I am Mark Engelberg, and I believe deeply in the power of computers and computer science to transform education in this country and around the world. Yet I'd like to remind everyone that the XO laptop was designed with the developing country in mind.
Those of us who have been following the XO laptop closely understand that it has some exciting, cutting-edge technology (for example, the screen, the mesh networking, long battery life, a UI specially designed for kids). And yet we also realize that it is not designed to be a perfect fit for American techie kids (little memory, slow processor).
In seven days, tech geeks all over will the U.S. will be thinking about whether to buy an XO laptop for themselves and/or their kids, along with purchasing a laptop for someone in a developing country through Give One Get One.
I'm very excited about this prospect, and have been telling everyone I know about this unique opportunity to get some cool technology and contribute to a good cause. But much more information about the XO laptop needs to be provided before I or anyone else is likely to buy it.
American consumers already have a lot of existing technology. We want to buy a device that works well with this technology. Our kids are tech savvy. Despite Nicholas Negroponte's comment that kids in developing countries don't need a spreadsheet application, our kids may very well need spreadsheets and other more sophisticated applications than what comes natively on the XO. Our kids manipulate and share large media files. Also, Americans have a lot of choices.
The Asus E3 PC, while lacking some of the cutting-edge features of the XO, is reputed to have a bit more horsepower than the XO at a similar price. The Zonbu is another inexpensive option for those that don't need the portability of laptop. And of course, more options are certain to appear over the next year or two.
Sadly, much of the information on the OLPC website is sparse and/or out of date, making it impossible to make an informed decision. For the G1G1 plan to succeed, the OLPC foundation must crystallize and publish many details about the XO laptop by November 12. Here are some of the questions that are foremost in my mind:
- Despite the cool hardware, I'm very concerned about reports that the device is slow and severely constrained by memory. Has the speed improved? Does adding an SD card boost performance? What apps are known to work or not work on the XO?
- For browsing many web pages, Java and Flash are essential. The OLPC wiki reports many problems getting these to work on the XO. Will this be resolved by the final release?
- How well does OpenOffice work on the XO?
- How about mp3 support? I've heard varying things about this one.
- How about other important Linux apps, such as gimp, skype, desktop publishing, etc. Which will work well? (The list of preloaded Zonbu apps and/or Asus EEE apps is a good place to look for the kinds of apps users might be interested in).
- A while back, there was a rumor that google would be providing online storage for XO users. Is this real or not?
- Does the XO have any degree of 3d graphics capability?
- According to their wiki, printing has not been extensively tested, since most people in developing countries don't have access to a printer. But honestly, I don't want to buy a computer that can't print. Has any more work been done on this front since now these devices are being sold in the U.S.?
- The XO laptop is designed to store files on a village server. How well will it work without a server? Can it connect to and backup to a home PC network?