A Contrarian View of Windows XP on OLPC XO Laptop

   
   
   
   
   

There's a lot of discussion about whether OLPC is an education project, or a laptop project. Many folks here think that recent developments show that the balance is tipped to the latter rather than the former.

It's neither. It's a sales project. If people don't buy them, it doesn't matter how pure our hearts are.

The folks that are buying them, Ministries of Education, governments, charities all have their own agendas. They do not necessarily line up with the agendas of our real customers - children and educators, or our own. If we have to give them some of what they want, so that we can get some of what we want to the children, it's a fact of life.


Crying for Windows XO?

Selling constructionism is hard. The theory is attractive, but the data is not compelling. The buyers are probably not convinced going in that it's something they want or need. OLPC would probably have an easier time selling $100 Apple ][ clones with drill and practice software than the XO as it stands. If the buyers demand a machine that can run Windows, tell them that the XO can run Windows.

Look at the reaction of the general press to the announcement. It's overwhelmingly favorable. To outsiders this looks like the feature that can put the XO over.

So put XP on as a dual boot. It won't fit in the flash, so buyers for the foreseeable future will still get Linux, Sugar, and all the OLPC activities. The Windows guys are talking about a 2G SD card to put XP on for that $7 hardware point. That won't fly. I had an Win98 machine with specs similar to an XO. It had a 8Gb drive.

The buyer gets to tick Windows off his must have list. OLPC sells a machine with XP on a card, a crippled and storage limited XP that still doesn't run current first world productivity applications well. XOs get out, still loaded with Sugar. Children get them. OLPC gets revenue that can help its educational mission. What have we lost but some innocence?

That being said, I believe Bill Gates is a prime example of -- it's not enough for him to win, everyone else has to lose. So OLPC has to be careful.

Robert Myers has graciously allowed me to republish his original email sent to the Developer listserv.

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17 Comments

While I understand the spirit of this, my understanding is the XP OLPC laptops will NOT, repeat NOT be dual boot. They'll either be XP, or they'll be Linux. You can't switch.

That's probably the bit that bothers me the most.

I still believe OLPC could have continued the give on get on campaign, or developed a similar campaign that made the laptops commercially available (maybe by being able to give one free laptop for every 3 to 5 bought ones?).

By increasing the user base new solutions would undoubtedly be found, and someone would be able to figure how to get sugar back to those XOs with Windows.

What is contrarian about this post?

It just says that Windows XP on the XO is a good way to continue to get Sugar into the hands of kids.

I'll be a real contrarian: I think that Sugar is not only flawed in execution, it is conceptually flawed. It does not really support learning any better than Windows XP (or any other operating system).

The value of getting laptops into the hands of children (or poor communities in general) is to connect them to a global community of learning. For this, it is a significant positive benefit to have a computer that interoperates well (ie. uses similar data formats, works about the same way) as the other computers in the world on which 99% of the educational applications, encyclopedias, games, etc reside - and by that I mean Windows, Mac OS X and popular Linux distros.

Frankly, my experience of Sugar + Fedora on the OLPC has been frustrating and annoying. XFCE + Fedora is marginally less so, but still requires a lot of work. It looks like Win XP will just work, in which case I would switch over ASAP.

I would have liked the OLPC + Linux to have triumphed. Unfortunately, OLPC seems to have spent most development resources trying to reinvent something that didn't need to be reinvented, instead of building on existing Linux UIs to deliver something really solid. XFCE + Fedora (or Ubuntu) could have been rock-solid: the user community, without much real support, has managed to come up with a well-functioning configuration. Imagine how much better it could have been if OLPC had actively supported these efforts.

> Posted by: Gian Pablo Villamil on May 17, 2008
>
> I would have liked the OLPC + Linux to have triumphed. Unfortunately,
> OLPC seems to have spent most development resources trying to reinvent
> something that didn't need to be reinvented, instead of building on
> existing Linux UIs to deliver something really solid. XFCE + Fedora (or
> Ubuntu) could have been rock-solid

Sugar is not a reinvention of the wheel, it is just trying to bring learning (via computing) to the youngest, without the need of formal training (in IT) which is something that could _not_ be achieved with any mainstream (XP, MacOS, Ubuntu) or other OSes.

See OLPC Human Interface Guidelines/Design Fundamentals/Know Your Audience:
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Human_Interface_Guidelines/Design_Fundamentals/Know_Your_Audience

I absolutely agree with Gian Pablo.

My 9 year old daughter could handle my ubuntu laptop without any problems (for gaming of course but thats ok).I have seen even younger children figuring out Windows funtions with little help.

There is no need for Sugar at all. Collaborative learning applications can run on top of any desktop environment. OLPC should have concentrated on those and on deployment plans.

using windows xp to get sugar in the hands of children? well, sugar is the problem! at this point everything that stops sugar is good. windows is certainly not a good solution by itself but it's certainly way better than sugar.

i showed my XO to about ten teachers from preschool to highschool. all loved the hardware and all were horrified by sugar. it's counter intuitive, slow, incomplete and the underlying philosophie is bad. it make the XO a toy instead of a tool. it does not teach the children what's necessary.

my nephews (5 and 7) can find and organize files in a windows file system (well at least within a folder with one or two levels of subfolders and with some meaningful icons). but they have no idea what to do with sugar and the horrible journal.

toying around with tamtam took them 5 min and they were bored. less tamtam and more useful stuff would have helped.

at least the hardware is still superior. now the only hope left for the xo is windows and the available learning software for windows.

I'm conflicted about all this. I see Sugar having potential, but still needing lots of work. In contrast, the WinXP GUI is usable and widely understood, but is high maintenance in its own way.

But I've watched my 8 year old son use an WinXP, Mac OS X, Ubuntu, the OLPC, and the mini VMac on the OLPC. The results? It's a wash. He's comfortable in all environments and has no particular preference.

I think we've forgotten how flexible children are. It's us grownups who have become intellectually brittle.

> Posted by: Mike Yam on May 17, 2008
>
> I think we've forgotten how flexible children are. It's us grownups who have
> become intellectually brittle.

I guess you are correct there, but this simply moves the issue of choice back down one level: open source or proprietary?

I don't mind proprietary software per say but it generally lacks simplicity (there's no better way to write a document that a good old plain text editor).

Microsoft is creating bloat-ware and their interest is not in helping people (or fighting poverty) but in making money, any possible ways...

I absolutely agree with Gian Pablo Villamil. Sugar is not nice to work with, even in the new Joyride layout. Not to mention speed and stability. And all the talk about educational tools: Show them to me! What new activities for education are on the XO?

Having to comment on my own post. Ironic. I sent this to [email protected] a few hours after the post above. A couple of minor corrections in brackets.

Ok, Here's where it gets scary.

NN said in his release

"Open Firmware V2, the free and open source BIOS, is now capable of
running Linux, Microsoft Windows XP and other operating systems, and
was developed by Firmworks with support from OLPC. This will enable dual
boot of OLPC XO laptops with Microsoft Windows XP in addition to the
existing Fedora-based system and will become the standard
BIOS/bootloader for all XO systems when completed. With this
"free BIOS," the XO-1 continues to be the most open laptop hardware
currently available."

This comment is what I based my previous remarks on.

I just saw the Microsoft video of an XO running XP. In it the XO single boots from an 'insyde' BIOS. The MS guy says that XP doesn't fit on the flash, and is installed on an SD card. In this case, I'd guess the flash is [not being used]. I can see why techs at MS did this to get a working prototype rather than having to wait for (or worse yet, contribute to) the OF V2 [firmware].

Some sources seem to say that early pilots of the XP XO will go out in this configuration. I really hope not, other than waving a few around to show that it can be done.

An XO being able to run XP is a feature, and some may argue, a valuable one. An XO that only runs XP is just another small cheap computer, albeit "greener" than most.

can people that already have an xo get windows xp for it?

I see (and have) lots of opinions, but the truth is that no one really knows what is the best course of action. In such cases humans generally splinter into multiple competing groups, then evolution sorts it out. And the prime agents of selection in this game will be the people who pay the bills, who buy the machines, who pay for support, etc. Anyone who makes a decision to expend time or money.

Make stuff available (hardware and software) in a variety of flavours, thru a variety of distribution channels, then let the market decide. Something will ultimately succeed.

It used to be that sugar and the firmware were updated two or more times a month. Looking at the repositories from the wiki it seems all development has now stopped. Is there anyone working on the XO besides Microsoft?

Nothing new since March.

Looks like Update.1 == Windows XP to me.

It seems linux on XO will never get working power management. Promise == Broken?

"It used to be that sugar and the firmware were updated two or more times a month. Looking at the repositories from the wiki it seems all development has now stopped. Is there anyone working on the XO besides Microsoft?"

You jumped too quickly to the gun. See this message:
http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/devel/2008-May/014338.html

"My 9 year old daughter could handle my ubuntu laptop without any problems (for gaming of course but thats ok).I have seen even younger children figuring out Windows funtions with little help."

But games don't have Windows interface, they bypass the whole UI widget set and give the user fullscreen interface with icons at fixed positions, menus in large font, switching screens, predefined structure of toolbars... in other words pretty much the same design as Sugar, except specialized for a particular game (you can't, or at least not supposed to run multiple games in parallel, however you can run multiple activities).

"But games don't have Windows interface, they bypass the whole UI widget set and give the user fullscreen interface with icons at fixed positions, menus in large font, switching screens, predefined structure of toolbars... in other words pretty much the same design as Sugar"

Yeah, except that the demands of playing a game are very different from those of surfing the Internet, making a picture, and generally using a computer. I can understand the intention behind Sugar - it just generally fails at delivering anything remotely usable.

Really, just spend a few minutes watching a child of any age wrestle with the Paint program on Sugar, and watch them use Windows Paint. (And neither of these is as good as MacPaint circa 1985, but I digress...)

When I was 10 I encountered a Macintosh for the first time and loved it. I was comfortable very quickly using Finder to manage my files, and the "desktop metaphor" that is decried sometimes didn't seem at all unnatural. The only thing I didn't like about the Mac was its lack of games, so I mainly stuck with the Commodore 64 and its essentially command-prompt interface (it was easy: LOAD "GAMENAME", 8, 1; RUN)

I always wonder--having never used Sugar: what it is about Sugar that is supposed to be so much easier for kids? Can I get a link to a document extolling its virtues?

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