Monday, October 27, 2008

OLPC Canberra Day

Greeting from the CASE hosted One Laptop per Child Open Day in Canberra 27 October 2008. They have about a dozen OLPC XO one laptop per child computers for people to try out. At 5.00pm Pia Waugh of Waugh Partners will speak about the One Laptop per Child Australia Foundation and her ongoing involvement with the Free and Open Source Software community.

The OLPC is a low power sub-notebook designed for children. It was originally intended to be a $US100 computer, but the current cost is about $350. The OLPC project would claim that the project is not really about creating a laptop, but a children's computer for learning. However, my view is that this is a sub-notebook computer, much like the netbooks by ASUS and others.

The hardware and software on the computer is different to the typical sub-notebook. There is no hard disk, a robust brightly coloured case and long range WiFi. The screen is transflective, being a backlight colour screen indoors and monochrome reflective outdoors. The screen can be folded back to make it an e-book.

The XO runs a version of Fedora Linux with an icon based interface ("Sugar") different to the usual Apple Mac/Microsoft Windows interface. The WiFi is programmed to be part of a mesh network to enable a group of computers to communicate without the need for a backbone network. The computers can also share one Internet connection, such as at a school.

The computers are frustrating to use for adults used to a Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac computer. The tiny rubber keyboard is difficult to type on with big fingers and the icons used are different to the typical Windows ones.

The hardware appears very robust, but the software still has problems. Even is a short test of a few minutes, a text based error screen appeared. The system quickly recovered and restored the graphical interface, but still it was disconcerting and would be even so for someone has never seen a terminal window.

The OLPC is designed to change the face of education in developing nations. However, it is not clear if this USA developed idea of what developed nations need is what they need or want.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Tom, a couple of small corrections and comments :)

The laptops are now around US$180, not $350. They are being sold for more in countries like Australia to subsidise laptops into developing countries, but the actual price is getting down. They estimate $50 each by 2010.

Generally OLPC deployments are done in strong consultation (and usually driven by) local people for local needs, so the need of developing (and developed) countries is done on a case by case basis, which means they are deployed as appropriately as they can be.

The software is quite durable, and I've seen it testing with loads of kids. I've certainly seen the odd error here or there but I've be very interested to know what created the error you saw. What were you doing at the time?

Thanks for attending Tom, I hope I helped clear some things up for you. I am loving being involved and working with the technology and I hope we can really make a difference for children throughout the region.