Despite the impression that Microsoft "massaged" the Windows XO video let's for the moment presume that the video was simply edited a bit oddly, and that the demo was the state of the art, XP on XO performance.
Did you watch it closely, while taking copious notes about XP on the XO performance? Well, I'm enough of a geek that I did. And the results are not pretty.
James Utzschneider and Bohdan Raciborski walked us through Windows XP on the OLPC XO, showing off a few common tasks - the general OS, recording and playback of audio and video, power management and the ebook mode, and document sharing.
First, you might remember James U's earlier blog entry detailing the difficulties MS had encountered in running XP on the XO, and the limitations we've discussed with the "Unlimited" Potential software pack.
Next, be sure to read James U's blog entry on the Microsoft announcement of Windows XP on the XO laptop from One Laptop Per Child.
Then, watch the Microsoft XP on XO video:
XP on the XO
Microsoft starts with its "good news" that XP boots faster (but not four times faster) than Sugar; (1:05 into the video). Good going, folks. First off, it turns out that XP doesn't boot that much faster, as the scene only shows a boot to user login, not to the full user interface.
Worse, Microsoft had to cram in an SD card to make XP and Office work. The OS (and MS Office as well, I presume) are resident on the SD Card; from James' blog, emphasis added:
As I have posted earlier, we had to write multiple custom drivers and a BIOS to get Windows to boot from an SD card in order to do the Windows port to the XO. This is the initial implementation customers will be able purchase when the product RTMs and will be a "Windows only" XO that Nicholas Negroponte himself has described as running "really fast."Having the operating system on an SD card makes it really difficult to upgrade to a larger SD card (or replace a broken one), view photos from a camera, or share documents using an SD card instead of a USB key.
Customers can also choose to buy the existing Linux/Sugar XO. Longer term, the OLPC plans to write a new BIOS and increase the amount of flash storage on the XO to support a "Dual Boot" option that would enable children to use either Linux or Windows on the same machine. This is fine with us as long there continues to be an excellent Windows experience on the XO.
Sugar and other Linux versions on the XO do take longer to boot; but once the suspend and hibernation features are completely working (and the current Update.1 Release Candidate has most of it working) -- you'll never need to turn it off, rarely reboot, and it recovers almost instantaneously from sleep, so this to me is a non-issue.
It goes quickly downhill from at 1:36 in - James and Bohdan shows us how to record an audio file on the Windows XO. Remember, in Sugar this means pressing the "Record" activity on the bottom toolbar, selecting "Audio" (it defaults to photos, and the one "Record" activity records anything -- photos, video, or audio!), and pressing record -- done.
In XP, James navigates through 3 sub-menus of the Start Menu (Start-Programs-Accessories-Entertainment, for you following at home with your own XP, because when I think "record this" I think programs, then accessories, then entertainment!). So after finding the Sound Recorder, he then has to muck with the custom audio properties (Stereo sound and normal compression??) before recording finally. Right. That's intuitive.
At 2:20 he loads up Windows Movie Maker to capture video (again, to do this in Sugar, you'd just change from Audio to Video in the Record activity). Again he mucks with compression/quality settings (1/2 MB bitrate and 30 FPS -- really? I just want to press "record"). It works and has the standard Windows Movie Maker timeline/video editing capabilities.
Microsoft expects teachers using Windows XOs to have USB thumbdrives (at 3:19) and be ready to pass them around their class to share videos/photos/recordings and such. Heck, I don't even let my thumbdrive leave my sight at work.
With class sizes of over 30, how long will it take for each student to plug a drive in, have it pop up, copy a video to their desktop (again, providing they have any space left over after Windows and Office), and then finding the "Safely Remove" icon in the taskbar, clicking it, and correctly selecting the thummdrive and not the Windows SD card, and then passing it to the next student.
Sharing a video becomes an all-class-session activity, when it should be done through improvements to the mesh and a peercasting video tool. To be fair, outside of shareable activities, the process currently doesn't work much better on the XO (at least without a School Server to host the shared file).
Putting the laptop into the tablet configuration in Windows seems to switch it to the no-backlight screen mode (4:00); which I hope is not automatic if a child wants to, I dunno, read a book at night in a house without any other light source? In no-backlight mode, he claims you can use the laptop for 20 hours, which I find hard to believe, but if Windows isn't supporting the mesh network and therefore the wifi is also turned off, it's remotely possible.
I watched full-screen video with wifi off on a flight recently and it lasted the full duration of the two and a half hour movie, plus another short TV episode, plus plenty of time left at the end to play the Implode activity (my secret XO addiction) before having to turn off all electronics for landing; so in full, CPU-sleeping screen-off mode, it probably could last that long. Maybe Sugar users should turn off wifi and see how long a backlightless Read activity can last?
At 4:50 he shows us how to access a wireless network. Now, as a guy who often gets calls from parents, friends, parents of friends and friends of friends trying to connect to a wireless network in XP, I can safely say that configuring wifi on XP is one of the most confusing tasks ever to be standardized.
No mention of support mesh networking, which may mean that the laptops are not connected to even a local network once they leave the access-point connectivity of the school (if there's even good connection at the school; my experience with Jamaican schools built with lots of rebar, cinder blocks, and metal roofing all played havoc with omni-directional wifi ranges).
Not mentioned in the video of course is the dire need for security software -- anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware, anti-phishing and so on that's suddenly very important if you're releasing XP+IE machines to people who haven't developed a callous shell of cynicism and doubt when approached by Nigerian 419 scams, "Your computer is infected" flashing malware banner ads, and the like.
By the time you load all of this up, the low-power computer will slow to a barely-usable crawl. MS Defender may help against some of those; but we're back to adding cruft and cost when we look at anti-virus vendors.
Sugar had its faults; no doubt about it; but it was clean and intuitive with a core belief of an "unlimited ceiling" of upward development -- Sugar was an adult bike with many layers of training wheels that could be removed; with lots of integrated paths to help do just that with eToys teaching programming methods and the various puzzles teaching slowly-more-challenging problem solving skills.
Windows is designed against this, with no programming tools built in, and an almost anti-hacker/explorer/fiddler philosophy that goes beyond it merely being "closed source" to putting up impediments to learning any useful skills.
A draft of this entry was originally published at JonCamfield.com