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Lessons To Learn From The OLPC Project 261

Posted by Zonk
from the keep-it-small-keep-it-cheap dept.
FixedSpelling writes "Whether you're impressed with it or not, the XO-1 could have a major impact on notebook design. The concept behind the OLPC's development brings outside-the-box thinking and cost-consciousness to a level that we rarely see in portable computing. There are a number of lessons that can be learned the from its unique design and we can already see that some of these concepts have been noticed by manufacturers. 'The biggest attraction to the OLPC project has always been the price of the system. You don't have to be a cynic to understand that the impact of a $100 notebook could be huge and the price has generated the majority of the interest in the project. Notebooks break, they get lost, and they are replaced frequently, so the cheaper, the better. The low price was originally important so that the XO-1 could be produced in large quantities without putting too much of a burden on the buyer but the low cost appeals to everyone.'"
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Lessons To Learn From The OLPC Project

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  • Crank it up (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mastershake_phd (1050150) on Friday October 05, 2007 @09:47PM (#20875883) Homepage
    I like the crank. If only I could power my laptop, cell phone, etc that way.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jeffrey Baker (6191)
      The OLPC no longer has the crank. It can be charged by solar or by a pull-string charger but unless you have your own crank, you can't charge it that way.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        >The OLPC no longer has the crank. It can be charged by solar or by a pull-string charger but unless you have your own crank, you can't charge it that way.

        I have my own pull-string, or it can operate as a crank. Any women interested in charging it?
      • by shanen (462549)
        My own crank? Sounds like a boss I worked for some years ago...

        How complicated will it be to get a suitable crank? I'm wondering if there will be a big market for accessories for this thing.
    • here ya go (Score:5, Informative)

      by zogger (617870) on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:54PM (#20876197) Homepage Journal
      You might like some of the stuff these guys make [freeplayenergy.com], including a universal human powered charger for small gadgets. We have a couple of their things, the original crank and spring (clockwork) powered multiband radio, and a later, crank to generator model, excellent build quality there. The OLPC guys are still contemplating going with their foot pedal push generator thing, along with the yo yo string puller last I heard.
    • Re:Crank it up (Score:4, Informative)

      by GTMoogle (968547) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:53PM (#20876549)
      It's intended to be able to charge other things through usb.

      And the pullstring is better than a crank because you can put your foot through it and just keep tapping while you work.
  • And then used the money to lower the price. Not something I would personally do, but seems like a popular fad.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by White Flame (1074973)
      I see a flaw in your plans: Patents don't actually bring in money [slashdot.org].
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:02AM (#20878123) Journal
      Their actual plan is almost the exact opposite of this. By making all of the source code and designs available under a permissive license, they hope other people will start building them. If your country getting good use out of OLPC units? Build a factory to produce any new ones you need, employ local people, and get a workforce that's trained in laptop assembly, educational software development, and so on.
  • my favorite lesson (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blhack (921171) * on Friday October 05, 2007 @09:56PM (#20875923)
    The greatest lesson to be learned from this is that not everyone thinks that a super, ultra, mega, turbo powerful and equally as powerful processor is what they need. It was exactly what i was telling somebody at work today. If you are into playing games, rendering video, editing really hi-res photos, or doing music editing...need a REALLY powerful machine, with a LOT of ram (actually if you are doing any of these as your job, you should probably be using a mac). However, if you are like me, and your laptop is more or less a thin client that connects to other machines via either Remote Desktop or SSH, then the cheapest, most durable, lightest, and most efficient laptop is EXACTLY what you need.

    If I could buy a pallet of these things and run rdesktop and OpenVPN on them, half of my users would be using them from home.
    hell, $100 bucks is cheaper than my friggin blackberry! and i bet it doesn't get confused when you throw anything but txt based email at it!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by _Sharp'r_ (649297)

      $100 bucks is cheaper than my friggin blackberry!

      Of course, the main problem is that to own one as a US citizen, you apparently need to pay more like $400 [olpcnews.com].

      And for $400, you can get a nicer laptop online or even at your local walmart [walmart.com].

      Wake me up again when I could actually buy them for a non-profit charter public charter school for $100, or even $150 each.

      • And here is exactly the problem: It's NOT a $100 laptop. All the press and all the promo advertises a $100 - $150 machine. Clearly that has never been so unless the distributor sells it below cost, in which case, so what?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hymer (856453)
        You pay $400 for two OLPC's... if you don't like the idea of supporting the project then just don't buy it.
    • Bull (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MikShapi (681808)
      I call bullshit.

      First, if you go about recommending peoeple build their game rigs around macs, I hope they have the sense to tell you you're talking shit. Video editing - maybe, and picassa looks exactly the same on windows and mac, which is what most people nowadays are happy to use rather than face Photoshop's steep learning-curve and/or price.

      Second, I too am a sysadmin, and I too use my lappie for things that can be done by a 700MHz P3 like RDP and SSH.

      HOWEVER, and this is where you're off the mark by a
      • by 1u3hr (530656)
        And I haven't even mentioned a word about *carrying* (for those that actually take their machine with them) around a frigging battle cruiser, which is what cheap typically amounts to.

        The OLPC weighs 1.5 kg.

        • by MikShapi (681808)
          The OLPC wasn't the issue of what I was saying. I didn't say the OLPC is too heavy. The GP said people don't need what's being sold today as it's overpowered, and that dirt-cheap stuff can do just as fine, and I countered, saying that whereas above-dirt-cheap stuff is indeed overpowered cpuwise, it nevertheless offers value to casual users through other things dirt-cheap-stuff doesn't.

          OLPC is a niche (very large niche, mind you) product that would have relatively limited use to most westernets, compared to
      • The equivalent of an Asus EEE running DR-DOS, a pimped GEOS, WordPro, Lotus 123, PINE and some ancient version of Corel Draw will do 90% of your standard desktop work at a speed one hasn't even dreamed of. It's because nowadays we run upwards of 5-7 extreme performance hogs at a time on regular PCs today without even thinking twice about it. Decoding MP3s, millions of desktop colors, workplace shells chewing so much RAM and CPU it's insane, running huge apps on top of Java, Mozilla/XUL, .Net or toolkits of
    • by victorvodka (597971) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:17AM (#20876661) Homepage
      Most people use the web, send email, and word process. I know it's common in Slashdot to talk about your week-long 3D rendering sessions, but the number of people who do that is extremely small. Seriously, I spent some years visiting houses and fixing computers and maybe one person in all those people did stuff with video. I told him to upgrade his RAM from 256 to 512. The point is that one of these basic laptops is ideal for what people really do with their computers, and hardware bloat is just as serious as software bloat (because it makes irrational demands on batteries and heat disposal). Hell, 99% of what I do with a PC can be done on an OLPC. On a related note, Vista was created mostly to give Americans a distorted picture of the hardware they needed to live out their pathetic computational lives, lives that would be satisfied on a Pentium MMX running Windows 98.
      • I love this video for how good it shows how little has actually changed:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cxbstn2IZM [youtube.com]

        Sure that one doesn't cover web usage, but without stupid Flash it would probably do decent in that area aswell.. Some more ram usage and so on is ok but the current rate and state are ridiculous.

        I've used claris works on mac classics and LC IIs myself and I prefered it to works on win 3.11 on the 386s, and for most peoples use it would be sufficient today aswell..
    • The lesson is clear, here are the actual steps to follow

      1. Take a really cool project
      2. Make wild claims about it (i.e. $100 laptop for kids, disposable cardboard cell phones, flying cars)
      3. ??????
      4. Profit !

  • by russellh (547685) on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:15PM (#20876011) Homepage
    What I love the most about the OLPC is the key that lets you show the source code (in python!) of the app in use. Which you can modify. and if you mess it up, revert. I'm astonished to see this concept from smalltalk and Alan Kay live on. It couldn't be a better idea. We were having a discussion in a strategy session at my daughters' small montessori school (which goes thru 6th grade), where we were bemoaning the lack of imaginative uses of technology in the classrooms. Beyond a student-produced newsletter and using word processors to write reports... nothing. Nobody seems to know what to do. But the OLPC is taking the lead in saying kids can and should be allowed to do so much more - the mere fact that here you are given a facility to modify your complex tools should be revolutionary.
    • by theguyfromsaturn (802938) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:00PM (#20876233)
      What I love from the specs of the OLPC is the cranking recharging, and networking abilities. From a civil engineer's perspective, it's great for lots of field tasks where you may want to syncronize the compilation of guys working in different ends of the field, while at the same time giving them the ability to keep the device working with occasional cranking ups when the battery is dead and it is not practical to go running back and forth to the truck for recharging. It's ideal for civil engineering field work where you spend 12 hour shifts on site.... Add to it solar cells in ADDITION to the crank and it's wonderful. There are many tasks where you don't need the ultra PC. But the ability to turn into a TABLET added to those other features that I mentioned make it an ideal field computer.
    • Go to Squeakland [squeakland.org] There are executables for Mac, Linux, and Windows. It's exactly what a child needs as an introduction to Comp. Sci. There is even a button to expose the Smalltalk text of the code.

      After getting proficient with the E-Toys, they might like to progress to Blender [blender3d.org], which has the Python programming language built-in.

      • If you like Squeak, you might be interested to see that that crazy Dan Ingalls has ported it to Javascript [sun.com] (SVG-supporting browser required. Works in Safari, more-or-less works in Firefox, doesn't work in IE).
  • by shanen (462549) on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:20PM (#20876039) Homepage Journal
    I'm seriously thinking about it. It's possible that the machine will be so nice that I'll use it for my regular light duty stuff (email and basic surfing). Given the current state of the Internet, I actually feel like it's less likely that the donated machine will help the target kid, but it's supposed to be the thought that counts, eh?

    However, I wish the twofer offer had a provision for donating the second machine if it's too far from tolerable for my uses. I can afford to donate the 400 bucks to charity...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MadUndergrad (950779)
      I'm sure you could find a kid in your area who needs something like that. Donate it locally if you don't have a use for it.
  • "Notebooks break, they get lost, and they are replaced frequently, so the cheaper, the better."

    They also represent a dieing phase of mobile-hardware evolution.

    By the time OLPC positives coalesce, apps & data for the masses will all be ubiquitously net-available, meaning anything more than a terminal will be/is outdated.

    Of course, the OLPC is still a viable tool for the left-behinds.
    • by Redacted (1101591) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:02AM (#20876855)
      I do not get this "apps as services" dream so many have. At all.

      I like being able to write a school report on the bus home at weekends. I like being able to mess with my photos at my parent's rural house which only has dial-up. I like having tens of useful little apps locally, just for when I need them. I like not being beholden to some companies server for access to vital data, and I'm sure many here agree with me - for every program that uses an open standard, 2 more use their own. At least now if Apple stops making Pages, I can export to txt, or docx, or whatever I need to keep working. Some server goes down? Then perhaps I get notice, export to another format. Maybe I can't, or maybe the crash happens at an inopportune time - "Sorry that you need to finish your presentation today, we'll be back up soon"...

      For a look at how people react to software as a service. Apple releases iPhone, all non-standard apps as services. Internet goes crazy, hacks emerge, major sites lambast Apple for screwing customers. And this was a phone! Can you imagine if someone releases a laptop that needs a net connection to ensure basic functionality!

      Finally the bandwidth costs would surely destroy a whole lot of popular non-commercial programs. Think to who promotes this idea at all - big companies like Microsoft, Adobe. They can afford (and charge for) online apps. The GIMP? OpenOffice? How long would donations keep these projects alive if people were constantly streaming data from their sites?

      So, if local applications, with no latency, fast HD access, and true control of my data are "for the left-behinds", then consider me left behind, and happy with it.

  • Were the day glow green color and, in the original specs, the hand crank. I wanted to take notes on my bright green notebook during one of those interminable sales demos, then right in the middle plug in my hand crank and charge up my laptop. Sorry, just charging up, go right on.

    Then they took the hand crank out of the design and my whole sales demo interrupt fantasy just fell apart. But by that time I was already hooked on the idea of cheap laptop with built-in mesh networking.

    I think I'd use the le

  • From http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Home [laptop.org]

    OLPC espouses five core principles: (1) child ownership; (2) low ages; (3) saturation; (4) connection; and ***(5) free and open source.***

    Someone else can run with option 5, to make an equivalent, for adults laptop. Depending on performance, we may finally see a machine mass-produced, showing acceptable speed and avertising that it's doing so despite "under-powered" hardware.

    If this was mass-produced, people would finally have reason to question: why do I need this super-
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:38PM (#20876439)

    Notebooks break, they get lost, and they are replaced frequently, so the cheaper, the better.

    No. The more reason to drop the laptop fetish. Laptops absolutely have their appropriate uses- but desktops work just fine for a huge percentage of people. Their components are cheaper, more easily replaced, and usually superior in performance. Nevermind that forcing you to sit in front of the computer, as opposed to being available to you in bed, on your couch, on your porch, etc- means you're more prone to wasting more time on the internet.

    Yet...very few people I know will even consider a desktop. It drives me insane in business settings- I can do all manner of repairs and data recovery very, very easily on a desktop. Laptops are a total mixed bag ranging from "the company will have a tech here tomorrow morning" to "ARRRRG its going to take an hour to get the damn thing apart."

    Thinkpads and Dells are the best, from my experience; HP sells a lot of consumer-ish crap. Apple gets a failing grade in almost every regard; iBooks, Powerbooks, and Macbook Pros are MISERABLE to disassemble for hard drive replacement. iBooks require damn near COMPLETE disassembly to get to the drive. The only plus is firewire target disk mode, but that is near useless in case of hardware failure.

    • No. The more reason to drop the laptop fetish. Laptops absolutely have their appropriate uses- but desktops work just fine for a huge percentage of people. Their components are cheaper, more easily replaced, and usually superior in performance. Nevermind that forcing you to sit in front of the computer, as opposed to being available to you in bed, on your couch, on your porch, etc- means you're more prone to wasting more time on the internet.

      I used think along those lines before I got my first Thinkpad. Wh
      • by Xtravar (725372)

        While I still sit and work at a proper desk, I prefer doing everything possible on the laptop.

        Do you prefer looking at two documents side by side on a laptop? Have you ever used a dual monitor set up?

        The keyboard is better

        You must not have large hands. Does anyone remember back in the day when Apple II computers had those tiny keyboards?

        I agree with all your other points. However, here are additional things I find wrong with laptops:
        - battery life
        - fragile
        - they get really freakin hot
        - any external peripherals are a pain
        - easily stolen or los

    • You're judging a computer solely based upon how easy it is to disassemble?

      I think you need to step back, and remember that IT works for the company. The company does not work for the IT department. If the boss wants the laptop, then he's damn well going to get a laptop. Unless you have a better excuse than "It occasionally makes my job a pain", he's got the upper hand.

      I will agree that Thinkpads are very nice. With a few minor exceptions, they're easy to disassemble. They're ridiculously durable, and g
      • I think you need to step back, and remember that IT works for the company. The company does not work for the IT department.

        You need to stop lecturing people with more IT experience than you, kid. We don't just sit around waiting for your beck and call; we've got shit to do, too. Our time costs the company just like your time does. Furthermore, time spent fixing your laptop that could have been avoided with giving you a desktop, means we couldn't spend time on other things that could have helped the co

  • by Daishiman (698845) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:50PM (#20876525)

    My local LUG is having a large conference tomorrow, where one of the highlights is an introduction to programming on the OLPC.

    At least in Argentina, where a deployment is being scheduled, the entire Free Software community has the hots for this. Whether it succeeds or not as en educational tool, it's pioneering a new paradigm of computing; the truly small, truly cheap, truly rugged laptop.

    • Am buying one for my 3 year old brat.
      It is spit-proof (so my firstborn can spit on it instead of my iBook G4), can be cranked to give power, is robust (no broken harddrives or pulled out keyboards)...
      Saves my iBook a lot of heartburn.
      So far my son has broken my ibook's hard-drive AND keyboard (pulled out ALL keys).

      This XO can make sure he has met his match.

      Oh, and i get a tax break.
       
  • OLPC system images (Score:4, Informative)

    by snark23 (122331) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:53PM (#20876551) Homepage
    Here's something that might interest those who are thinking about the $400 two-fer, but want to play with XO first...

    You can emulate most of it with qemu or vmware. It's easy.

        See: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Emulating_the_XO/Quick_Start [laptop.org]

    Seemed a pretty sluggish on my wimpy Core Duo 1.66, but lots of that may be due to a lack of hardware accelerated video in qemu.

    Anyhow, check it out. Good times.

    (It does seem odd to use Python as the primary language on a slow CPU with little memory, but it seems to work okay...)

  • Serious question: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by larry bagina (561269) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:17AM (#20876659) Journal
    Why are they using x86? ARM or SHx are both much more power efficient, work with linux (and get more done per clock cycle). Did AMD give them a good deal on low end chips they couldn't get rid of?
    • Re:Serious question: (Score:4, Informative)

      by evilviper (135110) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @05:39AM (#20877819) Journal

      ARM or SHx are both much more power efficient, work with linux (and get more done per clock cycle)

      NO, YES, and NO respectively.

      ARM and SH are both very low power, but that is entirely at the expense of performance. A good trade-off for embedded systems that don't need much processing power, but certainly not for multimedia applications. As soon as you start trying to do floating point calculations, watch your ARM/SH CPU grind to a halt. They certainly do less per clock than even older x86 CPUs, and are a long way behind fairly modern x86 CPUs like the Geode. That goes double for Intel's clock-inflated XScale CPUs, pushing 1GHz.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pslam (97660)

        ARM and SH are both very low power, but that is entirely at the expense of performance. A good trade-off for embedded systems that don't need much processing power, but certainly not for multimedia applications. As soon as you start trying to do floating point calculations, watch your ARM/SH CPU grind to a halt. They certainly do less per clock than even older x86 CPUs, and are a long way behind fairly modern x86 CPUs like the Geode. That goes double for Intel's clock-inflated XScale CPUs, pushing 1GHz.

        Wrong, wrong and wrong.

        SH isn't much of a performer, but ARM certainly is - especially anything from ARM11 and beyond. The AMD Geode chip in the OLPC is 433MHz and single issue. Pretty much all modern low power ARM chips are at least that clock speed.

        So, compare what they do with that clock speed? If you were to compare general/integer computation between even an old ARM9 and the Geode, an ARM9 will beat it clock-for-clock. Modern desktop x86 chips are only fast because they do a ton of translation f

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:48AM (#20876797) Journal
    I have now seen a load of comments along the lines of "you can get a cheap Walmart laptop for $400" and it's so much better.

    No, it is not better. It does have more RAM, a faster CPU and a larger disk. However, it does not have a 24 hour battery life, the ability to run without a mains supply, a rugged design that will allow it to last a long time in a tough environment or a screen which will work in direct sunlight. It also doesn't generare oits of heat, so it doesn't need one of those awful laptop CPU fans which are so unreliable on low end machines.

    So yeah, you get lower speed specs, but you get other much higher specs instead. And it's still 1/4 of the price or 1/3 or whatever the price ends up being.

    So, no that $400 Dell is not even nearly equivalent. Come to think of it that $4000 Dell isn't equivalent either. Something with that portability, ruggedness and battery life would be vastly more useful to a lot of people than a high end, high power, fragile and very expensive computer.

    Remember, a computer is more than just the CPU speed.
  • If these laptops are so cheap, and available to everyone, people won't mind buying them in massive amounts.
    This will generate a huge heap of trash.
  • Having a black-white high DPI mode, readable outside, is quite a useful innovative feature, in my book, with the low power consumption the laptop can be used as an e-book reader.

    I wonder if laptops makers will license the display and scale it to 14" to sell in regular laptops? Probably not though as they're doing very little innovation.

    Of course having a great product is not enough to be a great success..
  • Reminds me of the Nicklaus Wirth work years ago when his group was designing 50 W workstations.
  • to hold and make operational a computer that is far less powerful than any lapop being built today, including the OLPC.

    Tomorrow you will have throw away laptops. just as today you have throw away calculators.

    The point is, with or without the OLPC and competitive efforts along the same line, $100 laptops and even sub $100 laptops will happen.

    The question is timing. When they do happen will it be to help fill a poor countries needs or post poor?

    To me poor is qualified as having need of something more vital to
  • One unfortunate lesson that the OLPC team should have learned is that you shouldn't promise a $100 laptop unless you're sure that you can DELIVER a $100 laptop. Now that it costs twice as much as originally promised, many of the third world countries who were wanted to buy OLPC's aren't interested anymore and are looking at alternatives from other hardware manufacturers.

    I know that's a tough lesson to learn, but it is the unfortunate truth.

No hardware designer should be allowed to produce any piece of hardware until three software guys have signed off for it. -- Andy Tanenbaum

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