Why Give 1 Get 1 is Going to be a Much Harder Sale in 2008


The other day when I was in Vancouver and using the XO while sitting in a nice café someone started asking me about the machine and the current state of OLPC. When I mentioned that Give 1 Get 1 was going to make a comeback in autumn the person asked me whether I would recommend him donating this time 'round since he missed out back in December 2007. I have to say that I scrambled for a couple of seconds before being able to give him a real answer.

broken XO display
Don't drink and punch your XO.

Back at the end of last year when people asked me the same question I normally replied "If you want a small laptop, then yes, go for it." as the alternatives to the XO were severely limited. Of course the omnipresent ASUS eee PC701 was available but to many people the small screen-resolution was a deal-breaker. If they didn't know about that one already this was my main argument against purchasing the eee PC701 when people asked me about it.

Although it's also susceptible to gravity the XO's robustness (unless you throw a hard punch at the screen) is a definite selling point when you plan to bring your laptop along wherever you go. You'd hate to be stuck with a half-broken $1800 machine just because you dropped your laptop from 2 feet like this guy did with his MacBook Air. And while there are quite a number of issues that people ran into the XO is definitely a very capable machine when it comes to accessing the Web, reading an e-book or watching a movie while on-the-go. It certainly beats having to lug around a 15.4" laptop.

Now, in mid-2008, the situation is quite different. Last time I checked there were about 30+ small and (relatively) inexpensive notebooks, now often referred to as 4PCs or netbooks, around. ASUS alone has 7 or 8 different eee PC options out there. Acer, Dell, Gigabyte, HP, MSI, VIA and a whole bunch of other companies have also released similar products. As always they all have their strengths and weaknesses, just like the XO, but the competition is definitely quite fierce.

As an example let me use the soon-to-be available Dell E Classic which will cost $299, have a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of Flash for mass-storage. Even with the XO sporting the awesome display, above mentioned robustness, equal or potentially slightly longer battery-life and the feel-good aspect of donating to a very-worthy cause it's quite hard to argue against that feature-set, right?

Of course the points mentioned above are mainly relevant to people whose main motivation for donating to OLPC is to get a small laptop for themselves. However a significant number of the donors also participated in G1G1 to get a laptop that's suitable for their own children. Again, in late 2007 the main argument for the XO would have been that the competing products weren't designed with children in mind. Plus none of them were able to run Sugar which is definitely one of the most attractive aspects of getting an XO.

While the products mentioned above aren't necessarily designed with young users in mind most people would agree that children at the age of 10 or 12 will quickly learn how to use them. Also thanks to the work by some dedicated individuals it's now quite easy to use Sugar on existing Fedora, Debian and Ubuntu installations.

That leaves us with a third group of donors, the ones who want to enable a child in a developing nation to receive a laptop via the Give 1 part of the equation. With many more organizations working on pilots and deployments now compared to the end of 2007 it's much easier to find efforts worth supporting by directly donating to them.

In the end the overall effect on me is that it's become quite a bit harder to tell people to do Give 1 Get 1 once it starts again in autumn. Assuming it's a carbon-copy re-run of last year's Give 1 Get 1 and the price is again set at $399 there's now a plethora of other devices and options that I'd recommend people to also consider before making a decision.

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An interesting set of observations. I doubt, however, that the changed circumstances will have any impact on the success of the second g1g1. I am supposing olpc will decide on a maximim number of machines it will accept orders for, and that there will be more than enough interested customers to sell it out.

I have confidence that the handling of a second G1G1 will be much smoother, now that they have gone through the process and have had an opportunity to debug it.

Still, if anyone asked me if they should get one I would tell them that they would be better off giving a straight cash donation to the OLPC foundation. That is, unless there is some particular feature that they want and that is only available in the XO. The screen and the handle being my favourite features. :) Having a laptop that is preloaded with Linux and can be reflashed in five or 10 minutes is pretty handy too. You know, for us experimenters.

Also; with the XO-2 "on the horizon" -- why get a piece of non-upgradeable, guaranteed obsolescence?

Jon stole my thunder. I don't think that I could recommend G1G1 to anyone. The previous problems with shipping and delivery are an issue. Planned obsolescence is a concern. Where the Give end of this ends up is unknown. The other options for a low price laptop make one reconsider.

Of course, I still argue that I love my XO and think it is a wonderful piece of hardware. That arguement has value.

Also, is someone wanted to donate 30 XOs to my classroom, I wouldn't turn them away!

The XO has some other advantages, including a screen readable in direct sunlight, and battery life of 3 to 5 hours.

Based on the current state of the XO-1 it would be very unfair to recommend the G1G1 to those people who would participate for the Get 1 part.

Just an example:
My XO first had the Ctrl key stuck (of course after the RMA period). That, I could fix. Now, the Alt key is stuck and seems to be unserviceable. No replacement can be bought, the laptop is practically unusable.

And one could make a very long list of the XO-Problemo starting from the promised battery runtime ending with the mostly unusable Sugar OS.

Sola, sorry to hear about your experiences. When it comes to the keyboard you'll at least soon have the option to order replacement parts (also including display, battery, touchpad, power adapter) from the likes of ilovemyxo.com (see http://www.ilovemyxo.com/olpc-xo-laptop-replacement-parts-repair.html for more information) or turn to one of the repair centers which are starting up in various places across the USA these days.

I wouldn't recommend anyone give these guys another dime. it took close to four months to get my machine and with it came buggy software , crap battery life AND no real sleep function. I have kept it in the drawer since.
I was happy to donate one but I can't imagine what a failure these laptops are at their intended use.

@Bill : Don't imagine... Go and see !
XO is not a computer meant for western countries, specially for a 'rich' individual's children. In developing countries, rural areas, it fits the needs. G1G1 should focus the publicity more on the donation aspect this time, not on the 'chritsmas' present. If they do so, for sure, donors will be disappointed when they will get.

Main problem is the software. The system and concepts itself are quite nice, but they still need a lot of love, at least a year at this pace, before the stuff can actually be used. I feel very bad for the kids that get this laptop and then have to put up with this badly unfinished software. Rewriting all this stuff is not easy, I know, but its been a few years now and OLPC should get around to hire the necessary people.

Right now, the sugar-OS(it doesn't even have a name!) is comparable in functionality and frustration to a windows installation, I would imagine. Fucking slow, few and disfunctional apps..

I would recommend the XO to anyone who loves to tinker. It is a bit expensive now with the Dell E coming out if all you want is a cheap laptop.

I have my XO overclocked and running Ubuntu. Is is about as fast as my Windows Vista machine when surfing the Internet or watching a movie. (No joke and no slam against Microsoft - just the straight up facts)

However, very few people are able to squeeze out what they expect from the little green box. Sugar is meant for kids. I gave one to a friends 5 & 7 year old kids and they think it is the coolest computer on the planet.

If I can afford it again, I will donate again.

pepe, the OS is Fedora (currently Fedora 6), the GUI interface is called Sugar: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Sugar

Again, the interface was designed for the educational goals of the project, not for "traditional" educated computer users.

I bought my XO on ebay in late May, and love working with it. I'm a windows user, so the Linux has a learning curve -- part of the reason I bought it. Another part was to have a portable computing environment that would run Emacs and Lisp, and allow me to read my webmail, etc. Third reason was to support he OLPC project -- they didn't get my money from G1G1.1, but maybe a few comments here and there help a bit. Plus, I kept the resale market alive, and that has got to help G1G1.2 ....

As for me, I plan to G1G1(2) just so I have a second machine to "play" with.

Why recommend it to others?

Reason #1: so you can develop new activities for the XO. Why futz around with emulators when you can have the real McCoy?

Reason #2: When was the last time you had a computer that came with a Users' Group? That's worth $199 all by itself, IMO.

Reason #3: The wiki. Just try to get Dell, Asus or whoever to tell you what bugs they're discovering and where the developers are going. Or even how to take your machine apart.

Reason #4: Your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews all think it's cool. 'Nuff said about that. But as I discovered on a vacation trip recently, flight attendants, fellow passengers and hotel employees think it's cool, too.

Reason #5: The forums. Ask for help and actually get at least one answer that lets you fix your problem. I hardly ever see the sort of "RTFM" and "go away, noobie" responses that are typical in the "big company" forums.


> the OS is Fedora (currently Fedora 6), the GUI interface is called Sugar

The OS is based on Fedora, but the amount of modifications high enough that they really should (a) document them (b) give that thing a name.

> Again, the interface was designed for the educational goals of the project,
> not for "traditional" educated computer users.

As I said, the concepts are great. The interface idea is quite nice. As long as you don't need to do something awkward. Like copying a link to some other application. Drag&Drop is one of the basic things that is not really working yet.

> I'm a windows user, so the Linux has a learning curve -- part of the reason
> I bought it.

I already complained that the OS is about as useful as windows. Which is not enough if you want to encourage kids to experiment with it. I can't recommend that box to "learn linux", except if you intend to help with system programming.

> run Emacs and Lisp

Great example. If I use this thing for writing docs in vim+latex, I'm back in the ordinary filesystem. If there's a simple way to send stuff from the shell into the Journal, I didn't find it yet(documentation!). So now I have two very distinct notions of what and where my files are. Also, I have no version management in the Journal. I understand that people concentrate on the school Server for backups, but how about some documentation how I should backup+restore my stuff?

Don't get me wrong, it's still a great project. But there's still a whole lot of stuff to be done.

I am uncertain if I would recommend the XO at $399, if that will be the price. I purchased mine last year on the first day and I found some items that I loved and some that are mind boggling. I am very pleased with the Ereader program and I would recommend the XO over the Kendel at $399. However it should be noted the XO only reads DRM free PDFs. I was disappointed with the battery life which is well below advertised. I have heard of people shutting of the WIFI and getting longer batter life but have thus far failed to find out how. The most mind boggling thing with the XO is write, a full version of abiword is installed, but the developers crippled the program and in the processed killed spell checker and killed the save as that allows you to save in .doc format.

I would recommend the XO as an ereader to anyone and as a internet browser, however I would not recommend the laptop if someone wanted to do writing. I have found that to get write to work with word or open office I have to move the XO write document to my desktop and then use a full version of abiword and save the document as a .doc. Also the XO write activity seems to be a hit or miss if you try to save something. I have restored abiword on my XO but I wouldn’t expect an average user or child to do the same.

Here's a link to a discussion (and script files) for wifi on/off:


Note that under build 703 or higher, you'll need to reboot after running EITHER script; under 656 only one of them required rebootion -- adjust the message text accordingly.


There's a few tricks and scripts to doing moving files back and forth from the FS to the journal (the olpcnews.com/forum has the details). I mainly just save files to an SD or USB stick that will re-index the contents for the journal on remounting.

@Marc Valentin, you claim that third-world children don't care about "buggy software, crap battery life AND no real sleep function"? Only western countries care about those features?

I'm don't buy it. Proper power management is even MORE important in the third world, isn't it? Remember the "10 hour battery life" promises? Shoot, I'd settle for 1/3d that. Really, there's no point in offering another G1G1 before power management is fixed.

bronson, with regards to battery life no magic is involved in achieving that 1/3 of 10 hours, I currently average about 3 1/2 hours of battery life with relatively intensive use of my XO and more when I use suspend while I think about the things I'm writing about and whatnot.

ChristophD, are you using the slightly buggy, SD Card destroying, most recent development release?

Even if the XO-1 is not perfect nor bug-free, i think that when G1G1 will come back, I won't hesitate ordering one. The XO-1 is still very well designed with great hardware (the touchpad, screen, BIOS) that let you do things that no other computer can.
For example: e-book reader (unfortunately, only DRM-free books). I have a regular laptop, and I have some e-books, but i can't really read them on my laptop.

bronson, I'm currently running Joyride-2225 on my XO which was the latest build as of Saturday or Sunday I believe. I encountered a couple of issues when testing that build (see http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/devel/2008-July/017355.html for more information) but didn't test the SD card functionality as (a) I didn't have a card at hand and (b) haven't really looked into the issue to understand what might cause it. Hope to be able to follow up with some more testing by the middle of next week when I'm back home in Europe.

I have to admit to being conflicted as well with another G1G1! My kids at school really loved it. There was lots of software. Our biggest problem has been Flash. Virtual Manipulatives, and many other educational sites that run flash just won't run on the XO. (And I am not talking just webkinz) I followed the directions on the wiki to install flash. When we get to the sites it says click here to run flash-you click-then nothing. Since my daughter boy friend who has an IT degree gave up on getting flash to work on it I figure I must not be alone. So in my case I will pass on round 2

No one can beat the robustness or the awesome screen. I bring my XO with me everywhere and most of the books I read I read on the XO in pdf or html using evince and opera. It's also great for trying out coding ideas on the fly. I have perl, sbcl common lisp, and other stuff on it. I would be afraid I would damage a Dell E or EEEPC. With the XO, I can throw it in my backpack (even when it's still on and running) without worry.

About the DRM issue: I haven't yet run into it, because most of the pdfs I read are downloaded from the web and from file sharing networks, but it is very easy to strip the DRM from pdfs anyway. It's just an extra step, and it eventually will send a message to the manufacturers that DRM doesn't work and that information should be free (even when it costs something).

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