The OLPC, 3 Months In

by James Turner

Back in December, I was one of the 170,000 eager Linux geeks who forked out $400 for the privilege of getting my hands on a One Laptop Per Child XO. To be honest, my initial impression was not great. For one thing, the keyboard was (and continues to be) the wrong size and feel for productive typing by an adult. I really can't complain about this, as it wasn't designed for adults, and I have managed to adapt somewhat to get something approaching a reasonable typing speed.

More troubling was the poor state of the WiFi stack, which seemed incapable of connecting to a WPA encrypted network. Even when using WEP or no encryption at all, getting and keeping a connection seemed to be a hit or miss adventure. And while the Sugar OS was certainly innovative, it really started to grate on me when I tried to do the kinds of things I wanted to do with it.


Peter Graf
2008-03-11 16:30:11
Hello James,
you should consider yourself very lucky, I ordered and
payed an XO back in December, I haven't gotten anything
but two or three emails.
If that were a commercial company, I would talk to my lawyer.
Hope I will see the thing at all.


2008-03-11 17:18:12
Hi James,

If the Sugar OS doesn't work for you and the OLPC's attraction is its hardware, you might want to check out Asus Eee. It cost a little more but has - imho - superior hardware. :-)


2008-03-11 22:32:07
I think that the inability to connect to encrypted networks may very well be a design decision, given the nature of the project. They probably don't want machines creating isolated islands in the mesh network.

As for the OS/desktop, keep in mind that it's not a generic laptop designed for generic laptop use. It's made for educational needs, and those requirements are quite different.

2008-03-12 05:31:43
I was wondering how well the GMail interface was working on your OLPC? I'm running Ubuntu with Openbox, and the regular GMail interface takes ages to load. The HTML version of GMail loads in a respectable time so I've been using that.

Just wondering since you mentioned it in your post. An accessory you may want to check out is the Kensington Slimblade keyboard and mouse set. Really great mobile keyboard and mouse, USB wireless connection worked out of the box. The set is a little pricey, but I figure it will be equally as useful for other ultra mobile PCs.


2008-03-12 15:47:31
In reply to Troberg:

You know, it' interesting that you mention mesh networks and encryption. It seems like, for Mesh networks, you almost need a hybrid approach - it seems to me that it might almost be more important to have good encryption on a mesh network, since it is going through other people's computers, who could very easily snoop on your data. OTOH, you do want everyone to be able to connect to the mesh.

I suppose the answer is that network-level communication maybe should be 'unencrypted', but using application-level encryption (SSL, TLS, SSH, that sort of thing), where you setup encryption between hosts on the network, not on the network itself. That way, you can still keep your communications private, without imposing encryption to connect to the network.

Of course, the only problem with this is that not every peer/host supports encryption for everything. E.g., I don't think my WiFi printer has 'application-level' encryption, only WEP/WPA. So, if I didn't use encryption for my wireless network, anyone nearby could potentially print to my printer. Not sure if that is a huge problem to worry about, but could be a problem if I had a neighbor who decided to be a jerk, or if someone setup some sort of car/van-based war-driving printer spam setup (not sure that would be cost effective though - but if everyone was on an open mesh network, it might get a lot more cost effective!)

Tom Harney
2008-03-13 07:02:07

If you need an adult-sized keyboard... why not hook-up a USB-keyboard. =) I know it would be a pain to lug around but it would be much easier to use.


Ken Hansen
2008-03-13 09:24:47
I too have an OLPC, but I also got an Asus eee right around the same time. To be honest, I've spent most fo my time dinking with the eee, and I am on the verge of offering my OLPC for sale on eBay. Your posting caught my eye, and I think I'll dig it out and put it on top of the "play with me" stack at home.

I must admit, when I first got it, my opinion went from "Cool!" to "WTF?" in about 20 minutes, and the next day my eee arrived.

I like the idea of a more mainstream Linux install, but I need to research pros/cons vs Asus eee (becuase wiping the installed OS might be a one-way operation, but not sure)...



James Turner
2008-03-13 16:46:38
No worries about wiping the OS, you're just booting off the SD card instead of the EEPROM inside the OLPC, I can still boot to Sugar just by removing the card.


2008-03-21 14:23:56
If you didn't know there was an SD card slot, that means you never even bothered to find out anything about the XO on the Wiki, which is one of the first places the OLPC recommends for getting help with any support issues. The SD card slot is very clearly described there.

Also explained is the fact that WPA encryption was added to a later development build. And that you can use any USB keyboard and/or mouse as input, including those handy travel keyboards that are small and light. My preferred setup is a Logitech USB travel mouse, a generic compact keyboard (no num pad) and the XO in tablet mode. No wires to worry about, and still a much more portable setup than a full laptop. Especially since the mouse and keyboard are optional.

It would've been nice if you'd listed which installation instructions finally worked for you for getting Xubuntu installed.

Jeff Koller
2008-03-26 21:24:36
Hi James,
Like thousands of other people patiently waiting for their XO, I would just be happy to receive one. Even with all it's problems. Good luck to all you who ordered and payed for one.
2008-06-12 03:15:30

Hello James,

If the Sugar OS doesn't work for you and the OLPC's attraction is its hardware, you might want to check out Asus Eee. It cost a little more.

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