No XO Printer Support is a Feature Not a Bug


When I present the XO to people, I indicate that the lack of printer support is a feature, not a bug.

The issue I see is one of sustainability. We cannot replicate our US lifestyle at a global level, there is just so much that Gaia can take. What we can afford here, as the biggest consumers of resources in the world, at an expense to the whole world, we cannot consider as the parameter to reproduce elsewhere.

Printers needed?

You can agree with this because you care for humanity, or if you don't, you can see at it this way: if other people start consuming as much as we do, we won't be able to pillage their resources anymore, so we will end up having to tighten up our belts anyway, capice?

It has been pointed out rightfully that this might be part of a tendency to set our standards to a lower denominator.
To lower standards to limit what a kid can learn is a crime crying to the heavens, but when it comes to being aware of what resources we have available to spend, how we should spend them, to lower our level of misuse of resources becomes a badge of honor, and thus a no-printer policy is something we can all be proud of. It simply behoves a better attitude towards the environment.

The OLPC project, and the XO in particular make quite a point on looking for solutions that are energy efficient, resource-efficient, "green", yes, the whole project has adopted that color as its banner. Even the battery is said to be biodegradable, etc, etc. Now, is this just a pandering of contemporary post-modern sensibilities to be successful at fund-raising? Is it to make it more palatable to teachers, who, the world over, say they have become defenders of the environment?

Besides, just think on the TCO/ROI when you have to add printer, paper, ink, energy...

Now, I can feel the pain of those who are used at printing. Where I got my teacher degrees from, nothing is "real" unless it is on paper. It is going to be a mighty battle of wits to get those teachers to change their ways, to accept that homework done on the XO is valid, so kids that currently play music on their XOs while they do their homework on paper can actually use the thing for something more meaningful than a $200 MP3 player.
It will also require some software work, so that it is easy and pleasant for the teacher to do grading using their own XOs.

There are good reasons to have a printer. Formal grade cards. Real publications. Sharing and preserving on zero-access-time media. Yet all of those can be dealt with at the server-level, without the limitations that adding another feature half-way would bring, because setting up good auto-detection features and the like is quite something, especially since so many printers simply are not Linux-friendly. Anyway, it is available already in some form by using a USB stick or SD card, but that could be improved on.

Ultimately, sure, why not. We already have some sort of Windows to fit that house, so printers would be fine as well. Currently the Sugar and the Devel lists are debating on how to add such printer support to the XO.

All in all I think that Activities, Sugar, the XO should keep the mindset of being environment-friendly, and encourage if at all possible options that are conducive to walking our talk. Printing by uploading to a server that then does the dirty work is a practical option, of course as an exception on normal use of the XO.

Disclosure: from where I sit at home I see 5 printers, only one store-bought, 5 years ago. My main printer is a double-side HP 6122, that prints 4 pages per sheet of paper using the brochure option under Open Office. I recharge my own ink. We still use paper inherited from a company that changed its logo.

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As a laptop, and earth lover I must agree that no printer support is definitely a good feature. We need to use les paper, not create the need for more!

I've been hearing claims like using computers is more environmentally friendly than using paper for years. But you know what, I've never seen a quantitative analysis that proves that point. People seem to be running under the assumption that a smaller pile of garbage at the end of the day means that it is more environmentally friendly, ignoring things such as paper being recyclable, paper being biodegradable once the fibers have reached their end of life, paper being produced from renewable resources; computers being hard to recycle, computers having a shorter life than many printed documents, computers needing more high energy refining and processing of materials, and computers needing energy to operate (where a lot of that energy is produced by non-environmentally friendly means). Now maybe computers are more environmentally friendly, particularly for single use documents, but I have yet to see compelling evidence stating when and if this would be the case. I'm sorry to be a cynic here, but the future of the planet needs something more than feel-good politics.

They should also consider when and why paper is being used, then ensure that the computer can fill those rolls, prior to declaring the lack printing a feature. Paper is often useful if you want a permanent record. The XO can solve that problem by allowing the user to do stuff like archive web pages. Yet I don't see that feature, so it is not a paper replacement. Paper is also useful for making annotations. The XO can solve that problem by allowing the user to do stuff like add annotations to PDF files. Yet I don't see that feature, so it is not a paper replacement. Working in a Western classroom, I often see printouts being used for displays.

Sometimes it is for educational purposes, and sometimes it's to allow students to take pride in their work. Both are important to the functioning of education. Given that computers are usually 'pull' oriented, it doesn't really work for either function. You don't have that always there space above the blackboard or on a bulletin board. I really don't know how the XO can solve that problem, even though it already allows for a limited degree of sharing. Granted, that can be handled via a classroom printer that hangs off of the server. But that's what most of our "wasteful" western classrooms use anyway.

Paper may also be useful for community outreach (assuming a reasonably literate population). A child is not going to let go of their computer and let it be passed around the community. It embodies too much of what they do. It is also too expensive to replace. Paper, on the other hand, is relatively cheap and can embody one function. It is possible to do community outreach because of that: people can look and they can then pass it on without a personal loss. Granted that can be taken care of with a server on a printer, but that may bring up political problems. The press has always been an important medium for the freedom of speech.

Just to close off: in order to say that a non-printing system is a feature, you better be able to back it up with solid, rather than feel good, evidence. You should also work to ensure that the computer can truly replace paper in its multitude of uses.

Serendipitously enough, the XS/Server list is discussing printing support for the server:

Server-centered printing, particularly for the normal use-cases of a laptop in an educational context, makes the most since and keeps the hassle off the XO itself (I myself despise printing, but I'm just curmudgeonly like that).

Of interest, they debate many of the same points as discussed here, even with a much better ROI for server-centric printing (where you can assign quotas and manage resources much better)

So the fact that paper-consumption is environmentally bad, and thus that it would Be A Good Thing if we all used less paper, TRUMPS the fact that every PC user we know of wants to print stuff, does so regularly, and finds it an indispensable feature?

Do you really need to insist on yet another user-behavior change that's essential for successful deployment of OLPC?

C'mon, it's a bug. It's one that might be "won't fix", because of the work required by the project. (Although lowest-common-denominator printing modes would go a long way.) But it's a bug.

DanS: "Do you really need to insist on yet another user-behavior change that's essential for successful deployment of OLPC?"

You seem to be operating under the delusion that olpc is designed for students who already have computers and printers. Actually, it is designed for students who don't have either.

One thing I do very little of is printing.
I hate paper.
I hate paperwork.
The bane of my existence is trying to find those 'permanent records' I printed long ago. Mechanical filing systems are great if you have that mentality. Most people tend to stack paper vertically once its been printed on, never to see light of day again.

With a screen of the quality of the XO why would anyone want to print?
With a filing system that makes sense inside an XO finding documents you want to review has never been easier.

We are now in the age of electronic documentation. With PDF files and email and web interfaces who needs paper? My bills arrive in emails. I pay bills online. I never see my Bank Manager but the bank still insists on sending me statements in the mail. I even submit my tax information online.

And that is all in my First World life.

Would people in the Third World even see paper?

> Would people in the Third World even see paper?

Of course they will see paper.

The XO attempts to solve some of the problems with computers, but it has not succeeded in all respects. One of the existing limitations is cost. The XO may attempt to drive down cost, but at $200 per unit it still costs about 4000 times more than a single printed page from a conventional laser printer (of course, there are cheaper ways to print). A single printed page may be passed from family to family, in a sense being reused many times over much like a library book may be used many times over. You probably aren't going to do the same with a $200 computer.

Another problem that the XO tries to solve is the process of sharing information via wireless mesh networks. There are two problems though. Mesh networks are isolated in space and time. You cannot use a mesh to send a document between places that are a few kilometers apart in any reliable manner. At least, not yet. Not in a world that lacks the necessary infrastructure. Mesh networking does not work at HF radio frequencies, which means that it is limited by line of sight. It may be able to hop from node to node (something that I haven't seen in practice incidentally), but that implies that there are intermediate nodes to convey that data on a consistent basis. I mentioned time is a problem too. If a node that hosts the data is not available, the data is gone. Heck, this is something that even affects us in the "first world". The longevity of a web page is typically measured in months (for various reasons). Much of the print media remains accessible for decades, and we have printed documents that have survived for centuries.

Print has it's inconveniences, yes. But it also has its benefits. Just like the computer has its benefits. Until we are able to bring all of the benefits of print to the computer though, we will live in a world where both media must co-exist.

the main problem with using the xo for reading is that it is difficult to impossible to add comments to a document. and since in ebook mode, the pen-tablet is hidden, this feature cant be added in software.

its also a bit slow when browsing documents, but what can you do, pdf is complex..

The author is absolutely, sadly clueless.

People NEED to print for a multitude of reasons. It doesn't take a genius to realize it.

The argument of "to print or not to print" isn't uniquely related to the XO - it's an issue for any computer user, and does have environmental impact. A discussion of the merits of printed documents vs computerized information management in an either-or manner is silly, especially absurd cost comparisons of 1 page vs 1 computer. The author's position that taking a side in the "to print or not print" dilemma during XO development on the side of "not to print" is a feature is technically correct but misleading: it's an aspect (a "feature") but not an asset (a "feature" as an ability which provides choice rather than an inability). The author states a political perspective, not technical. But since it carries with it economic impact regarding system development and maintenance, it reflects a consequence of cost-cutting efforts. Printing isn't deemed important enough to most end-users to warrant the investment. Frankly, that seems most likely true for the majority of the targeted users.

Personally, I agree that printing should be kept to a minimum (from any system), but only users can make that determination. I avoid it whenever reasonable. My PC can display and store quite a few pages... Back to those silly positions: For those without any computer, clearly paper would be more practical, because you won't be doing much printing either. :)

One of the virtues of publishing in OLPC News is that I get a chance to see my ideas restated in words that are clearer than my own. Thus Bob's comment, thank you. Yes, my article posits an _ideological_ perspective (wouldn't call it "political") that assumes the fact of limited resources and the need to care for them, and thus, that technology and education should mold themselves to that perspective, moreover, that there are economic constraints to what we can achieve in the here and now.

Yes, in an Ideal World (tm), kids would get Quality Education at no cost, the IT tools available for them through XOs or wetware would be not just Intelligent but Wise, they would have lending libraries available within walking or bike distance, with no drug dealers on the way. And they could print to their hearts content without secondary effects on their pocketbooks or global warming.

We all know it just ain't so.

The question is, should we delude ourselves that we can get away with "Pretend Normal" (rich country style) and teach it to those who cannot afford it, or should we who actually have choices be consistent in our understanding that we need to teach a different way to solve our problems, a way different from taking what little others have, to feed our own artificial "needs". And to teach it we need to learn it, live it, even if we could afford to do things otherwise.

As Bob mentioned, some people just don't have the choice. We who do, let's be wise about how we do things, especially if we are doing our best to get kids who don't have them to get the right to more choices than making mud bricks or pastoring the family cow.

Right now you can print off an XO, just transfer over the file to another computer. Yes, there are_ good reasons to print. None of them _requires_ that the XO themselves be enabled for printing. I am not against printing.

Anyway, eventually the XOs are likely to have printer support, just as they will have "improvements" of all kinds (like MS Windows), and that is not evil in itself, it does open choices, and having choices is valid to a certain extent. Maybe HP or such will pay for that feature? They are the ones who stand to gain, more than the kids or the world. The only point remaining is our own choices: we are here to help people learn, by themselves, to choose wisely.

The main role of an educator is to present opportunities for learning that build. Setting up alternatives that do not, just for the sake of providing diversity and freedom of choice, does not strike me as very responsible.

To not depend on print _when_ there are better alternatives economically and environmentally is wise (sometimes there aren't). Thus, by default, an XO without printer support leads to saner behavior, longterm, there, and also here.

I am going to pose this question again: is there any evidence that printing is more environmentally harmful than having everything in electronic form? Many people claim that printing is more environmentally harmful, without presenting any credible evidence. I'm sorry, but feel good arguments don't work here. And they don't work for a good reason. Almost everyone is separated from the means of production and the product. Just because we cannot see the environmental impact of the means of production does not mean that the harm does not exist. The same can be said for power generation. (Even something "clean" like wind or water or solar still requires equipment to be manufactured and usually requires batteries to account for peak consumption and times of low production.)

And yes, while I agree that 1 piece of paper vs. 1 XO is a silly comparison, the comparison of 4000 pages vs 1 XO is not so silly. 4000 pages is somewhere between 3 and 10 decent sized textbooks. Multiply that by 30 children, and you have a decent sized libraries.

If we are making an error towards our rich and wasteful tendencies, it is by thrusting our personal computers upon them. After all, these are owned resources. They are not community resources. Our sense of ownership is what causes a lot of the waste in our societies. Shared resources, like libraries and parks and public transit are meant to reduce our resource consumption.

Discussion on printer support?

Same arguments from same readers. These laptops will go to children that had a shortage of paper to write on. Now they need to get paper to print on.

There are those who see Printer Support the be-all-end-all of computer use (and, flash and mp3 support, obviously).

However, ever thought about how to get paper and toner/ink working in regions with 35 Celsius/90% humidity? And speculated about how local bug-life will treat the internal spaces in appliances?

I suspect most printers will end up as ant-colonies.


It's simple common sense, boys:

The option to print should exist. Users can decide what to do with it: print, don't print; print a lot or print a little...

Yes, it is a glaring omission.

"The option to print should exist."

Options cost money and resources. Should these be diverted from other pressing needs?

Especially as those clamoring most for printing don't want to be found dead with an XO.


I have some news for you: the XO isn't just going to the destitute or G1G1 donors. It is not us vs. them. There are pilot projects all over the world, some of which are in countries that can "afford" paper. (For what it's worth, the argument for choosing the XO above books wasn't based upon the cost of books. Among other things, it was based upon the cost of replacing stolen books.)

It is also worth considering that getting the XO to print is trivial. I've done it with the default Sugar installation: just plug in a PostScript printer and dump the results to /dev/usblp0. The problem lies with getting Sugar activities to print to an arbitrary printer. Part of that problem is already solved, since it is possible to use something like CUPS. The other part of the problem may be harder to solve, because activities weren't designed with printing in mind. In a lot of cases (e.g. Measure) that's okay. In other cases though, printing would be more useful (e.g. Write).

Now let's pretend for a moment that the XO is only going to the destitute. The question becomes, should Sugar and select Sugar activities be able to print. The answer is an unequivocal YES. Sugar was designed for the XO, but for it to be a viable platform it will have to extend beyond the XO. That means running on everything from machines used in our countries to machines used in the developing world. By a viable platform, I mean something that people will continue to develop educational activities for. Because if people don't continue to develop those activities, the XO will be abandoned and all of you folk who want to spread Linux to the masses would have lost your dream.

"The question becomes, should Sugar and select Sugar activities be able to print. The answer is an unequivocal YES. Sugar was designed for the XO, but for it to be a viable platform it will have to extend beyond the XO."

Yes and no.

You argued the 'yes' well. The 'no' is about who will have to "pay" for it.

Those working for the OLPC have to spend their time and resources according to the priorities of their customers. Maybe those who are working for Sugar labs have different priorities?

Someone has to spend their time and money on implementing seamless printing. In general, those who want it, should also pay for it. Either in money or time.


More nanny-state clap trap that makes me ever so proud to vote Republican.