Yay! The OLPC XO laptop arrived today. My husband called me at work to let me know that it is here. It is awesome, of course.

OLPC XO Laptop

I added a page with more pictures of it than anyone could possibly want to see: OLPC pics.

Initial impressions – very small box that FedEx somehow managed to poke a hole in. Inside, very little extra packaging. It come in 3 pieces – the laptop itself, the battery and the power cord. There are 2 plastic bags and 2 stabilizers that look like they are made out of recycled paper/cardboard. It seems very rugged, but not rubbery as I was expecting. Under normal use by kids, I expect that the white will very quickly become dirty, but the thing looks awesome out of the box. As I’ve heard is common in adults, I didn’t initially get how to open it. As soon as I got it, it seems obvious. The display’s ability to completely swivel is cool. The fact that the USB, microphone, and headphone ports are covered by the antenna ears when closed is a sweet design point. It seems odd that the power port isn’t similarly protected. The keyboard is small and rubbery. People who like the old IBM clackety keyboards are destined to be disappointed – it is much like a normal laptop keyboard, only smaller, solid (protected from spills), rubbery, and green.

The software is neat. The extra keys on the keyboard really improve the software experience over trying the live ISO image or using a virtual machine image. They make switching between programs much easier and faster. The links back into the OLPC library allow the kids to listen to a couple of music samples, read nine picture books online (in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Farsi, and Croatian), and browse Wikipedia. The picture book interface is top notch and I hope they are able to populate the library with a few more books (initially you only see two, but once you start reading one, you can access another seven). I could really envision children as young as mine delving into this activity. I would have liked to see a link to Project Gutenberg. The science section starts off with only biology listings. I expect the OLPC library will grow dramatically over time.

The browser doesn’t automatically start Flash animations, but rather shows an outline with the designation: “Flash [[Click to play]]”. I tried a few of the Flash games on Noggin and gnash seems to not be able to really deal with most of them. For some, the screen gets so cluttered that the game becomes unplayable (which is a problem with Noggin’s site design rather than with the laptop) and others render but very slowly and seem to get stuck unable to accept input.

Pippy is a neat, small IDE preloaded with code snippets interesting enough to get older children motivated to try it. It takes me back to my early days of Basic programs generating annoying beeps. There is a cool distance measuring program (Acoustic Tape Measure) that requires two laptops to share the activity and then reports the distance between them.

OLPC XO Laptop Terminal

On the security side, the SELinux tools and libraries are installed, but getenforce says that SELinux is disabled. I was prompted for my name when the machine booted for the first time and I selected an XO image with custom colors, but the second time I booted, neither were required. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to turn the microphone off and the microphone indicator has been lit for quite a while.

I’ve played with it for a couple of hours and barely scratched the surface. It is very fun. It will be interesting to see what my children make of it.

If you have read all the way to this point, you are an OLPC fanatic, so I highly recommend that you read the following two reviews. The first is by a 12 year old and is very well written. It talks about some of the more interesting activities that I haven’t had a chance to try yet, like Etoys and TamTamJam: http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1206
The second review is by the father of a 9 year old: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7140443.stm

Also extremely cool, is the interview with the guy (Don Hopkins) who ported the original SimCity to the OLPC and is now releasing it under the GPL as Micropolis. I can still remember staying up all night in college playing SimCity in the 24 hour lab when I should have been sleeping (or working): http://www.linuxworld.com/news/2007/121107-simcity.html Head’s up – he says that there are cheat codes documented in the source. 😉 What a great way to get kids to read the source code. This will definitely be one of the first things that I load.

There is still a little time left to get one. I highly recommend it, it is a sweet little machine. But even more, as the letter confirming the expected arrival date of the laptop said: “You are part of something big. As a participant in Give One Get One, you have become a member of an international educational movement.” And that alone is worth every penny. http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/index.php