XO Laptop Hacking: What Customization Have You Done?


Reading through the OLPC News Forum thread "How do we like [the XO laptop] now" I am struck by how much XO laptop hacking is going on. Just read the first comment on how david_kw modified his OLPC:

I admit I've had to do some fairly serious additions to make it useful for me (like adding opera, flash, xpdf, compilers, different terminal "activity", got rid of the auto-surround menu, and a few others), but I've been impressed the way the hardware has handled all those changes.

I was worried that I'd be locked in to the delivered software, but that has not be the case at all.

One Laptop Per Child designed the XO to be infinitely customizable on the software side to support both children's learning and government's desires to localize the learning experience.

I also suspect OLPC also wanted cool laptops they could hack themselves. Just listen to Pixel Fish interviewing Walter Bender on how he uses his XO laptop. Do you even recognize all the software he's added?

Over in the OLPC News XO Hacking Forum the modifications get crazy, with both software and hardware. Here's a few of my favorites:

But enough about what others have done - what XO hacking are you doing?

Better yet, be sure to share your success (and challenges) with us all in the OLPC News XO Laptop Forum - we all want to celebrate XO hacks.

Related Entries


Right after posting this, I found Eric Pettifor's XO laptop customization, which he describes accurately as:

"there's nothing wrong with "the hundred dollar laptop" that a couple of hundred dollars worth of peripherals can't fix"


As per Wayan's request, I did some custom "case modifications" to his laptop. (the kids weren't able to do much because, well, have you ever gotten paints out in a special ed class? Not a nice thing to spring on the teacher and I couldn't find a way to work it in. And I can't let them use permanent markers for obvious reasons. Parents do not like that a whole bunch. But they added their own touches -- you'll see.)

A nasty shock -- NOTHING sticks to the laptop case. The Queensryche logo I lovingly stuck to the side slide right off. I had to use my last one on the inside, where it would stick.

One little girl and I made beautiful glitter glue XO children on the case. When they dried, the slightest bump made them peel off. The only glitter glue remaining is on the XO logo. One of the boys peeled them off and was trying to eat them. No glitter glue.

Signatures in thick board markers -- I assumed they were permanent -- rubbed off too.

Some craft paint -- peeled off

I bought a pack of bic permanent markers and gave it one more try last night before reflashing and packing. It worked a little better. It seems writing mostly on the green or the XO logo surface helps -- the white case is like oil or something.

Final results are pending. :)

Dude, we're gonna miss that XO. Sending it on tomorrow.

I can tell you from experience that red wine comes right off with a damp rag. Sometimes "inadvertant" customization needs to be remedied. Surprising about all the markers and stickers, though.

I haven't customized the XO that much. All I had to do was quit listening to the internet radio stream (out of external speakers, of course), then open another tab in Firefox and click to play Walter Bender's interview. Haven't tried to access the interview link in Browse under Sugar, though. This ubuntu install is great!

Anyone know if you can get SecondLife to operate on it??

Emma; AjaxLife seems to almost be able to load https://secure.katharineberry.co.uk/ajaxlife-s/login.kat

I'm using the XO + Xfce + the keyboard recommended in the instructables.com 'Installing a USB keyboard in an XO' to post this. I haven't installed the keyboard in the XO yet, but you can touch type with it even with med/large fingers. It would probably be great for those that travel with a USB keyboard since it's almost the exact width of an XO, unmodified (slightly narrower, actually).

I guess I should put that in the forum, but I really wanted to mention an inadvertent hardware mod I made this weekend that LesleyT may be interested in.

PVC primer stains the exterior of the XO quite well. Well, not stain, but it sure does stick tight and is absolutely resistant to fingernails, rubbing, and saliva (though it is such a thin fluid it doesn't cover the tiny bumps on the exterior). I can scratch it off of the smooth part of the handle with a metal tool (drill bit was at hand), but you end up with small shavings of XO covering as well if you're not EXTREMELY careful.

So if you want to paint your XO a pretty purple, you know what to use. Who knows, it may come in other colors.

I have turned my XO into a media jukebox, portable Internet device, and word processor. I overclocked it, boot straight into Xfce, installed mplayer, vanilla Opera, and AbiWord. My desktop is far cooler than any of my Windows machines!

I have installed Opera, which I prefer greatly for day-to-day use over Browse. I also have installed accessx, which allows for greater control of the keyboard by disabled users, and FBReader, which I use for ebooks. I added TuxType2 since that's a great way to get practice using the XO's keyboard.

I also made the tweak described in the OLPCNews forums, renaming one file in order to allow access to full-fledged AbiWord. I regularly use AbiWord on the XO to take meeting minutes in real time.

I had installed Flash back when I had the OS build that shipped with the device, but it seems that I forgot to reinstall it when I upgraded to Build 656. Whoops, time to track down those instructions again and reinstall it.

My customizations have all been of the software variety. My hope is to explore ways that an XO can be made accessible by users with various disabilities, so my goal is to keep the XO in the same physical state as it was in when I received it. That's also my rationale for sticking with Sugar instead of using a different flavor of Linux -- my hope is that an XO right out of the box will be usable, or be able to be made usable without having to redo evverything from the ground up.

Thanks. I'm still waiting for mine (it's finally been delivered to a friend in Canada ...and I'm seeing her in the next couple of weeks.

Good to know.

It was a special ed class that was supposed to be customizing it, so nothing toxic or that would customize the kids clothes or bodies past one wash cycle. It would have to pass through a digestive track without causing any harm. :) (I've had a kid eat an XO card -- no joke! I LOVE that the XO's card is hidden!)

Of course, the kids' glitter glue ended up not sticking and the laptop is adult customized now anyway. So maybe I should have looked into primer.

I got sentimental sticking it back into the crate and barrel box and sending it on...

As for software, I run firefox with the Aeon Jumbo 2.7 theme.

Tried Opera, didn't like it.

Midnight commander. I NEED this. Without it, I'm lost. It's how I'm starting to understand the XO.

TuxType hacked to make custom spelling word lists. (Now if I could just get it full screen!!)

Talkntype activity -- ditto

And I've tried RJ Cooper (www.rjcooper.com) programs in Wine, but with mixed success.

Full AbiWord. Couldn't live without it.

My new plan: imagespeak with local pictures.

All I knew about linux at the dawn of 2008 is that there was a penguin involved and I just gave $400 I didn't have for a laptop that ran it.