Xtra Ordinary Operating System for XO Laptop

   
   
   
   
   

When Karlie Robinson, my wife and the owner of On-Disk.com, was preparing for a recent trip to Boston she asked me, "Can you put something on the XO so I don't need to take my laptop?". My first thought was, sure...um...maybe, which is exactly what I told her.

If she wasn't going to be meeting with OLPC representatives, among others, I would have most likely asked if she could just get by using her Nokia, so i was in a situation where I had to at least try... even though I only had a few hours before she left.

Fedora 10 Was Not an Option

Now, we do have Fedora 10 SD Cards for the XO which we provide at the request of the Fedora Project and OLPC, however they take a while to boot. It is also quite slow due to the limitations of the XO, and the system can become unresponsive if you exhaust the physical memory. I personally had the F10 SD Card on my XO for a period of time, but eventually preferred to go without as opposed to waiting for it to boot and being careful to only open one application at a time.


Karlie on the other hand has far less patience with her computers, so the Fedora 10 SD Card just wasn't a viable option. I had seen some other operating system alternatives for the XO, but they were either as stressing as the Fedora option, or were quite incomplete.


Making Xtra Ordinary XO OS

I finally settled on DebXO but not before changing out most of the existing software which was obviously selected based upon speed and low memory usage as opposed to being particularly useful. I spent a few minutes making sure the applications worked after importing her email, browser, and messenger settings. Then she immediately packed the XO.

The next day, Karlie wasn't in Boston more than a couple hours before I got a call telling me she made it safely, and that the XO would lock up when connecting to the WPA network at the Hostel where she was staying.

Later that evening, after getting our two sons (ages 4 and 6) in bed, I decided it was just TIME to have a real, viable, operating system alternative for these nifty little machines. This thought was powered, in part, by my growing frustration watching the Fedora-olpc developer mailing list, and waiting for the promised Fedora 11 release for the XO...a release which appears may never come.

This isn't really the fault of the Fedora developers who are simply placing the priority where it should be, upon having the new OS ready for the next XO-1.5 hardware version. So I had two choices, (1) delegate the XOs we currently have to simply being used for demonstrations, or (2) build something that would satisfy our needs and enable us to actually use our XOs in a meaningful way...obviously I chose the second option.

As far as the actual development, I started with a Debian XFCE version I found in the OLPC wiki. From there I ripped out everything except the base system, which was then updated to the current Debian 5.0.2 version. After that I installed LXDE, a couple of Gnome utilities, then the software which is most commonly used by Karlie and me. From there it was themed to look like it belonged on the XO, and designed to be as "ordinary" as possible, thus it was named "Xtra Ordinary". The entire process took me all week, working on it in my spare time after taking care of the boys, doing the house keeping, and taking care of both Karlie's and my own daily workload.


Complete at last

I was very happy with the final product: Xtra Ordinary 2009 SD Card for the OLPC Laptop. My XO now sits on my desk, between my monitor and keyboard, and is in nearly constant use. I have even used it to power our disc printing equipment, and play Heroes of Might and Magic III (the Linux version), which is our all time favorite game to play together.

The future

There are a few possibilities for future Xtra Ordinary projects. Among the ideas currently bouncing around are:

  1. Xtra Ordinary Terminal Server: We (On-Disk.com) have already been planning an instant Linux Terminal Server using our Live technologies. Due to the popularity of Xtra Ordinary, it will most likely be an Xtra Ordinary-ized version.
  2. Xtra Ordinary for PCs: An Xtra Ordinary version for PCs could include the option to use Xtra Ordinary, or the Sugar desktop when logging in.
  3. Xtra Ordinary for Netbooks?: This would fall into place only after completing the above, however may be a bridge we could cross over when building an Xtra Ordinary version for the XO-1.5.

I would really like any and all further Xtra Ordinary products to be two sides of a coin. They could all contain a Sugar learning environment for children, as well as a very "Ordinary" desktop those who have become accustomed to using a desktop other than Sugar and now find using Sugar to be more difficult.

Epilogue

In all honesty, creating this OS isn't a big deal. The technology to do all this already exists, and there are several Linux distributions capable of doing everything mentioned above, and then some. I would hope this project can inspire a little more participation within the open source, and particularly Linux, community.

I understand the tendency to think of OLPC as being an Open Source leader in education, but OLPC needs more than our admiration for what they are trying to do, they need participation. We must remember that any Open Source project is only as strong as the volunteers who participate in the innovation.

Todd Robinson is the Systems Development Engineer for On-Disk.com which is a champion of Open Source software

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47 Comments

Oh, man! If the Author & Wife, expert computer users, have to go through these hoops in order to make their XO useful, what's left for the average use who can't even tell what an SD card is?

This article clearly illustrates one of the glaring weaknesses in the OLPC Project: the supporters have never bothered telling Negroponte that his un-finished, subpar device has no chance whatsoever in the real world. Yes, most Linux hacks actually enjoy the pain they must go through to "fix" their purachase (XO), but that's not true for the rest of the population. Regular folks just want a computer that works out of the box.

Thanks Irvin,

Whenever someone makes a really good showcase of the XO, you are the first to post.

This makes it sooo easy to find the good posts when you are short of time.

Winter

This is pretty cool in theory, but my experience with XO and SD cards is that the SD cards fail very quickly. I suspect this is a software problem, but it's still a problem. Do you have any long-term experience with the reliability of these SD-card-based distributions?

BTW, Irv, it's the prevalence of your attitude that probably make Negroponte resist selling to the public so strongly. There are people (e.g., me) who think the XO is a really good idea, and would like to be able to get them. But because most people buy it out of curiosity, and expect a pony, selling to the general public is more trouble than it's worth.

It's not a pony. Nobody ever said it was a pony. If you want a pony, go buy a pony.

@ The author
I'm sure that Xtra ordinary is a very nice product and I hope that several people buy it and put their XOs in more use. But isn't it a bit cheesy to close with the open source pep-talk in a commercial product promo post? (as far as I can see no download is available as well as instructions to build it yourself -beyond whatever is here- while support is just referring to general linux sites).

@Ted
I'm using a 4GB trancend class 6 Card with Teapot's Ubuntu for 10 months now and has more that 1000h of use with no problems yet. I'm sure that problems will come. Be sure to backup often...

Personally, I love that OnDisk offers a pre-made card like this, so those of us who don't have the time or ability can have a ready-made solution. And I'm happy that they have a price associated with convenience.

Now a free download would be nice, but not required.

Geez, Irv and Ted . . .

Guess its wet blanket poster day here on the OLPC News blog. :-/

I read this article of Todd’s and took an entirely different perspective.
A few minutes later I logged my debit card onto On-Disc.com’s secure server
and ordered up a copy of Xtra Ordinary for myself.

If Irv is happy with Windoz and having to buy a new machine every 5 years
to keep up with software bloat, all I can say is that more folks consume
Cheetos than tofu and broccoli. Why complain about Linux distros on
tiny netbooks?

Ted’s concerns about XO-1s being hard to come by is legitimate, but that
didn’t prevent me from snagging one on eBay last week (lot’s there to choose
from) at a bargain price. I hope OLPC will be more forthcoming with new XO-1.5s
being available to developed world consumers (not to mention upgrade parts for
older XO-1s,) more so than with earlier machines in the past. But that is something
only they can answer. In the mean time, Xtra Ordinary looks like the way to go for current XO-1 owners.

And who said anything about having to run the software directly off of the media card on top of Sugar? Todd’s site clearly states “Xtra Ordinary is a complete install on an SD card. It is not a "Live" version thus far less memory is required to run the system. This leaves more resources for running applications. A swap file is also used which has helped prevent the system from locking up when memory is exhausted.”

Sounds like a winner to me. I’ll let you all know how it works out.

Benjamin, my concern is that when I've used SD cards on the XO in the past, they tend to work for a while, but then the filesystem gets corrupted. This happens while the system is running, so it's not the result of a bad shutdown or anything like that. Once the FS has been corrupted, it can't be recovered.

So before I send in my $42, or whatever, I'd like to hear that Todd and/or Karlie have been using this for a significant amount of time without experiencing this kind of corruption. If in fact they have, that's very encouraging, and I'd like to try it. I just don't want to send off for one of these SD cards and then get it back and have it fail, leaving me essentially with nothing.

Hi Ted . . .

I'd simply copy the contents of the SD card onto my main computer hard drive. Burn a CD and then you've got 2 backups. If the installed Xtra Ordinary software on the XO ever goes south, you simply mount it on an SD card again from your main computer and install again. It sounds as if Xtra Ordinary allows you to hook up additional drives (CD-R, DVD-R, etc.) through the XOs USB jacks, so you've got a way to back up files there without having to rely on going back through the SD card.

Perhaps I've been lucky but we've got 3 Canon digital camera in our household using SD cards and have never experienced a catastrophic meltdown. I even yanked a card out of the media reader once before dragging to the trash and, while my iMac shook its finger at me and told me to never do it again, I didn't lose any on my photos.

The problem is that if the file system trashes itself every couple of hours, you have to backup essentially continuously, which renders the computer pretty useless - e.g., you can't use it on an airplane.

I don't think the problem is with the cards - I think it's with the driver. Otherwise, as you say, the cards in your Canon camera would fail regularly.

@Ted: you're absolutely correct, that was an issue when the laptop went into suspend and corrupted the file system on the cards. This however, was fixed in a firmware upgrade about a year ago. If you follow the firmware upgrade instructions at wiki.laptop.org you'll be good to go :)

Cheers!

I wish that were so, but I'm running Q2E41, and was when the problem occurred. Also, the problem occurred while the system was running, not while it was suspended.

Ted,
there are many ways to trash a card :-)
I had an A-data that was corrupting during runs (though it was every 5-10 hours :). I had a very reliable (3 months problem-free) Kingston that was demolished in a sugar crash. I had a SunDisk that required newer firmware to work. So it's unfortunately a try and error approach with SD cards and the XO. Just make sure if you find a good one, get a couple since same brand/model cards can vary a lot over time.

Todd, this looks fantastic. I placed my order yesterday.

I am now more fully aware of Ted's concerns regarding SD media card reliability. My initial understanding was that, since Xtra Ordinary wasn't "live" media, it would be inserted, installed and removed . . . end of story on having to use the card again.

Now that I review an earlier announcement posted by Wayan on the OLPC News Forum, I note that the card stays installed all the time that Xtra Ordinary is running . . .

http://www.olpcnews.com/forum/index.php?topic=4540.0

OK, now I get it . . . uh, maybe.

Perhaps someone could clarify for me exactly what "live" media is, and how it differs from what Xtra Ordinary does on its media card?

In any event, this doesn't diminish my enthusiasm on the prospects of trying it out. I never assumed that I would be using my XO-1 for more than casual on-the-go web surfing and the like. In its stock form (running Sugar) it already does that remarkably well. If the experience can be enhanced on Xtra Ordinary (auto screen resizing, support for Flash and Youtube streaming, for instance) it will have been worth the purchase price.

Those who are overly critical of the XO-1s performance have to step back every now and then and remind themselves what it already does and what it costs. If you want a portable computer that does it all and almost never glitches, go get a Macbook Pro. But be prepared to pay 10 times the price of an XO-1 for the pleasure.

Regarding SD card reliability and standards, the OLPC Wiki has a fair amount to say on the subject . . .

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Secure_Digital_card

And, within that page, is a link to a Wikipedia page explaining in detail the trials and tribulations of establishing an SD card standard . . .

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Digital_card

So that Todd, himself an XO-1 owner and user, goes the extra mile to choose cards he knows have a good track record in these machines inspires a bit of confidence. Even though Linux is open source and supposed to be completely free, I don't mind paying a few extra (uh . . . "Xtra") bucks for a good card and a little something for Todd's time in crafting this thing.

Now that Mike and I - and, presumably others - are going to "take the Xtra Ordinary plunge" (how's that for an ad slogan?,) I think a great place to map out and stay tuned to our individual experiences is on the OLPC News Forum thread linked near the top of this blog post.

Live Media is a generalization of the notion of a LiveCD, which is a CD that boots with a large RAMdisk, so that you can actually get to multi-user mode and run applications on the RAMdisk with the operating system only on CD, and without modifying the contents of any other drives that may be installed on a system.

What makes these SD-card operating systems special is that they are *not* Live Media. They simply boot off the SD card as a disk, and use it as their system disk. So there's no RAMdisk.

So the deal is that if you're only ever reading the SD card, it's probably safe. In that sense, a Live Media dstribution on SD card would actually be safer than what is being done here. Unfortunately, it would also be a lot less useful.

As for the reliability problem, I have _never_ gotten an SDHC card to behave reliably in the OLPC. I haven't tried exhaustively, because that would be expensive. My interest in this discussion is that if Todd and Karlie have an SDHC card that's working reliably in the OLPC, I want one. I don't dispute that such a thing exists. I just haven't found one yet, and it's a bit discouraging to keep fussing with them and never getting a good result.

Thanks for explaining this to me, Ted. I think I have a somewhat clearer distinction between the two.

Being a "nuts and bolts" kind of guy, I wonder if there isn't some sort of electro-mechanical problem with the XO-1's SD reader mechanism itself . . . something that software/firmware updates can never fully address. Maybe this was a low bid part (makes sense, considering the XO-1's price point) and that a certain percentage of these are always going to be problematic. Many others, conversely, will work perfectly for years with no problems at all.

I was browsing through a local retailer yesterday and this little USB jack 12-in-1 card reader caught my eye . . .

http://www.iogear.com/product/GFR209/

Strapping one of these onto a USB port would certainly make an on-the-go XO-1 a little less portable, but not by much. Hey . . . at least the color almost matches!

More importantly, it might (and I'll emphasize that last word "might") make the reading of SD cards on certain XO-1s less problematic. At $10 a pop, maybe worth a try?

I'm using a high-speed 8G usb stick right now - there's no advantage to an SD card in that case. The entire advantage of the SD card is that it's not sticking out the side of the computer.

In any case, I don't really buy your theory. My experience of the XO thus far is that it's a pretty solid piece of hardware. There have been some issues with features that were expected to work but didn't, but as far as I know nothing electromechanical on the motherboard. The thing's built like a truck.

Of course, it's true that the SD card is not something that would be used by an average XO user, since the average XO user is running Sugar off of the built-in flash memory. So it's not surprising that bugs in the SD card implementation would be less well-characterized than bugs in other parts of the system that are more broadly used.

Not to beat a dead horse here, but I'll ask another newbie question: Is it possible to take the contents of Todd's SD card (or, for that matter any of these "non-live" Linux distros typically run off of SD cards) and simply run them off of USB sticks?

If so, this pretty much solves the "I can't get my XO-1's SD to do what I want" problem. Not that USB sticks have never been known to fail, but . . .

The latest crop of USB stick drives are super tiny and don't stick out very far. Note this one (yes, in almost-XO green, if 4GB is enough) and it's about as big as an adult thumbnail . . . and that's before you insert it into the slot . . .

http://www.ubergizmo.com/photos/2009/7/supertalent-pico-mini.jpg

This one, in white (available in both 4 and 8GB,) has the more conventional metal interface on the jack but manages to stick out even less . . .

http://www.techchee.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/elecome28099s-mf-su2-series-thumbdrive-450x279.jpg

Heck . . . you could almost close the antenna on top of that last one, if weren't paying attention!

It's probably possible. The one caveat is that you may want to format new filesystems and copy the contents over rather than doing a blind copy, because sometimes for example an 8G device may be smaller than another 8G device by a few megabytes.

There are no tricky secrets to how disks are formatted and booted on the OLPC, though, so this is a really painless process. The main thing is that you need a master boot record partition table (you don't need any boot code) and the first partition needs to be formatted as an ext3 filesystem.

My USB drive currently has three partitions - the boot partition, which is ext3, the swap partition, which is, well, a swap partition, and the install partition, which is ext4 and contains the entire contents of the Ubuntu distribution I'm running.

This wins big because I can just operate Ubuntu as usual and do updates on the ext4 partition. Since you can't boot a stock kernel, I have to maintain the boot partition separately anyway; I just mount that as /olpcboot, put the kernel and ramdisk in /olpcboot/boot, and have an appropriate olpc.fth file there as well.

Oh, if you format the install drive ext4, you can't mount it from your sugar install, so don't use ext4 if you care about that.

While the Xtra Ordinary is listed as an SD card, all you need to do is email us and ask for another form of solid state media.

If you visit http://on-disk.com/cms/index.php?wiki=media_types you see we can do just about anything. Including eSATA or reload your own drive.

In fact, you can see the vast list of options listed with Sugar on a Stick to get an idea of the extensive options. http://on-disk.com/product_info.php/products_id/908

And as always, never hesitate to contact us if you have questions or ideas. Custom media is where we excel.

~Karlie

Thanks, Karlie . . .

I've got a 4GB Xtra Ordinary SD card on order with you and I'll give this a whirl. If I find I need to go with the USB flash option eventually, I'll be in touch. Nice to know that you can do it this way too.

I have been searching for a way to make my kid's laptop a little more usable than it currently is. This sounds like a good possibility. Can you answer a few questions for me?

1. Given the concerns expressed about the SD card corrupting, is it reasonable to assume that I can backup and restore this file configuration back to the SD card with limited linux knowledge? I have been able to follow instructions but am no expert by any means.

2. Our laptop is from the first round. I have kept the software up to date, but are there any specs I should check on to know if this would work?

3. Is it reasonable to expect that with this configuration my child can view web sites with flash and stream from YouTube?

4. Would they be able to run any of the activities on the OLPC site with this configuration, such as Tux Paint?

Thanks.

Hi Arlette . . .

Take a look at Karlie and Todd’s description of Xtra Ordinary. They give a very detailed run-through of what their software is supposed to do . . .

http://on-disk.com/product_info.php/products_id/881

I note automated browser resizing being mentioned (having to do manual zoom-outs with the stock Sugar one, just to be able to scroll down a page, gets pretty old pretty fast) and I’m going to guess that Adobe Flash and You Tube streaming support is a given.

Adobe, of course, likes to update Flash every ten minutes or so. This drove me crazy several years ago when I was working in the Mac OS9 environment along with the factory installed Microshaft Exploiter 6 browser. But it looks as if complimentary updates for Xtra Ordinary, in order catch up with stuff like this, is in the plans.

I’m also a Linux newbie and, while my recently-purchased-on-eBay machine is about a year newer than yours, it looks as if we are both going to have to do the same thing to get ready for Xtra Ordinary.

Someone here with more XO-1 time under their belt might have more to say about it
- or (please) correct me, if I’m in error - but it appears that we will both need to “unlock” our XO-1s with a developer’s key from OLPC, which is detailed and available for downloading here, from their Wiki . . .

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Developer_key

After this, a firmware update appears to be in order. Here is the OLPC wiki page with details on that . . .

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Firmware

If I’m reading it correctly, the most current one for XO-1s is dated April 15, 2009, and is labeled as version q2e41 (the one that gave Ted such grief with his SD media?)

According to the following OLPC Wiki page, the latest stable software release is Build 802 8.2.1 . . .

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Olpc-update

So, needless to say, before I attempt to do any of these sort of things on my own, I’m going to print out the contents of the above links and show it all to a computer repair-person friend of mine. He is very familiar with Windows protocol and knows fair amount of Linux. If he looks at it and starts to mutter “Huh? and “What?,” he won’t hesitate to pass me up the food chain to any number of local Linux gurus. If you have a similar mild apprehension, Arlette, I would search out in-person help in your locale to handle the XO-1 updates you’re going to need . . . or simply hand it off and have that part of the work done for you.

After all this developer’s key, firmware and software stuff is updated (and – again- someone here please confirm that all of this is needed and/or I’m not leaving out anything else,) I’m assuming that all one has to do is insert the Xtra Ordinary SD (or USB flash) into the XO-1 and boot it up. At that point, Karlie and Todd seem to be more than willing to help out with their software.

I don’t know about Tux Paint off of the OLPC site but, if you want to revert back to Sugar, power down the machine, simply remove the media and restart the computer to access installed Sugar programs.

What we CAN’T do on our XO-1s is dual boot: have both Sugar and another Linux distro running at the same time, and seamlessly switch back and forth between the two without rebooting. This is what the upcoming XO-1.5 machines are capable of doing. But it remains to be seen if OLPC will ever offer the 1.5 for sale to U.S customers.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to document my blow-by-blow progress regarding all of this on the OLPC News Forum. There is already a thread started there announcing Xtra Ordinary . . .

http://www.olpcnews.com/forum/index.php?topic=4540.msg30323%3Btopicseen

The advantage of documenting your progress there (as opposed to here, on the blog) is that long discourse folds over onto individual pages and members can insert photos or other illustrations into their posts for additional clarification. Most of the knowledgeable people who blog here already post there . . . and the spammers don’t.

Thanks Benjamin! I will start following the forum thread.

What a commercial.
Give us a downloadable image.
I feel as if my time was wasted reading this.

Kriston . . .

If my overly-detailed post ends up helping one other person (or me, for that matter,) it will have been worth it to bore someone else who already knows it all . . . or thinks they know it all.

Benjamin completely misses my point. The whole article tells us how to do it and asks us to buy something that is so much more easily made available for download, yet inexplicably does not do so. That is why this wastes my time.
I'm not going to stoop and respond to your sarcasm.

Sorry if I came off as sarcastic, Kriston. I tended to think you were annoyed with my long post more so than the concept of the product. I hope no animosity persists.

The non-free (anti conventional Linux protocol?) aspect of Xtra Ordinary seems have rubbed a few the wrong way. I'm going to assume its mostly with folks who have a lot of Linux-specific computer experience and already know how to do software installations and updates that would baffle others.

I see the above announcement and observe something that appears to be closer to a finished product than many of the other free give-away distros I've been hearing about so far for the XO-1. There also appears to be a willingness from the developers to provide a certain amount of post-purchase technical support.

While it is noble that many would spend hours crafting a software package and give it away for nothing, I don't mind spending a few dollars to receive something that has a certain amount of the work done for me and may be more trouble free in the long run, since the developer solicited funds for their services and have more to lose if the advertised claims don't pan out for the end user.

I guess the fee that On-Disk charges is a distribution fee (consisting mostly of an SD card cost) since you cannot 'sell' something you dont own.

I also believe that the source for this distribution should be freely available since

"Todd Robinson is the Systems Development Engineer for On-Disk.com which is a champion of Open Source software".

It would then be fair for anyone to distribute the contents of the Xtra Ordinary SD card for free.

Thanks for this work, you two! And for helping shepherd through the last Fedora-on-SD work. I just ordered a couple extra cards for the OLPC office to share the joys of your [physical] packaging work.

Per request, 32Gb SD Cards are now available as well.

The response to Xtra Ordinary has been nothing short of amazing, thus work has already begun on a desktop version. Because there is more effort being put towards being even more ordinary than the XO version, the desktop version is going to take longer to bring to a final product.

A few early preview screenshots have been posted showing the default desktop (in it's current state), working on the theme, and the sugar emulator: http://on-disk.com/cms/index.php?wiki=Xtra_Ordinary_Operating_System_Desktop

When finished, the desktop version will be released on all available Live Media (USB Flash Drives, SD Cards, CF Cards, eSATA Flash Drives, DVD. Hopefully we can secure a download location for it, or even offer the Live DVD for free via the Quick Ship free disc service like we do for openSUSE, Fedora, Debian, and Xubuntu.
Quick Ship: http://on-disk.com/index.php/cPath/349


Thank you,
Todd

Sorry for my ignorance, but what is the difference between the Xtra Ordinary and a desktop version?

Xtra Ordinary is a desktop distro targeted specifically for the OLPC XO.

Arlette said,

'Sorry for my ignorance, but what is the difference between the Xtra Ordinary and a desktop version?'

Xtra Ordinary runs totally from the SD card which works as a bootable disk drive.

A desktop version would be installed onto the XO's internal flash memory and wipe out the existing operating system. this would eliminate any possible problems experienced with SD cards getting corrupted.

That seems like an odd choice. The reason I didn't do that myself is that the flash memory in the laptop isn't replaceable, and an operating system not optimized for running off of flash will probably wear it out pretty quickly.

I think solving the problem with the SD cards is a better thing to do, personally, although I realize that it's a hard problem. My RiData card has survived a major update and some builds without crashing, so it's definitely doing better than the Kingston card did, with the same kernel.

Arlette, the desktop version is being created for standard intel-compatible desktop PCs and laptops, not the XO.


Hope this helps,
Todd

Yes it does thanks. I am interested in the SD card for the XO. I am just concerned about the file corruption issue mentioned by a few on the site, so I am hoping I can count on you for support in how to backup and restore the SD card with the same configuration you are providing.

Just an FYI, using a flash drive/card as a main disk drive is using a flash drive for a task it was not intended.

The way they are designed, using them as an OS drive will dramatically shorten their life cycle.

The non-technical explanation is they are just not designed for that kind of use. A solid-state disk drive is designed for the task.

Even after that warning, most of you will do it anyway. Go for it. But have a sensible back up strategy. I know of no better way to experiment with operating systems.

Hi asphaltjesus . . .

Please excuse my ignorance, but what is the difference between the flash drive inside the XO-1 (which is present in lieu of a conventional spinning disc hard drive) and the flash drives that would take the form of an SD or USB slot memory? They are all "solid state devices" (ie: no vacuum tubes in there) as far as I can tell. :-)

Relating to this, there was some speculative talk here from Robert (not actually what Todd is proposing for his software on the XO-1, but . . . ) about installing new software onto the XO-1's internal flash memory and wiping out the existing Sugar operating system.

But before Todd clarified to Arlette on how the "desktop" version of Xtra Ordinary would be different from what Robert was envisioning, Ted observed that this type of thing wouldn't be a good idea anyway because . . .

" . . . the flash memory in the laptop isn't replaceable, and an operating system not optimized for running off of flash will probably wear it out pretty quickly."

But, if I'm interpreting your comments correctly, asphalt, this seems to be exactly what you (and Robert) are proposing should be done.

So . . . this begs some questions . . .

1) How does one optimize a Linux distro to run off of an internal flash
drive? I would assume that Sugar is already optimized, as are other efficient distros already running on internal flash netbook machines, such as Puppy on the Asus eeePC (and, I'm guessing, Xtra Ordinary as it could on the XO-1, if desired.)

2) Thinking hypothetically here, is it desirable and/or possible to take an optimized Linux (other than Sugar) and install it as the one-and-only OS on the XO-1?

These seem to be the point where we have a contradictory technical points of view. Sorry in advance if there is no way to address answers to the above in plain English or without writing a book to explain it that way.

There may be some difference between the flash devices in SSDs and the flash devices in SD cards - I don't know. SSDs definitely have *more* storage, and it wouldn't surprise me if they have fancier wear-leveling firmware. On the other hand, SD cards are smaller and cheaper, so as long as they aren't failing constantly, and as long as you do decent backups, they should be fine.

As for how to format them, Ted Tso's advice on formatting SSDs for Linux is worth a read. I've followed it when I've partitioned my SD cards and USB drives.

BTW, I'm now a week into my time with the RiData 8G SD card, and it's still going. With the previous SD card, I was getting failures within an hour, and sometimes during the install. So I am feeling pretty good about it so far (knock on wood).

I should note, as of yesterday evening, that I am now running the Xtra Ordinary card on my XO-1.

To briefly summarize, I prepared my recently purchased used machine in advance by getting the most current software/firmware update via OLPC's No-Fail update. This was easy.

Next, I obtained the needed Developer's key from OLPC. This wasn't hard, but I found OLPC's directions frustratingly spotty. Members of the OLPC News Forum had to walk me through some key steps to achieve success here.

The Xtra Ordinary card popped in and booted up just fine. Internet connectivity was easy to obtain and the Iceweasel browser interface is a pleasure to use . . . significantly better than the browser on Sugar.

I found a YouTube video that typically runs without problems on my big desktop computer but tripped up the XO-1 w/ Xtra Ordinary pretty badly. In all fairness, I assume that the limited RAM and processor speed of the XO-1 itself is the culprit here. At least the YouTube videos are identified as such on Xtra Ordinary and are not just blank squares in a web page as seen on Sugar.

In the weeks to come, I'll be experimenting more with Xtra Ordinary's installed software and, per Wayan's request, authoring a detailed user's review. Perhaps because I'm new to Linux - and that my XO-1 is my very first exposure to it - this gives me a somewhat unique user perspective.

First impressions are that this is an excellent software package and worth a try for anyone wanting to move beyond the stock Sugar software on their XO-1.

Thanks, Todd and Karlie, for taking the time and energy to develop Xtra Ordinary.

Well, if you're new to Linux, I don't know what you'd call me - and after all these years of being thoroughly "windowized" I'm not even sure I have the ability (or the time) to learn this thing.
I got the OLPC with high hopes, but it was practically useless for me, so I wanted to try this, but am having a horrible time trying to figure it out.
And I'm scared to try too much in case I 'break' something and can't get it fixed again.
Questions of burning importance right now:
1) Can I use my U3 thumb drive on this?
2) How do you take pictures
3) How do you Skype?

I wanted something to be able to do my banking and keep in touch with home when I'm off for months in remote places, but I need something I can gain a basic understanding of.
Just signing into my home network has been a chore as it just wound away forever and it took me several tries - and then the place where I think I should have been able to enter my key and save it didn't seem to take.
HELP!!
Why isn't there a book with this so non-penguin-heads have a chance?
I love the look of this little machine and the sealed keyboard which is so useful in areas where there is sand blowing a lot - and I like the idea of it. And the screen I can read in the African sun.
But if I can't get it to work for me, it's all for nought.

I don't want to be discouraging, but the OLPC is a prototype. Running Sugar, it's at least an intentional prototype. Running some other operating system, you're embarking on an adventure.

Support in the native linux kernel is spotty at best. Support from Ubuntu is virtually nonexistent. This is a black belt computer, not a white belt computer, unless you're running the stock software.

I am not saying this to discourage you. If you are interested in learning, you can learn. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. But if you want to keep thinking of yourself as "not an expert," this isn't the computer for you, despite the cool hardware.

My OLPC is sitting on a shelf right now while I debate whether to install a different motherboard in it or just give up on it entirely. Since the iPad came out, I have a small form factor computer that does what I want, and it's hard to get excited about hacking on the OLPC anymore.

Does anyone else think it is odd that Irv is so critical of the OLPC and yet he keeps close tabs on it, and is a regular poster? Sort of like smelling ammonia . . . you know it will smell bad, but you open the bottle and smell it anyway? Don't people normally keep tabs on things that they are interested in?

Xtra Ordinary 2010 - Baring any unforeseen issues, a 2010 version of Xtra Ordinary ready within the next week.

I can't go into everything in this short note but some highlights are:

* New Browser - The Google Chrome Browser, which supports both Flash and Java. The Chrome Browser does give an immediate speed boost to general web browsing. Updates will be available via Google using the google.com debian repository. Please note, Flash and Java are extra difficult on the performance limited XO-1 Laptop and I'm still trying to see if there is something I can tweek to get them working more satisfactorily.
* New Sexier Desktop - The previous LXDE based desktop is being replaced by Enlightenment 17, which is still very light weight, yet adds that extra touch of a great looking desktop with a little "eye-candy". Of course it has been configured into the standard layout with the menu, taksbar, power manager, network manager and system tray in their usual spots.
* Multi User Ready - Xtra Ordinary still boots directly to the desktop, but has a lightened up Gnome Display Manager that can be used , as well as perhaps the biggest surprise, a very light weight (as light as I could get it) version of Gnome.
* Gnome-Lite - For those who love Gnome, a light weight version has been created by replacing the normal Gnome window manager and resource hungry Nautilus file manager/desktop manager with much lighter alternatives. This allows for a very usable full Gnome desktop.
* Performance - Thus far overall performance has been quite satisfactory. Yesterday I had 3 terminals, 3 Chrome browser windows, archive manager (without an opened archive), the Gimp graphics editor, GTK Theme Switcher, Totem Movie Player, User Accounts Administrator, and the Configuration Editor all open at the same time and was able to browse Online without it being noticeably slow. When trying to open further applications at the same time I would simply get a notice that they were unable to open as opposed to the XO locking up...but 12 windows and 8 applications at the same time was more that I had anticipated. Again, this was under the new default Xtra Ordinary desktop (E17).
* Volume Buttons - Because of the new E7 desktop, the Gnome Settings Manager can be initialized at startup without interfering with the session manager, thus allowing the Volume keys on the XO keyboard to be used to adjust the volume.
* License Before Acquisition - Just like our extremely popular POSTed editions (Post Install Editions: http://on-disk.com/index.php/cPath/28_329), people will need to accept any and all license agreements for software which require end-user acceptance in advance. This will allow us to include software that otherwise could not be legally included, or where the legality of inclusion may otherwise be in question, such as with the Google-Chrome browser.
* Other Mad Scientist Stuff - I'm still working out the exact applications that will be included on the new release. This time around Skype will most likely be removed in favor of an option requiring less processor speed and memory. Of course it means we cant use skype, but it was nearly unusable anyway because the XO falls far below the 600mhz CPU "requirement".


If anyone has any last minute requests for software inclusion please pass them on: https://on-disk.com/contact_us.php


Thank you,
Todd

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