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Comparing the OLPC, Classmate and Eee 188

ZDOne writes "Small and inexpensive notebooks have been a hot topic in recent months as the Classmate, XO laptop, and the Asus Eee go head-to-head with each other for the low end/educational market. ZDNet has a look at all three systems, comparing the three platforms on multiple points of data to determine which of the three fits your needs. 'In terms of overall stylishness the Eee is the winner, but the XO and the Classmate are both more rounded and rugged, and come with carrying handles. The OLPC XO has the biggest screen, an innovative 7.5in. dual-mode transmissive/reflective LCD that can swivel from traditional clamshell mode to 'e-book' mode with the screen facing outwards, tablet-style (although it's not a touch-screen). The Classmate and Eee both have similar, rather cramped, 7in. TFT displays. '"
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Comparing the OLPC, Classmate and Eee

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  • by MichaelCrawford ( 610140 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @02:58PM (#22626370) Homepage Journal
    I understand that although it has a Linux-based OS, it doesn't have a regular kind of filesystem.

    Lately I've been entertaining the idea of moving to somewhere in the developing world where all the kids have XOs, and teaching them to code.

    I've seen two maps of the Earth that led to this idea. One was a photo of the entire Earth taken at night, made from many satellite photos mosaiced together. The other is a live display that they have in a lobby at Google, that shows a real-time display of queries submitted to their search engine, in the form of bright spikes whose height is proportional to the rate of query submissions.

    In both of these, most of the world was lit up - except for Africa. South Africa had some light, but most of Africa was dark.

    Maybe if we taught African kids to write software, they could start businesses that would make their lives better.

    • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @03:16PM (#22626576)

      although [the XO] has a Linux-based OS, it doesn't have a regular kind of filesystem.
      It does have a regular filesystem. The sugar UI organizes things based on activities (a.k.a. programs) and has a journal (a.k.a. search system) that shows you all your documents (a.k.a. files). Despite this abstraction, a normal filesystem hides beneath.

      'Hides' is probably the wrong word. One of the activities is a terminal, with which you can browse the conventional Linux filesystem normally. You can SSH into the XO, and use terminal commands to install new software. You can even install a new desktop environment (e.g. xfce) to replace sugar if you prefer. It's a low-power machine, but it's running a full-featured Linux distro.

      Lately I've been entertaining the idea of moving to somewhere in the developing world where all the kids have XOs, and teaching them to code.
      That sounds like a fantastic (and altruistic) thing to do. If you're used to coding in Linux, and using Python in particular, you'll find coding on the XO to be a fun. Personally I find the built-in keyboard hard to use, so I usually connect a USB keyboard and mouse if I'm working on it for an extended period.
      • Hmm... I'll look into acquiring an XO.

        It happens that I studied Russian in college. After the fall of the Soviet Union, I had a similar idea, not so much to teach kids but to help exisiting Russian software engineers start software businesses so they could trade with the West.

        I happened to meet Esther Dyson when she came to speak at Apple, where I worked at the time. She had traveled extensively in Russia, trying to bootstrap the software industry. When I told her my idea, she grabbed my arm and impe

        • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @04:07PM (#22627184) Homepage Journal
          While you CAN access the console, install vim, gcc, even maybe Eclipse (if you add a pendrive to fit it), and develop any 'adult' software on XO, it IS designed and built to teach Python.

          Almost all apps in Sugar are written in Python and their code is readily available and freely editable from inside Sugar. They are safely sandboxed so you won't break anything permanently, but you're encouraged to modify existing ones and write new ones - using the libraries in the system.

          The laptop is meant to reveal its layers to the kid as the kid's experience grows. First - games and activities accessible by big, friendly buttons. Then, two of the activities are different programming toys - procedural, building program from bricks, and event-driven one. You gain basics of programming. Then you press a specific button and you get the source of the underlying app. At first you learn by modifying it, editing it - change colors, change texts, maybe move things around a bit. The python code is clean and well commented. Then you can try your own "hello world" and write your own python software that will run under Sugar. As you become expert at Python, you'll learn to use the mysterious "terminal" thing and write without GUI, download other libraries and languages. Nothing is unavailable, but to make sense of some parts you need experience in the easier ones. A 6yo who just begins to learn reading won't find Python sources very interesting, and won't mess with them at least until the brick-language becomes too limiting.
          • XO, it IS designed and built to teach Python.

            When they get older, they can get a real computer and learn Perl :-)
            [Hey, it's Monday!]

      • > Personally I find the built-in keyboard hard to use, so I usually connect a USB keyboard and mouse if I'm working on it for an extended period.

        When I connect an external keyboard, I turn the display around on the XO and angle it away from me, so that the XO's keyboard is behind the screen, rather than in front. I find this to be more comfortable.

        You may have already considered this, but nobody I've demonstrated this to had figured it out for themselves.
    • by kevinank ( 87560 )
      Just to clarify, the XO has a hierarchical filesystem that you can access from the shell. The actual filesystem is JFFS (for Journaling Flash Filesystem) which allows you to turn off the laptop by holding the power button without losing information or waiting through an fsck.

      XO activities store files in a keyed datastore hosted on the filesystem, so for the most part you are protected from the filesystem, but it is still there if you need it e.g. for development.
    • See this []. It's pretty damn good.
    • In both of these, most of the world was lit up - except for Africa. South Africa had some light, but most of Africa was dark. Maybe if we taught African kids to write software, they could start businesses that would make their lives better.
      I'm right with you on the second part, but can we forget the first? At least long-term, as we find ways to reduce our own light pollution in the West, which we can then pass on to our newly-wealthy friends in Africa.
  • comparing apples, oranges and bananas.

    OLPC - kids education
    Classmate - older kids education
    Eee - web browsing and IM
    • OLPC - kids education. Classmate - older kids education. Eee - web browsing and IM

      RM, who have had a pretty strong hold on the UK education market since the demise of Acorn, are pushing Eee. []

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gad_zuki! ( 70830 )
      This is very true. I recently got to play with an OLPC and was really blown away by what it was compared to what the online consensus of people who have never touched out.

      Its a simple education toy that only looks like a laptop. Its more of a specialized educational gadget like a speak and spell than a Dell. Its keyboard is tiny and only for little kid fingers. Its slow and has a very simplified interface. It cant do WPA and has no ethernet port. Its screen is like a very cheap version of e-ink.

      I dont see
    • close

      OLPC: education project for the third world
      Classmate: attempt to continue and strengthen colonialism
      eee: small business laptop for the first world
  • by Itninja ( 937614 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @03:01PM (#22626402) Homepage
    ...and Eee & an XO. I would have to agree that the Eee is a better system in general, but the screen is small. My 13 y/o daughter uses it with an external monitor when she is at her desk. My 7 y/o son has the XO and likes it a lot, however he complains that he cannot print anything (CUPS printing is not integrated in the interface). One thing I really like about the XO is the ease of adding new applications. Getting new apps to appear in the Eee's 'easy mode' is a headache at best. But the included suite is hard to beat. The touchpad on the XO is useless as its' sensitivity seems to be set way too high. But it found my wireless USB mouse without a problem. I think both systems are well suited to their respective target audiences.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Urger ( 817972 )
      Easy Mode is the big problem with the Eee. I ripped the original OS out of there out of immediately and switched over to Ubuntu and later to eeeXubunto [] and have never looked back. As to the screen on the Eee. It's small. I wish it was a bit bigger but at the price the Eee is available at I'm more then happy to put up with it.... At least until there is a cheaper one with a bigger screen.
    • I also own an Eee and despite it's problems (including the installation issues you mentioned and the poor (IMO) design/placement of the right shift), I think it's a great little machine and I've been very happy with it as a light-weight travel companion. I've grabbed a couple MMC cards for storage of videos, photos, music and e-books to supplement the limited storage space.
  • by nweaver ( 113078 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @03:10PM (#22626514) Homepage
    The classmate is a joke. The only thing the Classmate buys is a faster processor, a real keyboard, and 2x the Flash. For 50%-100% more cash.

    In return, it is not as rugged (cooling fan and open interior, LiIon batteries, electrolytics, conventional hinge, clunky insecure closure, thick), nor as cheap, nor as useful (sunlight readable display), nor as appropriate for the 3rd world (a >50W power supply!?!).

    Also, Windows doesn't understand how to use the Classmate's screen, either having it scroll up and down or squashing the display to fit.

    I'd want Windows on the XO, with Windows understanding the screen resolution. THAT would be a nice combination, as Sugar is an abomination all to itself.
  • I slapped XP on the thing and upgraded the ram to 2 gigs. The SD card slot has a nice 16 gig card in it with Doom, Doom 2, Quake, Quake 2, and Quake 3 installed. I run them at the low end resolution mode which fits fine on this screen.

    Oh wait, this is about educational use?? Uh... yeah I take my EEE PC to meetings and if I had this during college I'd have loved it for note taking. It's a sound educational tool that works great with my campus's wired and wireless access points.
  • Article is worthless (Score:5, Informative)

    by OglinTatas ( 710589 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @03:23PM (#22626638)
    Here are my impressions, which are also worthless:
    The eee certainly is stylish. I really like the hardware hacking you can do with it. I don't like the screen, though--not that it is too small physically, but that the resolution is so low, that text on the screen has to be larger in order to read it, which makes the screen effectively too small. Does that make sense?

    My OLPC I really like, though again nothing is perfect. The hardware is top notch (though I have read of keyboard failures, that could happen to any manufacturer). The screen is great, I can read it in bright sunlight, I can flip it around and use it as an "ebook reader"--mostly to read pdf documentation for other software I use. I don't need to read that in direct sunlight, though.

    One can't really complain about keyboards designed for children, but both the OLPC's keyboard and the eee (designed for adults) are about the same physical size, which means I can't touch type on either, but the fact that the keys are physically smaller on the OLPC, with a large gap between keys makes the occasional two-key press on the OLPC much less frequent than an eee.

    One thing I really HATE, though, about the OLPC is that crappy sugarUI, and the whole activity vs. application paradigm. I also can't stand that file system hierarchies are ignored, and everything is collapsed to a single flat directory. How do I then save things to the correct subdirectory on my usb drive?

    There are guides available to boot OLPC into ubuntu, for instance, but so far I've been too lazy to do so, especially since I have other options as far as hardware goes.

    Classmate? meh, don't know, don't care. The few online reviews I have seen have not been flattering. The one plus, it doesn't have the sugarUI. The downside? Windows.

    My wishlist for an UMPC would be: an OLPC, only slightly wider so it can acomodate a keyboard just large enough for me to touch-type, with ubuntu preloaded. If they make the next-gen eee an inch or so wider for the same reason, only with a decent screen (even if it is not as good as OLPC's) then I would settle for that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      One thing I really HATE, though, about the OLPC is that crappy sugarUI

      When I got to play with an OLPC, the thing that I couldnt' get past was the quality of the keyboard. It's nearly impossible to use for normal tasks; the keys are like soft telephone buttons and require a press rather than a tap. I would hate to use it for any kind of typing or development. Another poster mentioned that you can ssh into it to install software which really seems like the optimal choice. Of course, the SugarUI really isn't d
    • Quote: "If they make the next-gen eee an inch or so wider for the same reason, only with a decent screen (even if it is not as good as OLPC's) then I would settle for that." []
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @03:36PM (#22626806) Homepage Journal
    So why not get a 4 year old laptop? I doubt my T40 Thinkpad is worth more than $350. It has a Centrino 1.5Ghz, (originally 512MB RAM since doubled), a CDRW/DVD player, built in 802.11b (easily replaced with a $4 PCCard adapter, an 80GB drive. Plus it's not a clunky heavy machine like am R41 Thinkpad, albeit a 7 year old could easily drop it.

    And for what it's worth, GAMERZ D00DZ at /., my Fortune 50 company has decided not to upgrade any machines >900Mhz for at least another year. So if that's good enough for corporate apps it's good enough for 7 year olds. In other words you could get a 5 year old laptop worth maybe $300 or slightly less and compare that to one of these machines.
    • Any of those 4-5 year old laptops as small and as rugged as the eee or the OLPC? No? Thanks for playing.
      • by gelfling ( 6534 )
        No but ruggedness shouldn't be a key driver in the decision process. Why? Because you don't actually know what those requirements look like. For every 7 year old who drops a laptop there's probably some third world kid who's going to drop it in the river or have to wrestle it away from a dingo or something. In other words, rugged is as rugged does.
        • I disagree...and in fact the OLPC is designed with easily user-replacable parts. I doubt you could show me a 4-5 year old laptop that a 10 year old could fix by themselves.
    • A 5yr old laptop is not comparable. My Eee is a snappy device, and all of the components, including the battery, look and work like new.

      The processor is a 900Mhz underclocked Celeron M ULV 353 made in late 2004. So, thats 3+ year old tech...not to mention 512 of RAM and a solid state hard drive and a modern linux OS with great hardware support for wireless, etc.

      The Asus that I am working on now is light and portable and small, something that did not exist 5 years ago. Even my fiancee can use it out of th
      • I have been thinking about a ~ 300 euro second hand X31 and was checking e-bay for that when in the mean time the EEE arrived. First of all: power management and other driver issues. I want to use linux, I actually need it for my job (lucky me). I know no single person who has managed to get correctly working power management on a laptop. Whereas the EEE just bloody works! The power button activates a nice simple menu with several options that all work. (Note: going to sleep mode while on an external scree
    • So why not get a 4 year old laptop? I doubt my T40 Thinkpad is worth more than $350.

      For non-geek regular mortals that would be a great idea, speaking as an xo owner just about the xo. I love my xo, but so much of that is pure geek appeal. I have no problem zipping around on the command line getting it to do what I want, rather than what it's designer's intended, which is for it to be a classroom appliance used by meshed up flocks of kids. Given what an xo costs on ebay, which seems to be about what G1G1 participants paid, and given that most adult geeks are going to want to buy an SD c

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      Well add in maybe $45 for a new battery you would still have a Notebook that weighed more than the eee, was bigger, and took longer to boot.
      Is it a better system than an eee? Yes for some tasks but not for other.
      I have a Thinkpad and I love it. The screen is great but it weighs too much for me to carry with me every where. The EEE is so small and light that I could see taking it with me everywhere. My wife would love one to put in her purse as well.
      It all comes down to portability.

    • 4 year old laptops tend to have miniscule resources, worn out components, and lack the resouces to run recent software. I know, I'm using one right now that was mid-range four years ago and now only use because it's paid for, and I have external USB hard drives and DVD drives for other reasons. I wouldn't invest any money in repairing, much less replacing it, because components are starting to fail.

      Investing $300 for such a device, rather than a new machine with a warranty, is begging to waste a lot of mone
  • I've been reserving judgment against Intel in its battle against the XO, but after looking at that, it really seems that Intel is just using its market power to shove a pretty inferior product down people's throats. I mean, if I were going to spend money on one of those right now, I'd definitely go for the XO--it just seems cool. The Classmate just looks like a bulky XP box that brings nothing interesting to the table, and the Eee really isn't targeted at the same market anyway as I understand. Bias? Ma
  • I have not seen the OLPC, but I love my EeePC.

    It starts up and shuts down incredibly quickly. Everything "just works". I can run all my important tools like OpenSSH, OpenVPN, privoxy, etc. without any hassles. And Xandros did a pretty good job with the interface (though I tend to live in a terminal most of the time anyway.)

    And 920g is so light I take it with me everywhere; I sometimes forget it's in my briefcase.

  • by SalesEngineer ( 640818 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @04:39PM (#22627588)
    I put this comparison up weeks ago, mostly for friends who were debating which one to purchase ... [] Overall I think the EeePC is the more flexible unit for the typical computer user. The OLPC has some great features and concepts, but casual use is limited by design features that make it great for the 3rd world market.
  • Another interesting low-cost ultraportable recently announced is the Elonex ONE []. It costs 100 UKP (about $200). It's really just a 7 inch digital photoframe design with keyboard, mice, Linux and wifi grafted on, but looks pretty interesting nonetheless.
  • Everyone repeat after me, "It's an education project, not a laptop project."

    I have watched several children play around with my XO, and not once has any of them ever asked me how to start or stop an activity using the Sugar UI. Truly, it is a brilliantly simple interface.

    Frankly, the Journal is one of the very best parts of the whole thing. The XO remembers everything you do, automatically. You don't have to hit "save" when you've finished writing something, or deal with "files" and "folders" -- kids have no concept of such abstractions. You just use the durn thing, and it records everything for you, silently and efficiently. When you want to go back to what you were doing, you go to your Journal, and bingo, there it is. One click, and you're back in the saddle.

    The key point here is to remember that Sugar is for kids. If you want an adult interface, you can install XFCE or your adult-sized distro of choice. Since it's just a standard Linux box, it's really easy to explore.

    • by grumbel ( 592662 )

      "It's an education project, not a laptop project."

      I hear that a lot, but for most part it really is a laptop project, a laptop to be used in education, sure, but the hardware and software is pretty much what OLPC is.

      Truly, it is a brilliantly simple interface.

      I wouldn't call it brilliant, at least not right now, it is certainly not bad and having all applications run automatically in fullscreen is a big plus on a small screen, but it still has a long way to go.

      Frankly, the Journal is one of the very best parts of the whole thing.

      In a few month/years, maybe. At the moment the Journal feels still very unfinished and broken. Hardly any Activities provides proper thumb

  • Is it just me or do the first two look like Fisher Price kids toys?

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?