How To: Run Windows XP on the XO Laptop

olpc windows xo
Windows XO laptop in action

Are you itching to ditch Sugar for an adult operating system? And does Ubuntu on the XO leave you wanting more?

Then you have another, proprietary option: Microsoft Windows XP on your XO laptop, making it a Windows XO computer. The first step to the Dark Side is easy, just update your XO firmware to OLPC Firmware Release q2e10.

This is the first test candidate for OFW2 series firmware that supports dual-boot of Linux and Windows XP. And we're not talking about the special red XO laptops either, this will allow XP to run on any XO.

But before you get too excited about upgrading to a Windows XO laptop, this XO firmware will not run a standard XP distro. Like the dual-boot video shows, you'll need a specially-prepared SD cards with an OLPC-specific version of Windows XP.

You'll also need to check your Open Source Software morals as you boot up.

Thanks to ffm for the firmware tip!

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i always thought a 'How To' was another way of saying 'here is a tutorial'. maybe not.

Probably as fucking slow as fedora+sugar are.

I wish buildroot would make a release where all components compile easily. I got bootup times of 3-5 seconds, including kernel(but not X).

@loser: I don't think it will ever be possible for a hobbyist to install this custom XP build - can you see Microsoft being at all interested in distributing or supporting that stateside? If you're abroad, you could potentially get at least an XP UP (Unlimited Potential) $3 license, but still it wouldn't be the right custom build. Perhaps it'll leak out somewhere as a pirated copy.

That actually raises another few questions. Will XP-on-XO users have to "validate" their Windows copies? What if their connection is down - will it disable/hobble the system? Will XP have any bitfrost-like mechanism to discourage theft (especially since it's now "valuable" as a "real" computer instead of "just" a learning tool (apologies for all the quotes)

Is Microsoft also going to be donating an anti-virus subscription with that? You know, one which updates weekly from the Internet?

And, merely from a hardware standpoint, what happens if your SD card breaks (or gets ejected or stolen? I bet there's a good after-market for "lightly used" SD cards sold to tourists for their digital cameras)

I just want something that works!

I spent $400 on a computer that, as shipped, was a buggy piece of junk that didn't do anything well. (Even worse, I bought two!)

I haven't heard anyone raving about the long-awaited bug-fix update, so I'm assuming it has done little to improve the utility of the XO.

Right now I'm feeling like this is one of the worst purchases I have ever made. I will gladly "check my Open Source Software morals" if it will allow me to actually get some value out of the XO.

XO tried the open-source approach and failed miserably. It's time to move on.

@Mark: Update.1 helps a lot with the networking problems and power management. I highly recommend trying it out, with the caveat that you've really gotta read the instructions closely and be prepared to reinstall all your activities through a USB stick.

I love my XO for a few very specific purposes and reasons:

*It's light and rugged (the handle is great) -- easy to port around town or the house.

*Sunlight readable screen - makes for a great reading companion or for getting some work done like checking email in the park

*The great wifi reception + the tmobile account mean I am rarely unable to get online

*The battery life is perfect for watching feature-length movies on long plane flights

*The SD card slot is perfect to review my photos (I use the program "feh") during vacations from my digital camera.

Now, if you're a frequent reader here you'll know that I have many, many gripes with the "implementation strategy" (if you can even say there's been one) for the laptop, and the first G1G1 was certainly a horribly perfect example of what's not right at OLPC in follow-through and support, but I do believe that putting Windows XP on it will make it less stable, less secure, and less effective.

Jon, how on earth are you watching full-length movies on the XO?

On other notes:
I have found it very difficult to connect to the Internet using the XO. The XO doesn't work well with most of the secure wireless networks I have encountered.

As for using the XO as a reader, the built-in browser and reader are atrocious. Like many, I have installed opera+java+flash for better browsing, and evince for better pdf reading, but now I have to constantly boot the terminal activity to get anything done (because the sugarized apps are all useless), adding significantly to the time and effort to start any app, and adding to the bugginess (use of the terminal activity seems to make a lot of the built-in stuff not work well).

The most important question (in my mind) is does the new firmware allow for BIOS emulation. It would be sweet to boot and install a standard Linux distribution without jumping through hoops.

The XO can play full length and full screen video great without slowdown or skipping. I use VLC media player, and play video directly off of my USB flash drive (I installed and launch VLC from terminal in sugar).

Yeah the title of this post "How To" was a little misleading. The information about the firmware is important but there was no mention of how to obtain that specially prepared XP on SD. Perhaps the author does not know, which is fine. I'm sure Wayan has better things to do with his time than research that, and he probably doesn't want to bend over backwards to assist people going over to the dark side ;) If anyone knows or finds out, please post. I would like to try XP it on one of my XO's.

I like my XO's and have gotten a lot of utility out of them. But it took a lot of setup time to get them to that point, and there are some things that it doesn't do well (that it can) like play you tube flash videos that drives me crazy. The XO hardware is enough to play the flash videos fine, it's just the version of gnash that it seems no one can do anything about. The journal filesystem is a neat idea, but not ready, and I just can't make myself like it. So I simply don't use it at all. Instead I use the terminal or web browser to locate files on my XO. Maybe if I grew up using computers with it I would have a different take. Sugar is currently clunky, but when it is more refined, I would switch back to it.


I don't think the HowTo is misleading at all - at this stage, the only way to get XP to work is to update your firmware + add in the special XP. I don not know how to get the special XP besides being a Red XO holder. Once an XO-XP gets into the wild, I'll update the post.

It's misleading to call it a how-to because there is no way to currently do it. Not even in a minimalist sense like: "this is how to get the XP kernel to boot, but there are no video drivers so it isn't really usable yet."

If anything, it's a news release based upon a comment in the build logs.

Calling this article "Howto" is very misleading for any open-source using person because a Howto is supposed to be a detailed set of instructions for getting something complicated done.

I understand that Wayan would like to create traffic on his blog but let's just try to be correct in a journalistic sense.

You people should grow up. Don't chastise the man for putting up a relevant article on a site called olpc_NEWS_. Plus he's right; you (probably) will need to install the new firmware to get XP on it.

My question is this: what about Windows CE. Yes, yes, it IS a piece of garbage, but... it is designed (on a per kernel basis) to run on different hardware setups. It would be great to see an operating system <20Mb, designed for cell phones, really fly on the OLPC. On that note what about Android or Symbian? Anybody tried anything in that vein?

I agree with what Mark said.

Learning curve to make a good use of XO is way too high for most of people.

And the first update is not significant enough to make Sugar useful enough.

I hope the official XP will be available on XO.

That's a lot of whining about problems that were solved months ago.

What is worse, apparently people making those comments expect to get ports of environments that are clearly unsuitable for XO (Windows CE? Symbian? Do you realize how far those things are from desktop environment for x86-compatible computer?) yet failed to notice that desktop-oriented Linux distributions run on it already, and their functionality far surpasses those semi-embedded systems.

If you need a general-purpose system on XO, just get SD card and install Ubuntu ( see , ).

Seriously, this is insulting. I have ported latest and greatest Ubuntu release, made it work with Youtube, posted detailed instructions, and since then maintaining it and responding to questions on this site. And what do I get for this -- seeing people demanding Windows CE (a perfect combination of all core OS shortcomings and none of the applications) and Symbian (Nokia E61 is a great phone, but do you really want it in a laptop size, and with no actual celphone hardware)?

Thanks to URL limit, I have to post Youtube links in a separate comment. Here you can see how Ubuntu runs on XO.

Yeah, guys, we should better wait for -- of all things -- Symbian and Windows CE. Great idea. I bow to your wisdom.

@Mark :
I use the mplayer described with instructions (a "real" howto) at -- it requires command line launching, which I'm not sure you're OK with that.

@teapot :
I think it's awesome that you've ported Ubuntu over; it's hands-down better than CE and Symbian for the laptop.

teapot: I love using Linux on my XO, but I would never dream of forcing people to use Linux. If they want to use Windows XP, or Windows CE, or Symbian, why not let them? To me, it feels as immoral to force someone to run Linux on a computer as it does to force someone to run Windows XP. After all, we all have our own perspectives and we all have our own needs. You should learn to appreciate them, rather than lash out of them.

"teapot: I love using Linux on my XO, but I would never dream of forcing people to use Linux."

Nobody forces those people to use XO in the first place. No one has an obligation to provide them with their favorite OS. Least of all, people who placed great amount of effort into accommodating those users' preferences already.

"If they want to use Windows XP, or Windows CE, or Symbian, why not let them? To me, it feels as immoral to force someone to run Linux on a computer as it does to force someone to run Windows XP. After all, we all have our own perspectives and we all have our own needs. You should learn to appreciate them, rather than lash out of them."

First of all, if they actually got XP, leave alone Windows CE or Symbian, those people would whine even louder. The reality is, XP on XO is less usable than each and every OS that is capable of running on XO except, of course, XP itself. Windows CE and Symbian never were intended to run on a full-blown laptop or provide desktop environment running "mainstream" applications. There were "laptops" running Windows CE (ex: Jornada 720), and they were second greatest commercial failure of Microsoft after "Bob" for two obvious reasons: Windows CE being a bad OS and Windows CE applications sharing nothing but a popular name with their PC counterparts. If someone really wants those things, he is welcome to get one on Ebay or Amazon, then whine on customer feedback and Epinions instead of this place. Easier and cheaper than G1G1, too. Windows CE was "reborn" as Windows Mobile, and survives by being marketed to cellular carriers who don't care about quality as long as they can count minutes of airtime. It's still crap, and not even Microsoft dares to use it as a base for their XO/UMPC offering, what says a lot.

Second, I find it personally insulting for myself as well as for all other people who worked on Ubuntu and Ubuntu XO port that a bunch of whiners would place a nonexistent port of Windows CE above the result of our work that was done specifically to address the problems they claim, they are having with XO software -- lack of mainstream desktop environment and compatibility with popular file formats and services.

I'm not saying that the XO developers should feel obligated to support Symbian or Windows CE. But if they do decide to do so, like they did with Windows XP, then it is not your place to bitch about it.

They were obligated to support Windows XP because the marketplace demanded it. And the marketplace demanded it for some particularly good reasons. After all, Windows actually has a huge library of software designed for the education market. By designed, I mean that people actually looked into what children, educators, and parents wanted; or maybe they actually read the literature in an education journal (rather than pushing their own agenda). By designed, I mean that the software is actually accompanied by curricular materials that complement the software -- so that teachers are not left to fend for themselves.

And I'm sorry, but when it comes to criticism of Microsoft products in general and Windows XP in particular, Linux zealots have zero credibility. I'm confident that Windows XP can run as well on the XO as the Sugar environment does. Will XP run as well as my tweaked out Linux installation? I doubt it. But comparing XP to a stripped down Linux installation that requires me to mount the flash drives and set the screen brightness from the command line is hardly fair.

I applaud your honesty, Jordan.

More of your smart, honest attitude is badly needed by the OLPC Project. It's time to stop blaming Intel, Microsoft, The Pope and everyone else.

It is time for some soul-searching.

Talk about a tempest in a 'teapot'! I know, and wrote, that windowsCE is a piece of garbage. I hate it when ranters get going just because someone dropped the *gasp* W-word.

I have seen and used different distro's on the XO and to be honest they are painfully inappropriate for the machine and more importantly for my needs. I don't want to use windowsCE but if it gives me fast response, minimal footprint, instant-on functionality (*gasp* like a cellphone! - oh, the horror) combined with the XO's unique functionality, then I would gladly use it. In the meantime, take your 'buntu port on your XO, which apparently works so well for your with its \basic functionality\, get online and look up the definition of 'whining'.

"I have seen and used different distro's on the XO and to be honest they are painfully inappropriate for the machine and more importantly for my needs."

I have specifically mentioned Ubuntu Hardy port that I made for XO.

You are the first person ever who described it as "inappropriate" for anything that XO can be expected to do. You also claim that, of all things, Windows CE would provide better functionality. This means, you have either never actually installed my distribution (and therefore a liar claiming that you did) or a moron (if you expect Windows CE to provide better functionality than Ubuntu).

For years Microsoft fans claimed that Linux desktop is not popular among the masses because of some real or imaginary deficiencies and shortcomings, and not because of Microsoft monopoly and FUD machine producing obedient and closed-minded customers such as yourself. Your idiotic comments are the only thing that I need to prove them wrong -- you are so convinced of Microsoft superiority that you expect a port of Windows CE, something that Microsoft itself did not see as a viable idea, to be superior to state of the art desktop Linux distribution that got nothing but positive reviews from everyone who ever installed it in each and every supported environment -- now including XO. The magical word "Windows" is sufficient for you to believe that it will magically provide you everything you need from a computer despite the fact that it does not run Windows applications, does not support native Office formats, is a barely supported product, by both Microsoft and third-party developers.

You completely ignore the fact that Ubuntu, or any other modern desktop Linux distribution has far superior support for your beloved Microsoft Office formats. You harp about one single feature (fast boot-up) that Windows CE supposedly has and claim that you want a combination of celphone-like features from a laptop and some magically appearing support for "XO's unique functionality" from what is essentially a dead OS, instead of using a modern desktop environment that supports XO already and boots in a minute -- be it simplified Sugar, XFCE under Fedora, traditional XUbuntu configuration that my distribution provided, or full-blown Gnome, KDE, etc. You reject all those options that are developed specifically for XO, and instead beg your Microsoft overlords to port one of the worst environments they created, even after they have decided against porting CE/Mobile/Embedded line, released XP for XO, and XP shown itself to be barely usable. You would rather crawl back to Microsoft than use what is available now, and is developed by people who placed an actual effort into adapting their systems for XO hardware peculiarities.

I have spent decades of study and hard work to make all of us a little smarter on average, and to make it possible for people to achieve a little more than what they could achieve before. Judging by your arguments, you are one of those people who can accomplish exactly the same by jumping off a bridge.

I wonder how many 'geek challenged' individuals there are like myself who were only too happy to become G1G1 donors in order to help kids in third world countries learn, but, have become increasingly turned off by the somewhat elite discussions we find here that seem to pretty much leave us out in the cold when it comes to 'down to earth' guidelines that we can readily understand in order to use our XOs more effectively?


Don't boil over, man. Ranting doesn't win converts from the Windows world. I agree with you, and have seen and hand-held people who - after just a few days with Linux - become converts.

THAT being said, there are still times where it's rough around the edges. The command line scares most people nowadays, and while most Linux users accept dropping to an xterm as a fair trade-off for the increased functionality and raw power available to users in Linux, it's not a "feature" for most people who have been coddled by point-and-drool interfaces for the past decade-plus.

Sleep/Hibernate/Resume works only mostly on the 703 build. I'm told it works much much better in joyride (but last time I installed joyride it took a long day of hacking to restore functionality). Still, until that's smoothed out, people will long for instant-on capabilities. where have they seen that? Cellphone OSes (which suck, admittedly, but they do a few very specific tasks without crashing or taking forever to load/boot). Most people want something with a low learning curve that works (not necessarily "well"), now. CE, for all its many, many faults, provides that. Sugar, Ubuntu, and the rest will, and will have a much (much) higher ceiling of functionality, but today, out of the box, aren't feature complete (I haven't run ubuntu on my XO, but it is my primary OS at home).

It's the long-running frustration of makers vs users.

You are a @#$*&#. When did I ever pledge allegiance to microsoft? I can't believe I am thinking about defending a company who's products I only use when forced, but you are the most thickheaded person I have seen on olpcnews or the forums.
You really seem pretty high up on your build of ubuntu, but with god-awful power management, it is pretty useless for people who crawl out of their basements. 60 second boot time? = best case scenario. Use of tablet mode? = subpar. I even had problems using the camera. Give me a break. And furthermore, while I doubt I will use XP on the XO either, at least it supports every hardware feature of the laptop.

"Most people want something with a low learning curve that works (not necessarily "well"), now."

And Ubuntu distribution for XO provides exactly that. Except it actually does work "well" for almost everything that is practical to do on a small, low-power device. Currently two features are missing -- suspend/resume (so battery life is 3 hours and boot time is one minute) and continuous video recording (still photos are fine). I and other people are working on adding those things right now.

Ports of 7.10 by freelikegnu and moocapiean provided basic functionality and customizations to support XO hardware, I have re-traced their steps with 8.04 and added XO-specific features -- from rotating screen to GTK theme that works better on XO screen. Firefox 3 works, with all its extensions and plugins. and Abiword work, supporting native Microsoft Office formats among other things. Printing over the network and PDF creation works by pressing a single button. Flash is too slow to play Youtube videos without dropping frames, so I have posted an external Youtube player that starts by pressing a button on a panel after selecting a URL. At no point any Microsoft product running on XO or other XO-like hardware provided that level of functionality -- with or without tweaking.

Nevertheless Microsoft supporters flood this site with whining and screeching about how Ubuntu and other desktop-oriented Linux distributions that were ported to XO, supposedly do not suit their needs while they are ready to accept any -- ANY -- Microsoft product despite the fact that it would be inferior in numerous ways, or that Microsoft has no usable support for "missing" features at this point, either.

So my point isn't to show that Ubuntu provides a better mainstream desktop for XO than Microsoft XP port or supposedly possible Windows CE or Symbian ports (though this is true). My point is that dtizzle and other Microsoft fans are morons, and no amount of improvement will ever make them admit that Linux is a superior choice.

dtizzle claims that Windows CE (if it was ported to XO) would be better than my Ubuntu port. Try to imagine an OS that is as superior to XP or Vista as Ubuntu Hardy is superior to Windows CE. This would be still something that dtizzle would still denounce as inferior to Microsoft products. I do not expect people like him to accept any kind of rational arguments, so the best I can do is to demonstrate the scale of their stupidity to others. As some statements and actions made earlier this year by Negroponte show, even supposedly smart people listen to the stupid ones. This is what caused Sugarlabs split, this is what helped Microsoft lobbyists in countries that potentially can order the laptops, this is what caused massive drop of goodwill on the part of people who actually do useful development. So anything that exposes such stupidity may help to avoid similar problems in the future.

"but with god-awful power management, it is pretty useless for people who crawl out of their basements"

3 hours of battery life isn't enough for you? What do you think, your beloved Microsoft is going to provide you? Sugar is currently the only environment that has full power management support on XO, and it's for truly far-away-from-electricity users.

"60 second boot time? = best case scenario"


Boot time is constant. It does not have "best" or "worst" case scenario, it only varies between flash media with different speed.

"Use of tablet mode? = subpar."

What the Hell do you expect from a tablet beyond what it does? The only thing that can be added is a touchscreen, and no software is going to help with that. Without a touchscreen "mainstream" software usually needs a mouse, and XO works fine in that configuration.

"I even had problems using the camera."

What problems? And are you talking about Sugar, Xfce, Ubuntu or other distributions? Or are you just skimming the forums fishing for "problems" without understanding what people are talking about?

"And furthermore, while I doubt I will use XP on the XO either, at least it supports every hardware feature of the laptop."

Really? Who told you that it does?

It's nice to see attribution, Wayan.