Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One Laptop Per Child

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project is unique, as is its first product, the XO. Designed to bring educational computing to children in the developing world, the XO's bright green-accented casework, rabbit-ear Wi-Fi antennas and highly customised software are designed as much to differentiate it from more mainstream products as to provide focused functionality for its intended task.

Although OLPC operated a Give One Get One scheme for two weeks at the end of 2007, the XO is not currently available for the general public to buy.

At heart, the XO is conventional, almost staid. It's based on the AMD Geode LX700 processor, an embedded x86 device running at 433MHz, with 1GB of flash memory and 256MB of RAM. This supports a heavily customised version of Red Hat Fedora Core 6 Linux and a custom icon-based front end called Sugar, written in Python. A suite of educational applications including graphics, music making, word processing, simple programming concepts, chat and audio/video sharing is included; all of this is open source and defiantly kid-friendly. Although some of our more elderly members of staff were confused, young children found their way around with ease: for the more precocious, there's always the Bash shell.

The screen is the stand-out technology in the XO. An ingenious mix of reflective and transmissive LCD design, it is both high resolution and high density -- 1200 by 900 pixels at 200 dots per inch (dpi) in greyscale (reflective) mode, 800 by 600 pixels at 134dpi in colour (transmissive) mode. The latter activates when you turn the backlight on and mix primary colours behind the main LCD matrix.

This works very well: although the colours wash out easily in strong sunlight, the main image is viewable under all lighting conditions. It's a very flexible, very capable design and deserves to hit the mainstream. It's also a good match for the built-in camera, which although only VGA resolution produces still and moving images of above-average clarity. You can twist and fold back the screen into a tablet, or e-book, mode, but this isn't fully supported in the software -- there's no touch-screen hardware, for example; nor can you get at the stylus pads on either side of the touchpad in e-book mode.

Although it has no internal expansion options, the XO has an SD card slot, three USB connectors and standard microphone and headphone sockets. The spill-proof, child-finger-pitch keyboard is more than adequate for general use and shows a good deal of innovative

No comments: