It's been almost impossible to not stumble across laptopmag.com's hands-on experience with Windows XP on the XO since the article was published last Tuesday. In case you haven't seen it here's a link to the story called "Exclusive Hands-On With OLPC’s XO Running Windows XP" and the original verdict which read:
On paper, a dual boot XO gives kids the best of both worlds: the somewhat boring, but ubiquitous Microsoft OS and its giant universe of software together with Sugar, which is packed with learning tools for kids. However, our early peek suggests that the XP portion is not ready for primetime, as evidenced by the slow boot time, slow application load time, and trouble with multitasking and streaming media. We hope OLPC can fine tune the performance without increasing the cost.
The reason why I'm saying "original" verdict here is that laptopmag.com's editors put up a note a day or two after the article was originally published, saying that they learnt that the Windows XP they had looked at wasn't a final version. This came after Michael Gartenberg from JupiterResearch blogged about the fact that his XO running Windows XP performed significantly better than what laptopmag reported:
I am finding a totally different experience with performance and load times much different and much better than the Laptops folks are getting.
Apart from this slight confusion the laptopmag.com hands-on contains a couple of interesting pieces of previously unknown information:
We like that you can record video in Windows Movie Maker, just like you can in the Sugar camera program. It looked like you could edit movies in Movie Maker but we cannot imagine that works well with the allotted hardware.
With 'record' being one of the most popular activities on the XO (because which child doesn't like taking photos?) I was always wondering whether Microsoft would provide a stand-alone application for taking photos and videos. Now at least the video part of the question seems to be solved so the question remains which software can be used to capture photos. After accidently stumbling across a totally unrelated review of Microsoft LifeCam VX 5000 earlier today I'm thinking that its software could potentially fit the bill:
...the software's interface is quite stylish and very intuitive, albeit rather basic. Aside from the dashboard, which is switched off by default, there are only four 'buttons'. The first three start/stop video capture or audio recording, and take still pictures. The last one lets you access the folder where these files are stored, which seems to be set to a fixed location...
Otherwise we'll have to wait and see whether 3rd party applications will be made available for that purpose.
Another interesting observation was made with regard to the install size of Windows XP:
Because the onboard storage is too small to accommodate XP, the system boots a slimmed down version of XP off the SD card slot (that is hidden under the screen). When the 4GB SanDisk Extreme SD card was inserted into our test unit it booted right to XP (as you will see in the video below).The 4GB card was about half full (1.81GB) with Windows XP and other Microsoft applications and Firefox. There was about 1.97GB of free space left on the card.
1.81GB seems to be quite a lot for a slimmed-down Windows XP even considering that it comes with a selection of Office 2003 applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook). If I remember correctly already two or three years ago people used tools like nLite to put Windows XP on a diet of only 250~300MB. If this almost 2GB is the standard requirement then the developer's using the red XOs (laptopmag.com calls them orange) that come with 2GB flash-memory aren't going to be too happy. Even with 4GB SD cards being available for as little as $12 in single-quantities (compared to $6 for 2GB SD cards) this adds another couple of bucks per machine when purchasing the Windows XP version of the XO.
Again the aforementioned Michael Gartenberg from JupiterResearch tells a slightly different story because he mentions his sample coming with a 2GB SD card which had about 1GB of available storage capacity left.
Overall I have to say that I'm not really impressed. Having used Windows XP on the Geode LX platform many moons ago I knew what performance to expect (and I actually think it's quite good). It was also quite obvious that neither the Mesh nor collaboration (except for MSN Messenger that is) would be supported. And even though the screen-rotation didn't work when laptopmag tried is this is a trivial issue and I'm sure it will work in the final software versions. Supporting the outstanding display is such a basic requirement that again it was obvious that Microsoft would do it.
So some of the big questions that remain unanswered are:
- battery life: How long does an XO with Windows XP run away from the AC outlet?
- software-updates: How will children and teachers in schools without internet connectivity be able to get software updates? Will Microsoft also release a specialized version of Windows Server 200x to be used in combination with these XOs?
- sharing: Is there a quick and easy way to share files without having to rely on USB thumbdrives?
Note: I'm not suggesting that the current Sugar software is necessarily all that great when it comes to these issues. But there's been an enormous amount of progress in all three areas (and many more) lately and I definitely see things moving into the right direction. With Windows XP on the other hand I don't see any feasable short- or even mid-term solutions when it comes to addressing these challenges.
However, as always the real test will be children and teachers actually using the laptops so it's going to be interesting whether Microsoft's marketing department will release some information about that in the weeks and months ahead.