OLPC XO Laptop : Give One Get One Now!

Got my G1G1 XO Laptop yesterday evening and have been fiddling with it for it hours. I'm very pleased and impressed with the design and believe that the XO will deliver on OLPC's vision of bringing computer literacy to, and unleashing creativity in, the children of the developing world. Actually I'm convinced it will do that for more folks than just them!

I did take some pictures of course, but I'll point you to some videos that do a better job of introducing the XO:

Sugar is the XO's desktop GUI. It is very good and has some excellent innovations. Three of the elements that stand out are visual map of the mesh network neighborhood, visual map of running applications (the "activities" in the circle are running, as opposed to the menu bar on the bottom which are those that can be launched), and, most importantly IMO, the activity-centric Journal (rather than the expired files-and-folders desktop metaphor). Having a task-oriented organization scheme is something I've been wanting/expecting in Mac OS for twenty years, perhaps now it'll happen when the Apple folks see they've been scooped in UI design by a Linux machine with 128MB of RAM (it's 1984 all over again!). Of course Genius Folders will be a dandy enhancement to the Journal's tagging scheme.

For young children the XO is probably darn near perfect. The built-in tools (writing, music, chat, web browser, video, graphics, data recorder, and calculator) and games are the obvious starting point. For real computer powered creativity it has an impressive set of easy-to-use programming tools. Python is the XO's primary scripting language and the Pippy and Develop (Activity-building Activity) IDEs are a natural progression from EToys (a LOGO-like environment in Squeak/Smalltalk) and Turtle Art visual programming activities.

Some obvious low-hanging fruit for making the XO a vehicle for teaching older children and young adults is packaging eBooks and on-line course material from sources like Project Guttenberg, MIT OpenCourseWare, and Stanford on iTunes U. I see a flourishing library system of SD cards and USB memories. Naturally the same materials would work dandy on the Sony and Amazon eBook readers. Somewhat more challenging (but of personal interest to me) is a web newsfeed system to replace my newspaper subscription.

Java-oriented folks will of course be disappointed that XO doesn't normally support Java, but being a resource-constrained platform that is pretty much unavoidable (Microsoft has been making the same whine wrt Windows on XO). While there has been some work done to make Java available on XO including a JNLP handler, I think a more useful approach would be Google Android for XO. And I'm sure Gosling would agree since it is his opinion that the PC for the developing world is the cell phone and that the OLPC Project is bad idea.

Another idea for developers I have is porting Sugar to the Nokia N800/N810 which have specifications that are similar to the XO (actually they're a bit slower and ARM-powered but the memory and display sizes are quite close). There is some discussion about Sugar and Nokia's Maemo but there doesn't seem to be any indication of a port in progress.

There is still time to participate in Give One Get One as the deadline was extended to December 31st, so if you haven't ordered yours yet please do it now! Not only do you get a tax deduction for the donated XO, you also get a year of T-Mobile WiFi which covers a lot of places including a zillion Starbucks.

When you do get your XO Laptop, please let me know as I'm interested in meeting up with other OLPC-minded folks.