Saying Farewell to My XO Laptop


A few weeks ago, after some soul-searching, I decided to pack up the OLPC and ship it off to a new user elsewhere in the world. I've relayed it to a second party in America, who is better equipped to present it to its new owner.

Say hello to a new XO owner

I decided to part ways with it for several reasons. First, I honestly hadn't used it in well over three months. There's practically a waiting line for computer use in this household, and tinkering with the XO-1 had fallen way down on the list.

I had lots of plans but have no time to enact them, and so disuse (not misuse) was to blame. I am far more enamored with this 100Mhz machine than I had been with the XO, and in turn more enthused by the idea of working with that hideous old K6-2 than I was with the XO, and doubly so of working with either of the Thinkpads than I was with the XO.

But I don't kid myself either. I am a laptop fiend, and while the XO was technically a laptop, there were too many parts that deviated from the "normal" range of laptop hardware (if there is such a thing) to fall within my focus. It was, in other words, a little too unusual to pique my interest.

Perhaps more influential in the decision was my rather steep disappointment in the off-again, on-again hardware failures I had with the machine. I had committed myself to overlooking those faults; I even added it to my to-do list for the year. And I never really reported it here, but I was able to "cure" the machine of its sticky-key issue twice by using a common hair dryer to soften the glue under the CTRL key, and massage it back to a functional level. (Thanks again to the OLPC fan who e-mailed me with that "solution" ... it's what convinced me to keep it for another few months, really.)

But the idea that a six-month old computer intended for underprivileged children had a vaguely cripping hardware fault after extremely light use ... well, let's just say it was like a grain of sand in my mouth. Try as I might, I couldn't keep it out of my mind. It just continued to irritate, with no sign of relief.

I enjoyed the time I had with it; I count my Crux installation and long-running Arch installations as coups in my personal repertoire. I would have been happier with it if, in my experience, the video subsystem better matched the demands put on it (it always seemed a bit too slow for 1200×800, or whatever) and if perhaps there was a little more power overall, in the entire system.

But aside from that there is no coda for the cute little green laptop. It was one part experimentation and one part honest-to-goodness philanthropy that convinced me to buy it and its counterpart. I probably wouldn't do it again, but I'm willing to admit that was only my experience, and not necessarily the norm.

Now if only I could convince myself to thin out the remaining members of the herd.

This post first appeared on Motho ke motho ka botho and is republished here with K.Mandla's permission.

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What the heck is this? This is NOT a news story but someones griping about the OLPC XO, an 'article' like this belongs in the community forums not the front page. How about OLPC-News post an article from someone who LIKES their XO laptop just to "balance" things out? :)

Or is this site the "FOX News" of OLPC? Where you say you're fair and balanced but are actually cripplingly one sided.

Apologies that I don't publish exactly what you want to read Goney3.

Fair means that you publish grips as well as glory, and K.Mandla's grips are quite common in the G1G1 community, and therefore valid for discussion.

Might you have constructive responses to the issues he brings up rather than just shooting the messenger?

I maybe miss it but what would be a constructive response to an assay that basically says, "was ok but not as fun for my taste compared to my other XX laptops/computers, and had a sticky key too that made me keep it a bit longer"?

And how could this be relevant to OLPC or any machine?

And which part of this exactly is the "quite common in the OLPC community"?

I have no problem with "grips" but i would like some reasoning instead of blubbering, to go with it.

Wayan, I totally agree with Sean's reply. While I agree with you that BOTH sides should be heard, the method and delivery of such information was very poor quality. Like Sean said, its taking the easy road for publishing (a rant piece) and creating a news worthy article (facts, figures, stats, etc). Instead we got this angry commentary and no real "information" that could benefit anyone... unless this article is supposed to reflect to others who are having the same problem(s) and need to feel comforted that they are "not alone" with their frustration(s). This article was not presented as such and so I do not see that connection. Can future articles be more specific and have further clarity on what their objective/purpose is? I have been a long time reader/poster on OLPC News/Forums and I would call myself a "fanboy" of this site. That is why I am upset at a drop in quality. I hold you and the rest of the staff to high standards and integrity for presenting information to the public.

I agree that dissenting opinions are to be included in on a website that deals with a product/company, (doesn't ahve to be a mac-like fanboy website). However, shouldn't a post be more than one persons experience (a review from someone who fixes XOs talking about the issues he or she found to be common, an article surveying previous XO owners who sent them to others after they were tired of them. Those sound like interesting (and productive) reads.

This just sounds like a rant, and frankly one that has been heard before. What new constructive information are readers to get from this. It is just representing one person's experience (which is easier than interviewing many people and making conclusions from that).


If you would write a review from someone who fixes XOs talking about the issues he or she found to be common or an article surveying previous XO owners who sent them to others after they were tired of them, I would be glad to publish either, both.

So maybe you two don't notice it, but I see multiple instances of people getting excited about the XO, but running into the problems the poster mentions and then passing their XO on.

Sticky keys is one - a well known issue that's annoyed many. What I didn't appreciate was that sticky keys were enough to abandon the XO. Nor did I know of the interesting hack to fix the issue.

So one reason this post made the main page was to highlight how sticky keys, which I thought minor, is actually a major issue for users. One that OLPC didn't take seriously at first either.

Another aspect that I found interesting and worthy of publication is the rank of the XO relative to other computers in a geeky household.

While the XO may rank high in yours, Mavrothal, I am more of K.Mandla's camp. The XO competes with Macbooks, netbooks, desktops, and all other manner of geekery in my home. I expect he and I are not alone in wishing the XO was easier to work with so that it could rank higher in the daily attention contest.

An interesting response, what I was expecting more than annoyance with my editorial choice, was an honest conversation around XO usage compared to other computers in the OLPC community households.

So how does the XO rank in your own daily laptop usage? 100% 75%, 25%, 2%?

Now I'm confused. Are you suggesting that the (driving?) force behind the "OLPC community" is gadgetry prioritization?

OK then, I really like the LayZboy position and the XO is the only one that does not fry my belly after diner...

Is that OK or should I add some relaxation and meditation issues related to the position and how the XO helps me achieve them?... ;-D

Maybe it is the sticky keys then... An issue that affected some G1G1 v1 (and not v2) XOs. Which means that affected users have their XO a year or more. Just about now they fill they can not live with it anymore... Come ooon!...

I'm sure that there are much more serious reasons that the "OLPC community" may have gotten disillusioned with the XO - the hardware. They certainly worth bringing up. In a proper manner and context.

Great story. It reflects my feelings about my G1G1 right now. The sticky keys issue is a major issue. Any other laptop with this chronic issue would go right back to the manufacturer!

So, more than a year after I bought my XO, the software still isn't anywhere near what was promised. Where's the mesh networking? The 10 hour battery life? The alternative sources of power? I know the project means well but so far it has been pretty full of vapor.

Anyone have a suggestion on what to do with my unused G1G1 XO?

I hope the new owner enjoys the computer.

I also enjoy playing with new-old computers.

One of my favorites is my Panasonic P150, 32MB RAM, 750MB HDD. The thing is as heavy as a brick, but still adequate for light surfing (very light!), word processing, PDF viewing. The computer is twelve and a half years old and the battery still yields 2-3 hours life. It runs (oh the horrors!! :p) Windows 98

I also enjoy my classic Toshiba T1200. 8088. 640kB, 20MD HDD, 720kB floppy. Excellent machine for word processing, spreadsheets, a couple games, AND it can plug into a TV's composite in, making it good for presentations. Boots up in no time.

Want'a sell me your XO with sticky keys cheap ? Such an easy problem to fix and I know a kid dying to get an XO.

There is an easy method to fix the sticky-key problem and be with it. All you must do is take the xo apart and then lift up the rubber keypad overlay then apply alcohol onto the circuity of the problematic key(s)

How to take apart the xo

Forum thread on this fix

I must agree with some of the comments. At first I did think what's this but it does strike a cord. I have G2G2 XO that I got for my 4 year old, she is already frustrated but random mouse moments, ( I had to give her an external mouse). It lost some of her pictures and a memorize game or two. If she presses the power button repeatedly it hangs, if she opens to many activities it hangs, I would love it if you could fix it so that it would only run one activity at a time, fine for a 4 year old. But I keep trying because I think there is some gold inside this machine!


the sticky key issue also bit me. both alt and ctrl, but after i remapped the ctrl-key to the left hand key, the sticky key issue pretty much went away.

as for the most interesting toy, for me it's the more unusual the hardware, the more interesting. the xo therefore scores high on my list.

and since the keyboard on my other notebook is showing problems the xo is now my primary workstation since a few months. that would be 100% daily usage then. the only thing that i don't do on the xo is to watch movies.

yes, you should not run more than two or three activities at a time, depending on the size of the activity. browser, terminal, talk are my main tools, occasionally squeak, and i also use it to connect to other machines and display apps running remotely.

when i am out i find that the xo always has better wireless reception compared to others.

i even got gcc and a number of devel packages installed so i can compile stuff and do development even while traveling. sure it's slower, and the machine is unusable for anything else at that time, but the point is that it's possible and works and it proves that the xo is not a toy!

greetings, eMBee.

To offer a counterbalance, if I had to do it over again, I'd get two not just one. I could compare key time between the xo and other machines but I would be comparing playing video games of someone else's creation and creative, expressive time authoring, experimenting, composing. We all sometimes like to break and, in this house, computer breaking is a norm. But, in a home with a homeschooled child of Autistic Spectrum, the work time with xo is beyond description. Traveling, the connections are wonderful. It saddens me to hear people saying it is an old toy overshadowed by new prettys. For some of us this is solid education not just gaming.

I too would love to relieve these people of their old toys to become our tools.

I think this is a super-valid and timely article to post. Reading it, I was reminded of what I liked about OLPCNews when I first discovered it before G1G1, since it aired both positive and negative stories on the project. This article succinctly summarized many of the ways in which we've been disappointed with our XO, and reflects some of the thoughts that go through my head when I see it sitting there un-used for another month....

I got an G1G1v1 XO for my daughter who's now 6. It's HER computer, she'd never let me get rid of it. She spends much more time on the iMac than the XO. If I was to estimate our total % usage for the XO - it's somewhere between 1-5% (that's combining her usage and my tinkering).

Like the author of the article - I had/have lots of plan for the machine, but haven't had time to enact them. I never had sticky keys, but the main bummers I've experienced were the jumpy cursor, the READ activity which I had high hopes for (it crashes too often to actually use), and the lack of a clear and easy way to get files into and out of the Journal. On the plus side, I discovered SCRATCH, worked a bit on my command-line skills, and have a fun travel computer for basic connectivity.

Part of the bummer has also been that knowing the computer better now, I can't honestly evangelize for the program as I wish I could. I find myself saying things like 'not ready for prime time' and it's 'OK as long as you've got a geek with spare time willing to support it' - not the most ringing endorsements....

I agree, I found the article to be very timely and consistent with what I have recently been thinking about. My overall feeling from using the XO this past year is that it is has been so close to being a really solid product. Not perfect, but close enough to satisfy a great many regularly-occurring use-cases. But it's true, the sticky-key issue was a nightmare to deal with, and has been an on-again off-again problem for the duration of my use, despite all of the proposed "fixes". The final reason I might consider keeping the device is the screen. It still makes for a decent ebook reader. But I find myself longing for a device with a touchscreen (damn you iPhone for raising my tactile expectations), and then I start search Google for what, in my mind, the XO-1 could have been. And I found this device (note, and pre-rebuttal: this device costs $500, so it is totally not a fair comparison; nevertheless, it clearly incorporates many of the XO's good ideas):

A small, ruggedized, reasonably powerful convertible mini-laptop with a touchscreen. AND, they're actually selling it openly, and not relying on cagey, once-a-year-, no-warranty distribution schemes. Once they start to support Linux on it (website states that should be at the end of April; word on the Ubuntu forums is that it will be Edubuntu, so, totally great distribution), then I believe this is going to the top of the stack on the device list, and will likely be the XO's replacement.

The last question that remains, then, is what to do with the original XO? I wish someone would run a story on that. Who needs individual donations of small, underpowered computers with buggy keyboards? This is a serious question, I'd like suggestions, please.