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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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  • 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 hax0r_this (1073148) on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:15PM (#20876013)
    There is a tremendous amount to patent, but I don't think the OLPC project owns the rights to most of it. Six hour battery life for active use, closer to 24 just using the screen in black and white to read. Pull the string for 1 minute and you get 10 minutes of use. The interface is totally different than anything I have ever used before. A tremendous amount of innovation went into these laptops, and whether I think the project will "succeed" or not, everyone who worked on this project has my respect.
  • 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...
  • by djupedal (584558) on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:36PM (#20876125)
    "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 Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:00PM (#20876229)
    What's needed are some standard laptop cases, so components of standard sizes can be used to build systems. Use something like a PC-104 design with flat connectors, so you can choose whether to add a more powerful graphics card or something else. Have a DVD drive sized area where you can choose whether you need a DVD drive, more hard drives, more batteries. There obviously will be a need for several different sizes due to various portability-vs-power needs, but there can be more flexibility for machines...and more competition.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Bull (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MikShapi (681808) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:59PM (#20876591) Journal
    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 mile, the big difference between a P3 and the L7500 Core2Duo I'm writing this on now is the fact that the latter consumes WAY LESS power, and offers me insane (by P3 standards) battery life (Thinkpad X60t, before you ask).

    Your computer needs don't sum up with the CPU&GPU either. Last year I was laptopless and cashless for a while, and borrowed a Dell lappie from work for several months. Let me tell you something. You won't get work done on 800x600, and my recent move to an SXGA+ (1400*1050) screen DID make a hell of a lot of difference in my ability to get shit done. These won't come standard on Asus EeePC, nor will you find them on entry-level laptop machines.

    You're right in that CPU SPEED is not a factor. You're wrong that for someone who wants to do non-CPU-intensive stuff like office work or internet browsing needs the dirt-cheapest lappie he can find. His parameters are different, yes, but they're not non-existent.

    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.
  • Industrial PDA's (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:12AM (#20876635)
    Could probably sell thousands per year as rugged, portable laptops for field service techs.
  • 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?
  • by White Flame (1074973) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:41AM (#20876763)
    I see a flaw in your plans: Patents don't actually bring in money [slashdot.org].
  • Re:One ? per child? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:16AM (#20877299)
    ignore the fucktard who says "they need it for hs/college" The point of this is self-determined learning. Ideally, this will be a tool for kids to self-teach literacy. Once they've achieved literacy, an entire world of learning is now opened up.

    If you haven't been there, you have no idea how pervasive illiteracy. Al Quaeda's torture manual is a picture book ... why? Because they're illiterate. And that's in a fairly well educated part of the third world. When your entire education is hunting, farming, warfare and oral history, your horizons are limited. Your access to education is limited to your village. However, if you learn to read, you break that lock. If you can read, you have a chance to learn more then is on the radio (assuming you have a radio). If you can read and share books, you can spread information through the world.

    That's the point of the OLPC.

    My wife's (yeah, I know, I don't belong here) experience with mandatory laptops in high school is that it's taken away the last pretense of caring about education.
  • Re:Crank it up (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:21AM (#20877321)
    You can buy a crank for your cell phone (at least Nokia and Ericsson)... the crank has however been removed from the final design of the OLPC.
  • by MikShapi (681808) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @04:31AM (#20877543) Journal
    Ah, intelligent debate. Beautiful.

    The mac mafia can blow me. There's things that macs do well, and there's things that they don't. PC's can edit video too. We say macs are preferable because it is nicer to do on a mac. And just like you can run photoshop or premiere on a PC, you can run some games on a mac. If you go through more than two games in a year, however, and don't want to be specifically choosing them off a somewhat narrow mac compatibility list, XP is the 99.9% compatible platforms for games, macs (maybe) coming in as a distant second. Recommending a mac for gaming is bad religion-driven advice, aimed to cynically use your "geek" status to bolster the ranks of your religion rather than do good to whoever is being advised.

    Now, back to the topic:
    1. I *import and resell* miniITX and nanoITX kit. You're preaching to the quire. I know damn well what a supposedly "underpowered" box can do, be you running gentoo, OpenBSD, or even woe and behold, Vista.

    2. UMPC's are still immature, especially and specifically the sub-400$ ones. I'm VERY MUCH looking to some ultracheap yet seriously expandable platforms and reasonably powered (a 1GHz C7 or an 800MHz dothan is VERY reasonable).

    Thing is, one can get VERY cheap biggest and fastest:
    [a] CF cards
    [b] miniPCI wireless cards
    [c] SODIMM RAM any size you care to want
    [d] miniPCI Wireless cellular cards
    on ebay.

    I want UMPCs where you can plug a mountain of the above, plus a USIM.

    Now, to my point:
    I claim this is a FASLE STATEMENT: If average joe doesn't need power [gaming/video/other-crunching], one such UMPC is all he needs.
    NOT the reasoning: because it has too little CPU/RAM/Disk (most can be upgraded most of the time anyway if he REALLY wants Vista)
    The reasoning:
    [a] Joe may not want to have a desktop monitor, may want to stay productive on the go, and may still want a humane resolution to be looking at. That spells bye-bye 8'' screen, bye-bye UMPC pricetag, aka bye-bye UMPC, enter 12'' ultraportables and bigger which spell what-we-already-have, and if you want SERIOUS resolution (Thinkpad X6* Tablet or Toshiba M200 do SXGA+), you have to cough up some serious dough.

    Moral: SCREENS COST BIG MONEY, and are pro'lly the BIG influence behind the price drop from ultraportables to UMPCs.

    [b] Joe may not want a one hour battery. Small UMPC form factor is nice and cute, but the power consumption of that redesigned-into-a-laptop miniITX or Intel rig is the same as what the bigger ultraportables (or bigger bricks) have. So you have to fit a battery, sized for bigger laptops, on this little thingamajig, to get reasonable off-the-grid time. They don't do that. They give you a smaller battery which lasts less. Joe may not want that.

    [c] ... Multiple connectivity (without USB spaghetti hanging out of your machine?) Dual miniPCI slots? Do =400$ boxes have these?

    When is the UMPC/"underpowered"-rig enough?
    1. When used as a DTR, in conjunction with external substitutes for everything it lacks (USB, monitors..)
    2. When used somewhere where resolution and battery are not a factor (Mediacenter PC can do just fine with 800x600. CarPC can do ok with 640x480).
    3. When used to run samba, asterisk and rtorrent at home, or maybe pfSense, and all you need (^H^H^H^Hwant) is a console.

    My Point: There's more offered by "Overpowered-coal-driven-battle-cruiser" laptops than what UMPCs can provide on more fronts than one, too many to make a one-size-fits-all proclamation that they're all Joe needs. That's a falsity. Circumstantially, it can sometimes be right, but it's not anywhere near a generic recommendation.

    As always pending a recommendation, It can't be professionally answered without asking what the user actually needs, and that varies.

  • by DingerX (847589) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:13AM (#20878467) Journal
    (I was GP, but switched to my coal-burner)

    Yes: I agree that, if Joe Phishbait's going to have a computer he calls "home", it ain't gonna be some dinky thing with a tiny screen and a clumsy input device.

    And, you are right that the current class of UMPCs suffers from poor design choices: they certainly sacrifice the wrong things, and leave other things the same. Putting a smaller battery in it may make a UMPC smaller and lighter, but it reduces its mobility. Using an operating system optimized for driving multiple screens and having multiple windows open at the same time, with lots of pretty animations and effects and a huge memory footprint, may not be the best choice for a handheld device.

    But those are two separate issues. Whoever started this is absolutely wrong about the utility of a super-cheap super-portable, insofar as it can replace a "base computer". But, on the other hand, he's right that they can do a lot of the basic tasks, and add portability to the mix. And, for most people, they will fill a need. You know, like a computer in the kitchen.

    However, I think you've lost the pack with your need for expandibility. Joe ain't following you there. As you point out, we need to consider the purpose before we select the device. The form of a house is not bricks and wood arranged in a certain manner, but the purpose of providing protection from the elements. Likewise, if you design an UMPC as a low-power CPU, some memory, and a miniPCI-slots stuck inside a small box, you'll end up with today's crop of $1000 one-hour wonders.

    The paradigm shift I'm seeing is that we're seeing a new use for computers emerging. Originally, computers were described as a "Lean-forward" system -- games, editing, word processing, whatever, you sat in an upright chair, and leaned in, actively engaged in the thing. Then, with the increase in power, we saw "Lean-back" uses: television (now streaming video), music, and so on. People can sit on couches now, and we're seeing PCs being hooked directly to televisions and running through them. The networking builds up and we see WLANs, mediaservers, and all kinds of cool stuff being used by everybody. But effectively, the same PC can serve as a both a "Lean-forward" and "Lean-back" device: just put a couch behind that office chair. The emergent use I'm seeing gets rid of all this "lean" nonsense altogether: it's the computer you use when you're doing a task that doesn't require constant or intensive interaction with the computer. And many people use their computers this way.

    Having the internet on the conference table (among a pile of papers) for easy consultation of reference sources is a tremendous time saver. Need to look something up? grab the tablet and do it. Want to show it to someone else? Pass it around. Want to talk for hours to loved ones in a different country? put the thing in your pocket and go. Out hiking and curious what's over that ridge? bring up the satellite pictures and take a look for yourself. Need to write down detailed notes/instructions in a remote location? unfold the keyboard and go.

    In theory, the by the (now $300 with memory cards) n800 can do these things, and if the thing fully worked in practice (aka, if it were not "immature"), it would serve these uses better than a $1000 UMPC or laptop. Battery life largely depends on how long you power the screen: with the screen running, it gives you about four hours (still too short, give me a bigger battery, dammit).

    So these devices aren't working yet, and the price is still too high, but when they work, and when they cost around $200 (maybe a third-generation Eee, or a fourth-generation n770, or whatever MontaVista cooks up), they're gonna take up a place alongside desktop and laptop PCs.

    But you knew that already.
  • by DingerX (847589) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @10:10AM (#20879207) Journal
    Well, unless it's a reference to the quire (from the Latin quaternion, originally referring to a gathering of four bifolia, as apposed to a quinternion with five or sexternion with six, now taken by synechdoche to refer to any single gathering of pages; cf. the French cahier) the priest has in front of him, containing his sermon. In that case, I wouldn't be addressing a friendly audience, but rather replying to his post with the substance of his post.

    Of course, "preaching to the choir" is the cliche', while "preaching to the quire" would be a novel usage. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Come to think of it, I'm gonna steal "preaching to the quire" for an article on the relationship between oral and written sermons in the XIVth century. Thanks again!
  • by _Sharp'r_ (649297) <sharper AT booksunderreview DOT com> on Sunday October 07, 2007 @06:37PM (#20891491) Homepage Journal
    The problem I have is that I am currently in the position of needing to buy a few hundred computers for little kids in Elementary School and Junior High in one of the lowest funded and poorest rural parts of the country. Any money that I can save on those computers will be used to hire additional teacher aides or purchase additional library books instead.

    If the OLPC people allowed schools to buy the OLPC for it's current $200 cost in order to use it in a non-profit "for the kids" environment, they might actually sell enough of them to get their component costs down to closer to $100 for third-worlders to purchase. Instead, they make the cost $400, making it a better choice for me to either buy a much more useful full $400 laptop for the kids, or (in my case), plan to buy a bunch of inexpensive or used desktops for the kids for around $250 each, complete with Free OS, and spend the difference on other stuff.

    If I want to buy OLPCs to help a poor kid overseas, I can do that by simply paying for one. If that's my motivation (and it might be as a private individual, instead of someone entrused to get the most out of public or donated money for a specific set of kids in the U.S.), then there is no need to require me to buy a second one for local kids.

    Their plan might make sense if there is a hard limit on the number of OLPCs that can be manufactured and sold, but with the world computer construction capacity and their plan to farm out construction to other countries for a nominal fee, that doesn't seem to be that case. In the event that (like most manufactured computer products), the ability to supply them can increase and lower the cost per unit, their tactic should be to sell as many OLPCs to whomever is willing to buy one so that they can turn around and give or sell the rest to "poor kids overseas" as cheaply as possible.

    Instead, their tactic appears to be to limit sales and production as much as possible while they decide who "deserves" to be able to purchase one. As usual, many people who see themselves as "doing good" for the third world either need a lesson in basic economics or need to stop thinking that they have to keep all the power and choice to themselves and control everything in the process.

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