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Meet the XO: OLPC project redefines the laptop


OLPCNot sure about you, but when I first saw a picture of the XO - the end result of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, my mind immediately associated it with a kid's toy.

Like many of those disappointing toys in my younger days that come in the form of coveted items that only adults have access to, it can't possibly be very useful can it - or so I thought.

But if Jim Rapoza of eWeek is to be believed, not only does the XO delivers, but it does it so well that it might well change the current state of technology.

So says Jim Rapoza:

Put simply, the XO is one of the most revolutionary computer systems that I've seen in some time. The entire time I was looking at the XO, I was thinking, but why can't my new expensive laptop do this? The technologies [that the XO is introducing can]... change the face of future systems, especially in the area of power consumption.

If I may just summarize the key points of this amazing device that, if the project runs its course successfully, will allow millions of underprivileged children a chance to have a glimpse of what many of us take for granted.

Screen

The project initially sought to use a screen that would be low-cost. In the end, they came out with a better display that would be more appropriate for the actual conditions in the developing world.

  • The use of diagonal rather than horizontal color stripes and an unconventional implementation of the pixels resulted in a screen that is visible in direct sunlight as well as at night.
  • In bright light, the screen appears as black and white instead of color
  • Uses just 1 watt of power on average - or 100 milliwatts with the backlight off
  • Dedicated timing controller for the display so that motherboard can be powered down independently of screen
Power System/Consumption

Remember the goofy attached crank of the early demos? Well, it's no longer there. Instead of focusing on just one specific power system, the OLPC has directed itself towards building an array of alternative (and swappable) power sources.

  • Safety is paramount; battery uses nickel metal hydride or lithium iron phosphate. No more exploding lithium ions.
  • Battery specially designed to last 2,000 to 3,000 recharges instead of the normal 500 to 1,000
  • Can be powered by small solar panels, string pull generators, bike systems or even small windmills
  • The XO can easily go for 10 hours on a single charge; OLPC considering bundling spare battery due to low replacement cost of just $10 for the battery
Wireless

Wireless technology based on IEEE's 802.11f specification is built into every XO.

  • XO's wireless uses only 0.8 watt compared to that 10 watts of a typical laptop
  • Every XO can be a wireless router as well as participant in a mesh network with other XO
  • Range of up to 2.3 kilometers possible at ideal conditions
Software

The XO runs off a Fedora Linux-based interface. The entire software design philosophy is that it should have a "low floor" in terms ease of usage, but with no artificial "ceiling" to limit power users.

  • Bundled with many applications such as Firefox-based browser, an RSS reader, an eBook reader, drawing tool as well as lots of learning games
  • Simple "Scratch" environment for beginners all the way to Python for advanced users
  • Mesh view allows users to see other users connected on the Mesh network - and to connect to them to share files or chat (voice or video) using the built-in camera and microphone

Want to get your hands on an XO already? In the words of OLPC CTO, Mary Lou Jepsen, "Get in line, you have a billion kids in front of you."

You can read the full article here: Meet the XO.

Since we are on the topic of laptops, what do you look for in a laptop anyway?

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

5 comments
paulmah
paulmah

What do you look for in a laptop anyway?

fmcgowan
fmcgowan

remarks like ?Get in line, you have a billion kids in front of you.? are not doing anyone any good. If they sold these things for the $175 (or $250, maybe $350) or so, I'd buy one as would a lot of others. Then the unit production costs would come down and they could give more of them away than otherwise. I'd still like to buy one (or two...) but the attitude is something of a downer. Besides, if they don't commercialize the various parts of this thing fairly quickly, the companies that actually manufacture them will; it is only matter of time.

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

What other team colours will they be available in?

grax
grax

They have God on their side - shame about the players.

JCitizen
JCitizen

It is good to see a follow up on how this project is going. Ironically this third world product may be closer to what we will all be using in the near future. Especially with the advent of cheap, large hard memory. Check out the links provided in the article! The slide show is a real winner! I will have to Google and see if I can find the "Goofy attached crank handle" - I may not think it such a goofy idea. Especially out in field research where there is no support for hundreds of miles.