olpc first impressions

One of the things I love about my job these days is the intersection of cool technology with social good. It’s nice knowing that the code I write will never be locked away behind closed doors. The nature of open source means that anything that I do will be out in the wild in perpetuity, allowing others to build upon, improve on, and learn from the work I’ve done.

And the shining example of the power of open source is the OLPC XO project. If you haven’t heard of it yet, in a nutshell, it’s a project that aims to get a laptop in the hands of the underprivileged children of the world, in an attempt to narrow the digital divide in a world fast becoming based upon knowledge and information, rather than “stuff”. And it’s built on Linux.

My lab acquired two proto units, and I’ve been playing with one for the past 24 hours or so. First impression — very cute.

Some other thoughts:

  • the Sugar interface is probably appropriate for children who’ve never been around computers before. For a nerd like me, I’d prefer a normal X environment. (aka, Debian please!)
  • picking up wifi is a bit weird — I got it to detect my router, and was able to enter the key, but upon reboot, the XO seems to want to connect to mesh networks or open access points. I had to keep clicking on my router’s icon to try and get it to connect.
  • I’d heard bad things about the keyboard. Well, it’s not great but it’s not awful either. After only using it for about an hour or so, I was able to type 40wpm (as compared to a normal typing speed of ~85-90wpm). I suspect my typing speed will improve with time as well.
  • The integrated camera is pretty neat. The picture above was taken with the XO’s camera. I then uploaded it to Flickr, and now I’m blogging about it here. Indeed, I wrote this entire post on the XO. :)
  • Finally, as a nerd, I was pretty happy to see a moden version of Logo as well as a nice python environment as applications. Even if every kid doesn’t grow up to be a kernel hacker, a little bit of programming knowledge will serve them well.

So there you have it. I’m a fan. In fact, I am going to participate in the G1G1 program — give one, get one. You spend $400, which purchases two XOs. You get to keep one, and the other is donated.

If you’re interested in doing the same (or just making a flat-out donation), visit:

laptopgiving.org

The children of the world thank you.