy.
  • As a mac user who ahs things "just work", I'm reminded of fake steve jobs' post about this... http://fakesteve.blogspot.com/2008/01/news-flash-grown-man-able-to-use-xo.html#links [blogspot.com]
  • I'm not sure if this is true or not but apparently every OLPC unit has a piece of kill code in it which will brick the unit if they think a unit intended for a child has gone to a third party. Even if I was to do the BOGO option, I'd feel incredibly uncomfortable knowing my unit has the capability to be bricked at will.

    Am I paranoid or gullible or does this worrying piece of software exist on the unit? Is anyone working on a patch to remove it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tacvek (948259)

      I'm not sure if this is true or not but apparently every OLPC unit has a piece of kill code in it which will brick the unit if they think a unit intended for a child has gone to a third party. Even if I was to do the BOGO option, I'd feel incredibly uncomfortable knowing my unit has the capability to be bricked at will.

      Am I paranoid or gullible or does this worrying piece of software exist on the unit? Is anyone working on a patch to remove it?

      With a developer's key (which you can get from the OLPC project) (it might even come with the laptops purchased trough the program) one can turn off virtually all security features, including the one you are referring to. My understanding is that to get the key requires evidence that you obtained the laptop legitimately, and that the laptop has not been reported as stolen. (It is not entirely clear if the key can unlock the laptop if it has been locked. But the key can definitely disable the anti-theft fea

  • I want one. Actually, I want two or three. Two for the kids and one for my daily *nix based work. Imagine entering a meeting with an OLPC.

    I have the money to pay twice the price. Alas I live in Europe...
  • You don't really need to 'hack' it. The Terminal "Activity" is in there with the rest of the activities (you'd probably call them applications). It's easier to get a shell on the XO than on the default configuration of Gnome or KDE. And there is no root password. Just 'su root' and you control the box. (While sshd is running, it's configured to not accept root logins.)

    I need to look more at the educational activities, but I got caught up first in seeing how far I could go with the Unix. I was ab

  • The ability to hack the OLPC or Eee PC is pretty much the drive for us to buy one of these ultra portables. The price is right,the portability is definitely there, and both based on Linux. Here's a photo of how small the OLPC XO is next to a Dell D620

    http://flickr.com/photos/barl0w/1101266148/ [flickr.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Java applications run nicely on the XO laptop. With a few simple tweaks you can see Swing and AWT apps full-screen.

    More details here:
    http://frequal.com/java/FirstLookOnTheOlpcXoLaptop.html [frequal.com]
  • Why hack it when Linux is already installed on it?
  • place that becomes Nigeria's Nigeria...

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