XP on the XO, round three.

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 10:20

Who's using XP?

With a surprising lack of fanfare, OLPCNews recently revealed that Sugar is beating out Windows XP in XO deployments:

Apparently the conversations are going pretty much as many of us had expected: Initially country representatives inquire if Windows XP runs on the XO laptop. That doesn't really come as a surprise - for many people Windows is the definition of a computer. However, upon further investigation every country decided to stick to Sugar.

It's hardly a surprise, based on the wretched state of XP on the XO for educational purposes.

The surprising part is that after thousands of people screaming (including myself) about XP on the XO, the news that everyone is choosing Sugar went almost unnoticed.

This is a very good, if somewhat Pyrrhic, victory - there was a lot of time and effort lost to get XP to run, and a lot of bad blood created.

Long-term, however, the fact that head-to-head, Sugar is winning installations after review by education ministries is fantastic:

-It's an important mindshare victory for open source, especially at the operating system level (on the computing side) and at the ministry-decision-makers level on the policy side. This win will put downstream decisions on software on a more level playing field (hopefully?)

I recently saw Ken Banks present at a local speaker series run by IREX. He gave an updated version of this presentation from POPTech, on the power of mobile phones in citizen empowerment, NGO communication, and a host of other amazing stories of using the available, appropriate technology in remote and rural locations which are often off-grid and without Internet access. By attaching a computer (Linux, Mac, or Windows) to a cell phone with a data cable and installing his (free, open source) software, FrontlineSMS, that computer is turned into a messaging hub; sending and receiving text messages via the cell phone to hundreds of contacts.

That's pretty amazing. Three reasonably available pieces of hardware and you have a tool to send alert messages out, receive election monitoring information through, or communicate with field medical workers to coordinate and track supplies and treatment information. Or track corruption. Or report human rights violations. Or share news and tips in places where the media is not independent, as one of the FrontlineSMS success stories shows:

I've long been an advocate for selling the XO commercially or at least following a Grameen Village Phone style approach to create OLPC XO-centric small business models. Or simply just enable smaller pilot projects to spread the XO technology. I still believe any or all of these offer amazing benefits to expanding the scale of the OLPC XO, re-establishing the XO as the dominant player in the low-cost, rugged, low-infrastructure-requirements laptop, ideal for education projects around the world.

This doesn't seem to be getting much traction, despite apparent interest. Let me propose a different path forward, closer to the original "we sell laptops in batches of 1 million or more to governments" idea: Drop education.

Don't get me wrong - education is absolutely key to development, and the OLPC XO can be a great tool for education. But education systems also need to invest in teacher training, school infrastructure (from simple, double-ventilated pit latrines all the way to electricity and computers).

But there are so many other areas where something like the XO could help. Anywhere that cell phones are established as data-reporting tools is a potential place to introduce an XO. The laptop is barely more resource-hungry than a cell phone in terms of power, and can work "off-grid" with solar or car batteries just as well. It can deploy without any central communications grid (unlike a cell phone), given enough XOs or mesh extending devices to maintain an active peer-to-peer mesh network, and add one satellite uplink or cell-modem into the system and you're online. More importantly, if the cell network is down, a mesh network still can pass along messages within a small area.

Even a simple OLPC can still provide a much more rich data reporting toolset than coding long strings of data into a 160 character SMS, not to mention the ability to add in encryption for personal security and not relying (necessarily) on a central network which could be compromised.

What are some areas that such a device could provide valuable tools? Crisis response would be one obvious win, but also health reporting and/or managing reports being filed, human rights violations, election reporting, and even something like agricultural data exchange, enabling farmers to "pull" and explore information on long-term weather forecasts, disease risks, and market prices.

Combine an XO with FrontLineSMS and you have a portable, solar-powered SMS communications hub, which I can see being valuable in a few tough situations if you had some manual encryption schemes set up with your constituents.

Accepted, the XO is more expensive and would require more training than a simple cell phone. It could not -- and should not -- replace cell phone deployments, as a cell phone can go longer without power and is less "flashy" than an XO. But hybrid systems involving OLPC XOs as well as cell phones, or using XOs as portable SMS-messaging hubs, or simply to quickly deploy a local area wifi mesh network are all clear needs that an OLPC XO could help with.

OLPC and F/LOSS enthusiast Dr. Sameer Verma, an Associate Professor of Information Systems at San Francisco State University has been beating the XO drum in Jamaica with this presentation to the University of the West Indies/Mona (UWI) and at the ICT4DJamaica conference (with great photos) last September.

You probably already know Sameer from either his role as organizer of SF-OLPC or his OLPCNews guest entry earlier this year, OLPC Jamaica, and the beginnings of a pilot project in August Town, a community near UWI, a stone's throw away from where I lived while in Jamaica.

$10 laptop in India?

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 02/26/2009 - 10:08

I'll believe it when I see it, but the Times of India is reporting that the promised $10 laptop is closer to a reality, but right now it's as real as the crank on the original XO design.

Who knew cardboard was so exciting?

I'm growing weary of promises for new / better / cheaper technologies for ICT4D - whether it's the pure-touch-screen tomfoolery of the XO-2 or new designs from India (remember that they've been promising this since at least late 2006, and the XO-2 has been a diversionary tactic starting in 2007 and formally announced May of last year.

We're missing the point here, as usual. ICT4D is not about the ICT, it's about the "D" - Development. Use whatever technology is best suited for the problem at hand, don't wait on the next big thing or spend money to develop it, at least starting out. This is why mobile phones are such an attractive tool - amazing install base, even in the developing world, low cost, low-power, but provides limited connectivity and 2-way (limited) data flow.

Via Morgan Collett we learn that OLPC is discontinuing it's "small" deployment support of 100-1000 XO laptop purchases:

Deployments should be any scale

Unfortunately, as some of you might have heard "Change the World" aka "Give a School" aka "Give 100, Give 1000" will cease to exist. We are just waiting for the info to be taken off the main website (any second now). We are doing this in an effort to refocus back to large-scale deployments that create change in a major way. We WILL honor all requests that we have received prior to the info being taken off the website.

As I commented last night, this is ridiculous - why can't OLPC perform remotely as well as every other computer manufacturer on the planet? Especially with a first-mover product with (for now) unmatched features.

I want 1-laptop deployments, 5-laptop deployments, and 10-laptop deployments. I really hope there's a good reason why that's not as easy as it seems.

The XO Files Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 05:50

This entry is part four in the series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe in the XO" Read Part I here, then Part II, The New 4PC Market, and its Failings, and Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution.

The XO Files Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC

The XO Files: I Want To Believe
The XO Files: I Want To Believe

The beginning of 2009 isn't going so well for the OLPC Foundation over at 1CC, with layoffs and very disappointing G1G1 sales.

To (finally) close up my "I want to believe" series on how things went wrong, and how things could go very right with the OLPC dream, let me offer some resolutions for the Foundation to consider for 2009.

I will decide on a mission statement
That is, "I will accept that OLPC is and has always been a laptop project, not an education project". And that's OK, if presented as such. The world needs a laptop like the XO, and it can still help improve education. But let's agree that the XO is a laptop and not an education miracle, and treat it as such - a wonderfully well-designed and flexible tool that can be used in many contexts in international development projects and in more quotidian ways as well. This opens up more "markets" for the XO, widens the potential scope, and creates a much larger and diverse user-base who can benefit from and contribute back to the ongoing development of the XO.

I will stop overreaching

Microsoft, the "third world" and anti-virus

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 11/19/2008 - 10:27

For the past year or so, I've repeatedly been trying to bring up what I see as a huge, gaping hole in any project which uses Microsoft products for an ICT4Development rollout - computer viruses. Windows XP, when connected to the Internet sans protection, lasts as few as four minutes before becoming infected, and rarely more than a day. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of OLPC XOs running Windows (with no mention of anti-virus software to date), and you have a nightmare scenario pretty rapidly.

The much-debated VitalWave TCO paper we discussed at the World Bank, which argued that the higher cost of Linux administrators balanced out licensing costs for discounted Microsoft and anti-virus software, even admitted the significant costs of purchasing and maintaining a subscription to anti-virus tools

If Microsoft wants to continue to capture the developing world market, this is going to be a barrier. They can drop their own licensing costs for the XP Starter Edition (which at this point is zero cost to them) down, and hand out older Office software; but the initial and subscription costs for anti-virus software are not (directly) under MS's control. Regardless, having anti-virus protection directly impacts the functionality of the device - if installed, A-V can slow a less powerful computer down to a crawl during a scan and at startup, but the consequences of not having it can render the system absolutely useless.

So it comes as little surprise that Microsoft has announced a free anti-virus software for XP and Vista that targets lower-powered systems (cough, like the OLPC?) to address both these problems and lower the cost barrier for adopting MS:

TCO for low-cost computing in Education

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 11/10/2008 - 11:55

The video archive of last Thursday's discussion at the World Bank on the total cost of ICT4E projects is now online at the Bank's eDevelopment thematic group blog

Tomorrow: Total Cost of Operation and ICT4Education

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 11/05/2008 - 16:24

Come by for a lively discussion on TCO (that I get to start out!)

From the world bank:
A World Bank ICT and Education Community of Interest Discussion, in coordination
the e-Development Thematic Group, infoDev and the DC-based Technology Salon

How much does it really cost to introduce and sustain computers in schools?
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): A Study of Models of Affordable Computing for
Schools in Developing Countries

I'll be leading the discussion at the World Bank this Thursday with a presentation by Vital Wave Consulting on their recent TCO calculations for low-cost computing models (both lab- and 1:1 computing approaches).

Come by or watch the event live online! (rsvp below).

A World Bank ICT and Education Community of Interest Discussion (EduTech), in
collaboration with the World Bank e-Development Thematic Group, infoDev and the
Technology Salon invite you to a seminar/live webcast:

How much does it really cost to introduce and sustain computers in schools?
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): A Study of Models of Affordable Computing for
Schools in Developing Countries

The latest OLPC Upgrade

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 10/21/2008 - 10:57

OLPC upgrade process
OLPC Upgrading - like an old defrag!Last Thursday, I upgraded my OLPC over some beers -- sometimes, the best (and worst) ways to really test technology's limits is while slightly inebriated. The upgrade (using a Microsoft Unlimited Potenial USB stick gimme as the boot USB.

The upgrade went surprisingly smoothly, and it even included a good chunk of activities, which saved a big post-upgrade time sink in Update.1

Venezuela Chooses the Intel Classmate over the OLPC XO - kinda

Submitted by Jon on Sun, 10/05/2008 - 09:18

The Chavez likes Intel -- but not Windows? (BBC)The BBC is reporting that Venezuela has ordered a million laptops "based on the Intel Classmate" in partnership with Portugal:

Venezuela is buying the portable computers as part of a $3bn (£1.66bn) bilateral trade deal with Portugal that also covers housing and utilities. Portugal is manufacturing the blue and white laptops under licence from Intel and are broadly based on the chip maker's design of its Classmate computer. [...]

The deal with Venezuela follows an agreement between Intel and Portugal, signed in August for Classmate machines.

Under that deal Portugal agreed to buy 500,000 machines to enable every six-to-10-year-old in the country to get one.

It sounds like this is an extension of Portugal's original tender for 500,000 laptops, but whether the hardware changed discussed are merely the same ones already mentioned or not is uncertain, but the article does hint that it will be further hardware-customized for Venezuela. The BBC article describes the modified Classmate as:

The 3G OLPC Laptop

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 09/26/2008 - 15:15

That's three grand, not third generation. A (possibly biased) report by Vital Wave pegs the 5 year TCO of the OLPC at $2,700.

The XO Files Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 09/17/2008 - 05:50

This entry is the third in the four-part series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe" Read Part I here, and
Part II, The New 4PC Market, and its Failings

The XO Files: I Want To Believe
The XO Files: I Want To Believe

Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution

Concern over the original distribution plan was what got me writing for OLPCNews.com. The belligerent anti-pilot-project attitude, the requirement to buy the laptops in lots of 1million units, and the hushed discussions about the costs beyond the "$100" laptop. What has OLPC done and what should it continue to change to make XO deployment smoother and more successful?

The XO Files Part II: The New 4PC Market, and its Failings

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 03:33

This entry is part two in the series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe in the XO" Read Part I about the Laptop Project / Education Project disconnect here.

Part II: The New 4PC Market, and its Failings

The XO Files: I Want To Believe
The XO Files: I Want To Believe

The OLPC XO is a path-breaking, jaw-dropping piece of technology. And not just any traditional, consumer-focused (faster, shinier) way, but in specific and strategic areas that make the laptop perfect for developing world situations where it might be damp or dusty, the sun might be your light source at school, and you probably don't have reliable electricity at home. It happens to be that those same constraints also produce technological solutions that make the XO attractive to a certain set of users who want a no-frills, but highly functional laptop (like world travelers), as I mentioned in Part I -- it's lightweight, rugged, and low-power (solar chargeable), but powerful enough to connect to faint wifi, play movies, or review digital photos.

The XO Files: I Want to Believe

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 09/05/2008 - 23:30

This entry is the beginning of a four part series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe in the XO" Read Part I here, then Part II, The New 4PC Market, and its Failings, Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution, and Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC.

NPR Covers the OLPC

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 10:44

OLPC fell short?Morning Edition's Cyrus Farivar talks about the One Laptop Per Child project:

One Laptop Per Child was an ambitious promise to children in the third world. The project has had trouble with its leadership, finances and competitors. Instead of the legacy of education for third-world children, the One Laptop Per Child program has spurred an industry in low-cost laptops for consumers.

Picking Nits with Microsoft over XP-on-XO

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 08/21/2008 - 05:15

XP on the XOSo after the LaptopMag review of XP on the XO, the W2 Group ("a global marketing services ecosystem that helps CMOs in their new role as builders of communities and content aggregators") sent a letter over to OLPC President Charles Kane Jr. , which was posted on the OLPC Wiki "at Chuck's request".

XP on the OLPC XO, Round Two

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 08/12/2008 - 05:18

While my review of the XP experience was based on dissecting the XP on XO video that the Microsoft Unlimited Potential folks put together, the lucky bastards fine folks over at Laptopmag got to play with the XPXO hands-on last week, and have posted their review, which answers a few of my outstanding questions, but largely support

One old OS per Child

Submitted by Jon on Sat, 08/09/2008 - 07:11

I keep swearing that I'll shift gears and focus more on the good parts of the One Laptop Per Child project like the fusion of public and private interests in India, but then I keep getting pulled in to the stupidity du jour.

More on OLPC in India

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 08/06/2008 - 14:54

NextBillion reposts an article from Businessweek which clarifies some of the news on OLPC in India:

The OLPC / OSS Dream

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 07/30/2008 - 10:27

The always-amusing XKCD webcomic illustrates the secret dream on the OLPC project in encouraging children to learn and, in doing so, learn programming:

The world's (new) cheapest laptop (for today)

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 07/28/2008 - 17:03

Following fast on the heels of the CherryPal low-cost computer is the Impulse, advertised at $130 for each laptop (but you have to buy 100 at a time). It has, frankly, unexciting specs and wifi is an optional dongle (ew). Network World has more details on the Inspire, but more importantly, the blossoming 4PC market:


Submitted by Jon on Sun, 07/27/2008 - 00:01

I seem to be up at Slashdot.org again with the OLPC; this time with my OLPCNews piece combing through the video of Windows on the OLPC (also published on JonCamfield.com. The comments are a lot better this time around, with a few complaints about my clear anti-MS bias.

OLPC GrassCon

Submitted by Jon on Sat, 07/19/2008 - 10:58

OLPCs with CellModems

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 07/14/2008 - 16:03

Someone's stealing my best ideas
Wayan found a gem in the Times of India article on OLPC and World Bank funding:

OLPC joyride no so joyful (or, what Jon did all day Sunday)

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 07/14/2008 - 11:40

So, this weekend I thought it'd be a great time to upgrade to the latest joyride builds, which are rumored to have solved the earlier record problems, and hopefully the SD card corruption issues as well. This is supposed to be an only-mildly-painful experience, with a few command line tricks, a few boot tricks, and so on. Nothing serious.
XKCD on upgrading difficulties (and sharks)

Could Many Give Many?

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 07/08/2008 - 05:36

olpc xo sales
Give Many XO minimums

So there's an ongoing tension between small projects interested in using OLPCs and the guys over at 1CC who are too busy to really deal with a ton of small orders, regardless of the value of the particular cause, the built-in support it may already have, or any other warm, fuzzy reason. If the order doesn't get up to the Give Many standard, it falls on seemingly deaf ears -- all good reasons to negotiate a term sheet when navigating the GiveMany waters.

I wrote about this general problem first in a long and academic paper when OLPC was still selling in only lots of a million laptops and only to governments. I railed on OLPC for missing the importance of the small but well supported projects in favor of unmanageably huge (but big-number) projects, and proposed a solution -- peer networks of small schools, governments, and any other interested parties banding together to be able to meet the minimum order.

DC XO Chat Server

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 06/30/2008 - 05:22

Join local activities!So, after xochat went into deep hibernation (though it's back to stay and has its own regional servers), Wayan asked for friends to chat with:
XO laptop owners need more jabber servers to mesh network on. Every time I look at my empty neighborhood view I am sad. Yet I am not geek enough to run a jabber server solo. I need the help of a jabber expert to set one up for DC.

Portability vs The World

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 06/20/2008 - 11:17

The DC area mailing list for nonprofit technologists has been alight with suggestions on what the best portable machine is this past week, debating screen size (gotta be able to see that spreadsheet!), storage, raw computing power, optical drives, and even the need for floppy swap drives.

The general sense is that everyone wants portability, but is unwilling to sacrifice anything to get it. I say bollocks -- you can keep your sore shoulders, I'll make a few minor sacrifices, adapt my lifestyle a bit, and carry on. After the jump is my full response.

On Hubris and the 1CC version of OLPC

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 06/13/2008 - 20:32

Business Week has a good article summing up the recent history of the OLPC project and it's difficulties with sales numbers, fading promises, Intel, and its internal strife over the Microsoft decision. None of that information is particularly new, but the article continues and goes in to some insightful problems with the educational model of the 1CC OLPC project; namely, hubris.

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