Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, January 21, 2021

child's play
It’s been close to three weeks since I received my XO Laptop from the One Laptop Per Child Project. Hopefully, the kid who got the counterpart laptop that I provided in this donation package has had more opportunity to use his/her machine than I’ve had to use mine.

That said, I’ve poked around the XO enough to provide this capsule assessment:

The hardware is good. The software is bad.

A little detail on both those points:

The computer’s physical design is, in my view, an achievement. The goal was to manufacture a device that’s tailored to children who live in environments that aren’t pristine enough for standard, typically fragile notebooks. The XO delivers. It’s compact, sized for little hands and fingers to handle, and sports plenty of input keys for a kid to go to town. The swivel-screen that converts it into a rudimentary tablet PC, along with the wireless antennae that provide both wi-fi access and a mesh network, are the crowning achievement. The inclusion of videocamera was essential for maximizing the creative functionality. It’s not perfect — the membrane-covered keyboard seems to need a lot of breaking-in to be useful, and the touchpad area could have used more thought — but overall, the hands-on hardware aspect is a success.

The software, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to hold up its end. It’s Linux with a GUI interface, but it doesn’t strike me as intuitive. Maybe it’s my years-long conditioning to Windows and Mac, and the target audience of children without preconceived notions of how a computer desktop “should” function won’t have a problem with it. But I consider myself pretty adept at digital interfaces, so if I’m struggling with it, I’m not sure how well it’ll catch on.

Beyond the OS, I find the suite of programs loaded onto the XO to be, at best, a mixed bag, more tech-centric than it needs to be for schooling endusers. I don’t see the point in including code-programming apps like Pippy or even EToys, because that carries the assumption that the laptop is intended for use as a computer-science tool. That’s a quantum leap over the stated purpose of the XO as an enhancement to general education. On the other hand, the basic artwork and writing apps serve their purposes as creative outlets, and the TamTam Jam music-creation program in particular looks like a winner.

The OLPC Project has been criticized, in particular by Intel as it pursues its own, competing Classmate PC initiative. The objections poke holes at both the hardware and software of the XO, arguing that neither prepare the poor kids for standard Wintel machines they’d encounter if they advance to higher levels of education and work.

I don’t think that’s a valid argument when it comes to the hardware, but sadly, I have to agree on those points with the software. I don’t know that the XO has to run a Windows mimic, but something closer to a typical Microsoft Office setup would be a better prep for kids starting out with this computer. That would better fulfill the promise of OLPC, ultimately.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/21/2008 11:46:38 PM
Category: Tech, Society
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    So I’ve already weighed in on the pros and cons of One Laptop Per Child’s XO computer. In a nutshell, I think the machine’s physical design was better thought-out than the software used to run it.
    But let’s face it: I’m 3…

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 01/27/2008 @ 08:54:22 PM

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