Wednesday Jan 16, 2008

I think the XO has cute ears

Let's say you're 8 years old and you have the choice between these 2 computers:
olpc, classmate

Which one do you pick? For me the choice was easy.
me and olpc

Seriously, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an XO at the last OpenSolaris Beijing User Group meeting, where I met Fred Muller, President of the Beijing Linux User's Group. I was talking to him about the XO since it runs Linux and Fred goes, "Yeah, I have an XO in my backpack here." It was so cool. I spent the rest of the meeting in the back of the conference room playing with it. Here's what I thought of it:

1) It doesn't have the wind-up crank that many of us think it has. Instead it has this pull-string thingy that I never saw but apparently has the same effect as the crank. The wind-up crank was apparently something of a media play to help people understand that it can run without electricity if needed. And it looks like that message got out because as soon as people picked up the XO they all said, "Where's that crank thingy?"

2) The interface wasn't intuitive for me. They say that's common for people who have used computers before and are used to a Windows or Unix desktop. The XO is supposed to be intuitive for kids who have never used computers before. But I wonder what happens to the kids when they leave the XO world and go into mainstream computing environments, which hopefully they will one day.

3) It was darn hard to get the thing connected to the world wide web. I spent ages (30 seconds) trying and didn't succeed. The XO is set up to let kids network with other kids in their classroom and is apparently not so good at letting them network with the rest of the world. I think networking with the world is more important than networking with each other in a classroom. But maybe I just caught the XO on a bad wireless day or something.

4) The XO has lots of features that let kids play with the computer and with each other. This has got to be more appealing for them than your average computer. The screen rotates so people sitting across from you can see your display. The XO's speakers look like ears when they're fully extended. The whole thing is very durable and rugged. I imagine even my 4-year-old son would have a hard time breaking this thing. I like the fact that the XO is made not only for the developing world but specifically for kids in the developing world.

Overall, I'm a big fan of OLPC and the XO and I want to see this underdog win. However I'm concerned about the fact that the leadership at OLPC can't seem to forge and maintain the right partnerships in the industry. Maybe that's a mission impossible, given all the other tech titans who see the developing world as one of their final frontiers, and they don't want anyone else going in to get the spoils before they do.

These are my impressions after playing with the XO for a few minutes. If any of you readers have additional information, insights or clarifications please leave a comment.

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