OLPC XO Laptop Review

I would like to begin by commending Nicholas Negroponte, former MIT prof and founder of the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC), for his vision and passion. I am a firm believer that the ability to use a computer can be correlated to literacy in the modern world. The challenges that illiteracy presented to an individual 20 years ago can be paralleled to the challenges that a person can face by not being able to use a PC in today’s world. I also believe that technology will be key in helping 3rd world countries progress toward productive and stable societies. Finally, let me state that as important as technology is, that in my opinion there are more pressing needs in these countries like conquering hunger, sexual slavery, and human rights violations… I’m not sure where tech is on the list but I know it is a lower priority than these. Now, on to the review.

I get a great opportunity to get my hands on the XO laptop. I’ve been intrigued by these from day one. It’s got a cool look, it’s very lightweight, ummm… how do you open it? I look at the instructions, not a big help, actually no help. They consist of some pictures that seem to say “this is a laptop” go live free and be happy. I discover that you have to open the antennas and then it opens. The battery is charged out of the box, nice. Boot it, choose your icon color, and then you get desktop. The application bar is straightforward, I don’t understand the thinking of including some of these apps but ok. So let’s get it on the net. It took me over 15 min to get on my wireless network. Finding the networking interface was the result of repeated guesswork, the listing of the wireless networks was unclear. Then my biggest disappointment, it would not join my WPA2 AES PSK encrypted wireless network. I had to disable the security of my network before it joined the network. Not happy.

Then I notice a console… salvation draweth night. I try ifconfig, –help, man pages, everything and no results. Strange nix distro, finally I discovered that typing “help” netted some info however I never could find actual IP information. C’est la vie.

And then… it locks up! Completely, I have to reboot. This happens twice within 30min.

Finally, the input “devices” are a tragedy. The mousepad is horrible. The pointer constantly returns to the bottom right corner, to the point that it is barely usable. I could forgive this but the arrow keys don’t work within any of the menus so you are stuck with the mouse. The keyboard is so small that anyone beyond age 5 will be cramped. Also, the keyboard is not standard. This may not be a big deal for international students but if you want to teach kids how to use a computer you should mimic the standard keyboard as much as possible.

In conclusion, the laptop looks like a leapfrog prototype that the Leapfrog company was smart enough not to release. Great idea, poor implementation.

And it seems I’m not alone, for more XO info check the following links:

2 people unboxing an XO

XO laptop Review

PC World’s unflattering review

Econimist Review – One clunky laptop per child – Excerpt “This is not because the keys are too small for his adult hands (though they are), or because the processor’s slow speed makes the machine frustrating to use(though it does). Nor is it because the track pad sometimes goes screwy and the keys lack the normal pressed-key response that allows smooth typing. It isn’t even because moving the column from the word-processing application to the web-mail system is prohibitively difficult.”

“Instead, it is because the XO, which your columnist has explored since it arrived a few days before Christmas, has bugs that cause occasional crashes.”


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