My Unanswered Questions About OLPC's Give One Get One


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).

olpc g1g1 sales
Is OLPC G1G1 right for her?

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Sadly, much of the information on the OLPC website is sparse and/or out of date, making it impossible to make an informed decision.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:

olpc g1g1 sales
Is OLPC G1G1 right for him?
  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. How well does OpenOffice work on the XO?
  4. How about mp3 support? I've heard varying things about this one.
  5. 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).
  6. A while back, there was a rumor that google would be providing online storage for XO users. Is this real or not?
  7. Does the XO have any degree of 3d graphics capability?
  8. 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.?
  9. 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?
In a nutshell, now that we're getting close to putting our money on the line, I want to know more about what this machine can and can't do. I want to know whether the machine "plays nicely" with other U.S. computing devices and formats (such as printers, mp3s), and understand the degree to which the XO can be pushed beyond the handful of built-in apps for elementary school kids (since my kids may need more sophisticated apps).

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I am interested in the web browser. Will it support lots of educational and entertainment web sites that use flash? Will it work with the webkinz web site?

I agree with all the authors comments and will not buy a unit unless the questions are answered. The review of a protype XO machine in Laptop magazine
raises more questions then it answers. I do not want a machine that surfs the internet poorly and will shutdown without warning. The review of the machine by an 8 year old saying he would rather have his Laeapster tells me to wait for the next version of this machine. Maybe that next version is shipping in November, unfortunately I think not!

This article is plain stupid. Are people honestly thinking of getting an XO as a "real" PC? You're foolish and if you are thinking of giving this to your kids in place of a "real" pc then you'd be doing them a disservice. The XO laptop set out to do one thing and do one thing well and that one thing I'll quote from their webpage:

Our goal: To provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves.

The OLPC is an excellent tool to archive that goal.

The OLPC is an absolute crap computer compared to what your kids, my kids, and the rest of the kids in the United States want. The US already has a fairly well established and lengthly list of opportunities that allow children to express themselves. As was pointed out repeatedly in your article; a lot of these require flash and java. Will the XO support flash? Why should we care? Flash isn't going to mean a damn thing to the target audience of developing nations if it's the difference between having the tool and not having the tool. If the processor is too slow for flash good. Flash isn't a reason to make the device more expensive. Neither is OpenOffice. Neither is anything else you seem to list as minimum requirements for a laptop for your children. I've been to privately run schools in India and they seriously make due with what they can get. Obviously you are not at this point as you want more then what the device provides.

The goals (except for price) for the XO have been met. If you truly are looking for a PC for your child that covers all of your requirements please don't get a XO laptop. At least get something that runs windows and runs it well. When I look at resumes in 10 years I'll still be looking for experience with Word and not experience with an XO laptop because I live in the US and thats what the job requires.

In saying all that I'm still going to take part in the GOGO program on day one. I really don't care what the device can and cannot do. That's the excitement of getting one. The fact that my purchase will put one in the hands of a kid somewhere who may see this as his first piece of technology is amazing to me. Maybe we'll even swap some code with each other one day.

But why don't I truly care what the capabilities of the device are? It's because of the handful of other computers I own that do flash, openoffice, java, and everything else you mention just fine. The XO is an experiment and one I'm willing to pay for. Do you really want to experiment with your child this holiday season with a machine you are unsure of its capabilities? If I were you I'd spend a little more and look into getting a real PC.

The whole thing is a hoax, and Negroponte is a con-man.

"The OLPC is an absolute crap computer compared to what your kids, my kids, and the rest of the kids in the United States want."

Just as the US didn't need small European and Japanese cars. A REAL car should be BIG!

We know how well that went.

Your top of the line Dell/HP/Lenovo laptop would be dead in a week, or even on arrival, in most of the communities that are targetted by the OLPC.


rsm said: 'In saying all that I'm still going to take part in the GOGO program on day one.'

Ah - for a minute there I thought you meant 'Give 0 Get 0'

I'm considering an XO for my four year old, who is used to the educational apps in Edubuntu, and I'm also curious about the XO's capabilities. I don't need it to run Windows or OpenOffice even, but Flash or Gnash ability would be nice.

But mostly I'm wondering about the Gcompris suite in particular. I found some articles saying that the development team was working on some changes specifically to get it to run on the XO, but I couldn't find anything saying that it was done yet.

Does anyone know anything about that?

My other question is about TuxPaint. I played around with the Sugar image in VMWare, but couldn't find TuxPaint installed. Will it be included in the shipping XO?


ps Also if someone could point me to a forum where I can ask these kinds of questions, I'd appreciate it.

The seemingly obvious question I've been dying to find out about the OLPCs we'll have the ability to buy is:

Will they come with an alternative/human-powered charger?

I know the chargers exist, but will the G1G1 laptops ship with one, or will I have to figure out some way to buy one separately?

One of the coolest things about this project is the ultra-low power requirements of this laptop and the ability to charge with human-power, which is something no commercial design has even come close to.

Either way I'll probably buy it, if only to help write new applications for the kids. But I'd love to have a computer I can take backpacking in the rough, damp, dirty countryside and not have to worry about power :)

I'm with Off the Grid. I'm not interested in another full-power/size laptop. I've got a PowerBook and a MacBook. I'm looking for something that is a step down from my laptop and a step up from my Sideckick 3.

I'm concerned about flash and Java because these allow for more versatility and connectivity when storage space is a commodity. For instance, I have several gigs of mp3s stored at Anywhere.FM, which uses a flash interface, and would love to be able to access them with the XO. This is just an example of how *I* will use my XO. 3rd World kids and you might have other reasons to be able access data online via Java or Flash.

I'm also curious about video conferencing--will Skype work on it? Since there is a Skype for Linux, I'm guessing it will. What about some sort of Instant Messenger? I don't care about printing, since I don't print from my Sidekick and if I needed to, I'd just email the text to one of my other machines and print from there. I'm also curious about the yo-yo charger. I'm guessing that the North American XOs will come with wall adapters and we'll by the yo-yo for $10 when it becomes commercially available (I've read that it will charge cell phones, Nintendo DSes and iPods).

I'm with everyone who points out that this is not a traditional PC. I'm also with the people who view this as a truly innovative machine that does the same basic things all computers do in new and more efficient ways. Hence the term "innovative."

I'm looking forward to this thing like I looked forward to my first iPod back in 2003. It's seriously Christmas-time in ThePeteCave. I just hope they don't keep us waiting for long after we order.

I think rsm is missing the main point of the article. The main point is that scant information about the XO's capabilities and software are available. It is understandable if some of the answers to the above questions are, "No, the XO won't do that." But people need to be well-informed, or they won't purchase the XO (or if they do, they will feel ripped off if it doesn't meet expectations).

And some of the issues really do matter:

If the XO laptop is painfully slow to use, that's a problem.

Flash and Java _are_ important because to a large extent, one of the XO's primary functions will be to connect people to the Internet, and many web pages are dependent upon those technologies.

Do you really think that anyone in the U.S. would be satisifed with a computer that can't print?

We need answers.

Mark, obviously, you didn't read my comment because I'd say "yes" I do think anyone in the US would be satisfied with a computer that can't print. I already have two of those, so when looking for something that is more portable, rugged, but can still handle the basics, the XO is fine for me. I live in a major American city and even if you don't, you know someone with a computer that can print. Email them the doc and ask for a favor. Or go to a Kinko's.

Also, I think you guys may have missed the software page on the wiki ( that explains quite a bit about what will be supported. Gnash is listed, which I believe is for programming and, one assumes, playing Flash files. The same page also mentions that "Adobe's Flash Player and Java™ virtual machine can be added via Yum or RPM install but are not part of the standard distribution."

Open Office isn't specifically mentioned but a couple of other word processors are, and there is no spreadsheet app, but one is being developed.

So, that would seem to answer some of those questions. There's more info on that software page--check it out and see if it answers more questions for you.

I'm still wondering about specific battery life. I'd like to know worst case scenario--how long the battery will last. I don't care about the vague "depends on your usage" crap. I want to know when it's going to conk out if I really push it. That's my number one question right now.

Based on your article's questions, I'd say you are not a candidate for the OLPC. Even if you can run OpenOffice, Java, Flash, etc. they are going to be slow. 3D??? Good grief! There are $400 laptops far more powerful than this that do those things, get one of those.

I'm much more interested in a low power device that I can take into somewhat rugged environments: backpacking and camping where there's no electricity. My big question is whether or not they are going to make solar and hand powered charging options available to people who purchase the device? It is starting to sound like the anwser is no. :( If I can charge it by hand, do some writing in AbiWord, get on the web occasionally, read some papers or e-books ... that's what I'm expecting.

If you're expecting to run full blown apps, you are going to be disappointed.

I'm with Joe. You can't expect to be playing Half-Life on the XO. I'm also curious if the yo-yo will be made available--solar chargers like the Solio, I bet will work on already (although how well, I don't know). It just remains to be seen what OLPC puts out. I've read that NickNeg is planning to release the yo-yo commercially, but who knows how soon that will be?

I'm really looking forward to cutting my next movie on the XO. It'll run Final Cut Pro for Linux right?


Mark Engelberg said: "How about mp3 support? I've heard varying things about this one."

We just upgraded our B4s to software build 624 and MP3 playback works just fine. I copied an MP3 file from my regular laptop to a USB thumbdrive and plugged it into a B4. Opened the MP3 file via the journal in eToys and there you're presented with a simple player menu. Sound quality of the B4 speakers is surprisingly good!

Greetings from the OLPC Austria Weekend-Jam,

I believe that those who participate in the "Give One, Get One" program will generate plenty of answers to most of these questions rather quickly.

I plan to "take the leap" and buy 2.
If they don't do everything i need, i am sure someone will take them off my hands about 5 minutes after i put them on eBAY.

In any case, I will be helping a child somewhere.

Robin580, I'm right with ya! Although I won't be buying two for myself :( I am buying with confidence since the real goal here is to help a kid in a 3rd World country--like you said, if we don't like it, there's always eBay and we still get to help a 3rd World kid AND get that year of free T-Mobile HotSpot use, to boot. ;)

I finally got what I think is a fairly accurate answer to the "Do we get a solar charger?" question that is going unanswered on the blogs--official and unofficial. Look on the blog. I asked a question about the alternate charger issue ("Off Grid" charging for G1,G1 computers) and got a fairly honest, but disapointing, answer. The answer is that we'll get the AC adapter and a single battery. The alternate power devices will not be included because they "don't want to increase the cost." An option to buy the devices later (at aditional cost?) will not be offered because this "isn't our core business...the kids in the developing world are. What they need they wll get." I was advised that I could recharge the computer with a car charger. OK, so when I go on my month-long bicycle tour, I'll have to pack a car in my backpack. The person who answered the question did say that this was not a final answer yet. Apperantly they haven't made up their minds completely yet. So I say, we keep asking for the solar charger (or cranks, or yo-yos, or whatever you are interested in.) Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease--so just keep making noise.

When they 1st came out with buy-one--give-one idea I thought it's great. It can be attractive to people who want anyway to get a 2nd notebook, small and light and AC outlet independent for traveling, email, browsing, etc...

But somehow the didn't bother to give out even basic specs for the computer they want you to buy.
What are the hardware specs? features? Does it have USB port, mouse support, etc...?
What software it comes with?

Does it come with sftwr development environment if one wants to write more programs for children?!

Maybe they think they will get more buyers that they can produce laptops for anyway, but it seems a strange policy anyway. I'd think they owe more information even to people who just want to make donation.

Also it looks like a stratategic mistake. After all, the program will be more successful if the same computers were widely used by all, not just poor children.

There maybe some reviews out there with more info, but not dependable, since early demo versions differed.
Perhaps once people start getting those puters, there will be more info out there, but this particular plan ends Nov 26.

I recently tried the xo laptop at the wired store in NYC. It was cool as expected. However, I went to youtube to try a video and it was real choppy. I was disappointed. I have participated, but I would like to know if the flash video will be improved for the shipment in December. I read online that the video is choppy because of the version of gnash installed on the XO. I hope this is the case because I would like to be able to watch internet video on the xo (sorry if that sounds petty). Does anyone know if this is the case?