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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.
  • by pembo13 (770295) on Friday October 05, 2007 @09:48PM (#20875889) Homepage
    And then used the money to lower the price. Not something I would personally do, but seems like a popular fad.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2007 @09:51PM (#20875897)
    ... and when will they be available for sale in the US?
  • by rozthepimp (638319) on Friday October 05, 2007 @09:54PM (#20875917)
    "Notebooks break, they get lost, and they are replaced frequently" By what percent of notebook users? This does not happen all the time in my universe. Unsupported generalizations in a submission make me want to mod the whole thread down.
  • 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!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:05PM (#20875961)
    That due to the economics of inflation a $100 laptop really costs $200.
  • The $175 Laptop (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:50PM (#20876181)
    I may just be pulling the exact number out of my ass, but I thought it stopped being the $100 laptop and became the $175 laptop a while ago. Why are people still calling it the $100 laptop?
  • Re:first post (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:07PM (#20876259) Journal
    Perhaps. But basic editing means you explain what acronyms are unless you are 100% confident you audience knows the term. Granted, I bet 90% of us do. But even when I first saw it, it did not jump to mind. It took a second or to.

    I know that Slashdot prides itself on not filtering user submissions. But as long as Slashdot refers to its... its... ermmmm... people who hit the approve button as editors, they should be held to editorial standards.
  • Re:The $175 Laptop (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tompaulco (629533) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:14PM (#20876289) Homepage Journal
    It is intended to be down to $100 by 2008. For the record, some casual browsing turned up a brand new AMD powered Compaq for only $400. I bet by 2008, we'll be down to $350 or $300. Of course, you can find your fill of used laptops on eBay for $100 that offer several multiples of the performance of the OLPC. But I guess it's about the widgety kid-tailored interface.
    Somehow, I suspect by the time OLPC manages to research its way into a $100 laptop for kids, the majors will be beating down the doors with the same product. Oh, well. Best of luck to 'em anyway.
  • by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000 AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:32PM (#20876403)

    To me, sounds like they just went with tech-jargon-BS and said that the computer is the best way to move to a better education.

    I must of missed it, can you show me where they say a computer is the best way to improve education?

    If all the money they spent, and want to spend, on 3rd-world education went to just.. um... BOOKS, then they would have probably accomplished twice their goal by now.

    Text books in the Third World are expensive, especially when they have to be replace yearly do to editing of corrections and updating them. With a net connection an e-book on a laptop these can easily, quickly, and cheaply. A child have even be able to carry a number of e-books on one XO, then when they finish one class the text used can be placed with new text. Then you can have not just one BOOK but a bunch of BOOKS.

    Falcon
  • Re:first post (Score:3, Insightful)

    by laparel (930257) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:52PM (#20876545)
    It's a pretty safe assumption that all of slashdot readers know what OLPC means. This is after all news site for geeks at heart and it's not the 1st time we've heard about it here. If you fail to understand it, just read the article is that too much to ask?

    If I want RIAA, ISP, RAM, OLPC, etc. to be spelled out for me I'd go read news sites geared toward the general public.
  • Re:Power & display (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spuzzzzzzz (807185) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:57PM (#20876581) Homepage
    Laser printers print at 600dpi and above, but you don't need a magnifying glass to read the output. The point is that the size of a character on-screen should not depend on the dpi of the display. If the GUI is properly designed, the fonts will be large enough and the high pixel density will allow the fonts to be smoother.
  • by donnacha (161610) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:08AM (#20876611) Homepage

    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)
    No comment.


    Well, I have a comment: Games are what Bootcamp is for.

    For everything else on the list - video rendering, high-res photo-editing, music production - you want to boot right back into OS X.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:11AM (#20876633)
    The wireless mesh networking capability will be awesome! I'm in the US, if all my neighbors had wireless mesh networking, low power, and open then there would always be a network connection available. It would also be free. The users would create their own internet.
  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:19AM (#20876669)
    Macbook Pros are MISERABLE to disassemble for hard drive replacement.

    Translation: you've never actually seen one.

  • by Belial6 (794905) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:33AM (#20876731)
    I figured that the lesson learned from the $100 laptop was how to get other of people to pay for your commercial R&D while praising you for being a humanitarian by claiming that your product will be much cheaper than is realistic, claiming that you are doing if for charity, and maybe selling a few thousand at cost when you get it far enough along to be manufactured.

    This project is a scam. If the goal is to teach kids about computers, there are much cheaper, and far more durable ways to do it. I can't find it know, but when the "$100" PC was first announced, I went out and priced what it would cost to build a PC based around a C64 as a core, and I could get the parts RETAIL in single unit prices for ~$90. The only thing that was not included was the wireless networking, but it did include the hand crank, as the DTV (C64) runs off of 4 AA batteries. It shouldn't be that hard to generate 6 volts with a hand crank.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • e-books (Score:5, Insightful)

    by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000 AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:43AM (#20876981)

    I've seen very few textbooks released in e-book format; most of the ones I have seen were in very specialized subjects and released under the GNU FDL.

    Do you live in the Third World? They are most useful there, however they are used elsewhere. U Penn [upenn.edu] list more than 25,000 e-books. The University of Texas [utexas.edu] lists more. Those are just the first 2 results of a Google of e-books "text books" [google.com], which lists almost 25,000 results. Of the XO ZDNet" [zdnet.com] has this to say:

    "Assuming this device can survive its harsh environment and continue to function over a period of a half-dozen or more years (still a stretch, in my estimation), a single lightweight (but rugged) device, could easily outlast 100 textbooks in a hot and humid environment. And, by any measure, a $100 laptop equipped with 100 electronic textbooks could be worth its weight in gold in such a third-world setting."

    Falcon
  • by Hymer (856453) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:27AM (#20877343)
    You pay $400 for two OLPC's... if you don't like the idea of supporting the project then just don't buy it.
  • by MadUndergrad (950779) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @04:57AM (#20877651)
    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.
  • by freezingweasel (1049610) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:29PM (#20881703)
    OLPC's purpose isn't to promote socialism over capitalism as a political philosophy, but to help educate children by giving them a tool to become well educated enough to be a capable worker and participate in world congress, rather than continuing on as they've been doing.

    This is similar to public schools. Public schools are justified here in the us by noting that while capitalistically, only the child or parent should pay for the child's schooling, having an educated workforce (and something better than completely uneducated morons surrounding you) is a benefit to everyone.

    Public roads come from tax dollars you pay, regardless of whether YOU will use a particular road or not. Per strict Capitalism, all roads should be toll roads. Still, whether you use a road or not, it benefits you to have the server at your favorite restaurant able to get there to serve you.

    The US isn't purely capitalistic, nor should it be. The US is about 1 thing: promoting the good of the majority of the people of the US above all else, with a hamstrung government unable to act seriously against its people (consider why we split off from England / exist as a country). While too often it doesn't work that way these days, the government is supposed to be FOR THE PEOPLE. Not for Capitalism and not for Socialism. We are largely Capitalistic, and should be, because it allows us to enjoy the fruit of our own labor. Not all things are best handled this way though. It's better to have a single army, than to have all 50 states privately contract out defense squads as needed.

    We recognize that libraries, while socialistic in nature serve a useful purpose.

    OLPC isn't about undermining the idea that people should work for what they want, and that the best idea should win through competition (which we've seen doesn't always work that way in the US, due to patent / lawsuit craziness). OLPC is meant to take groups of people too far down to join into the global market, building them up to be capable of taking their part in it. The strict Capatilistic thing to do is to loan them $, forclose on their land and kick them off to die pennilessly. Welfare was meant as a hand up, not a hand out.

    Essentially, OLPC is a good idea. It may or may not be the idea needed at the moment by the countries it's going to, but if it works as it's supposed to it will increase the number of players in the global market. For the most part these PCs aren't being just "given" away either. The government of whatever country they are for is buying them, just like they would schoolbooks. Do you disagree with desktop computers in our schools? I'm not sure, but I expect when the child graduates, these PCs are expected to be returned to the school to be sent home with the next child. Since these are still government bought (like Uncle Sam buying jets to keep you safe on your behalf) I'd say this is no more / less Socialistic than our military. Let's also consider that this isn't robbing Gateway of any laptop sales. The people who will be using these PCs are not in a position where they could buy a laptop.

    If for no other reason, OLPC deserves a nod for promoting R&D. The current computer industry scoffs as efficiency (or at least the major OS market) preferring to use raw computing power as the answer to everything. In a working Capitalistic system, OSes would be FORCED to compete on efficiency. That this isn't happening suggests we don't have a PROPERLY WORKING Capitalistic system applying to the OS market. Increasing Internet speeds and Google's ambitions will probably eventually remedy this, but having a system built on efficiency out there is a step in the right direction for promoting Capitalism / competition.

    Socialism isn't inherently evil, but left unchecked doesn't work well. The same can be said about Capitalism, which taken to an extreme isn't much better. Socialism and Capitalism don't exist in a vacuum, they're two ends of a scale, and while it seems to pay off to favor the Capitalism side, goi
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @06:07PM (#20882929)
    $200 buys a kid one -- see laptop.org. Pretty nice gesture IMHO. Personally I've already got a laptop so if I was gonna spend another $200, instead of getting myself one, I'd just buy one for an additional child.

    Any implication that the OLTP gang would just cluelessly hand out the laptops where there are cultural, infrastructure, or other impediments to their good use is, well, clueless. The OLTP folks are far more versed in the realities in the field, in each country that will get laptops, than some arm-chair critic. This is true of most NGOs. They work with locals, and they know what's going on, and they know how to get the best possible results under the circumstances. They care. People who don't care don't go to work for them, because the NGOs count on that caring to get workers who will settle for lower pay than their skill set would command working for industry. This frees up money to apply to their cause which -- guess what? -- they really care about.

    It's interesting how people project their own lack of understanding onto others. I see this all the time, especially when I compare the depth of understanding that functionaries in the government of the USA have with the amateurs who criticize policy. Policy is sometimes a step in the wrong direction and the peanut gallery is occasionally correct, but generally the professionals have a perspective that's a thousand times deeper than the I-read-it-in-the-newspaper crowd. Compare the understanding of computers that a professional programmer or net admin has with that of the average user; now admit that the same spread of understanding exists in every other field too. Yeah, even in climate science! :)

What this country needs is a good five cent microcomputer.

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