Why I Favour Windows XO Laptops

   
   
   
   
   

I am in favour of XO latops shipping with Windows XP, primarily because there is a multitude of educational software already available for Windows. This software fits a number of education philosophies, may you be a fan of rote learning, constructionism, or something else. The software also fits different age levels, because a 10 year old sees the world in a different way from a 15 year old.

olpc windows xo
An open leaning platform?

The sheer diversity also means that there is software to fit different personalities, because a kid who loves reading is going to be motivated by different thing than the kid who loves math. Yes, most of it is closed source. On the other hand, some of it is open source.

So a kid or a ministry who wants the opportunity to tweak can tweak. Since most open source software can be ported to Windows, they will have the same opportunity to modify software under Windows as they can have under Linux (except at the system level).

But this "93% of the world uses Windows" argument for XP strikes me as hollow. It strikes me as hollow for a number of reasons. The main reason is that I believe that teaching is about giving kids skills, and that schooling kids software packages actually de-skills them. Teaching them how to enter a formula in Excel is vastly different from teaching them how to use a spreadsheet to analyze business or scientific data.

The second reason why I distrust teaching kids software packages is because computers change rapidly. When I was 15, WordPerfect, not Word, dominated the world of word processing. Particularly in business environment. The typical copy of WordPerfect was running under MS-DOS, and required a completely different skill-set from using a Windows 3.1 application (never mind the Windows Vista based applications of today). On the other hand, teaching them about laying out documents is a skill that would carry over until today.

And the third reason is that I believe that education with computers has a lot more potential than teaching computer skills. An activity like Measure is a great tool for learning about sound (waves and wavelength and frequency and intensity/energy). I mean, just imagine being able to see a real sound.

TurtleArt is a much deeper program that is about geometry on the surface, but extends into logic and arithmetic and many other things. I have seen software that is developed for literacy, in case you believe that there is more to the world than math and science. (Which is a very legitimate belief.)

Jordan originally wrote this article for the OLPC News Forum.

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23 Comments

One problem with this plan is that Intel's new, low-power consumption Atom chip, with its chip set, is going to cost $60-65.

http://www.windowsfordevices.com/news/NS2861900607.html

That means if the XO-2 is going to meet its cost goals, then it is going to have to use ARM. And XP doesn't run on ARM.

"But this "93% of the world uses Windows" argument for XP strikes me as hollow. It strikes me as hollow for a number of reasons. The main reason is that I believe that teaching is about giving kids skills, and that schooling kids software packages actually de-skills them. Teaching them how to enter a formula in Excel is vastly different from teaching them how to use a spreadsheet to analyze business or scientific data."

Why is this reason hollow? As much as my preference of OS is OSX and I always recommend Mac before PC, if I were a minister of a country and look into such program, there is no way I would go for none Window running machine for so called "educational" gov't paid programs considering what is used in the work force mostly (and gov't as well).

@James C.:
"Why is this reason hollow? As much as my preference of OS is OSX and I always recommend Mac before PC, if I were a minister of a country and look into such program, there is no way I would go for none Window running machine for so called "educational" gov't paid programs considering what is used in the work force mostly (and gov't as well)."

Ah, yes. That was the mind state that got all those children to learn MS DOS instead of that niche player Apple's toy OS for Mac. And the same for Windows 3.11, 95, XP, and Vista.

Anyhow, I subscribe to the argument that primary school should teach knowledge, not a profession. And XP (Windows) knowledge is less durable than a banana on a window sill.

But my objections to XP on a child's laptop initiative are more fundamental. I strongly object to learning materials that are neither safe to use nor stable in a child's (adult's) hands. And XP is unsafe for children and highly unstable.

And not only for children. Many adults and high school children I know make their XP computers unusable in a year by getting infected by malware. They also are very liable to all kinds of expensive data losses and privacy intrusions (including banking details).

In the grand picture of things, XP cannot be secured on a child's computer.

Winter

Proprietary software by its very nature prohibits learning.

And """The most fundamental mission of schools is to teach people to be good citizens and good neighbors—to cooperate with others who need their help. In the area of computers, this means teaching them to share software.""" ~ Richard Stallman in http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/schools.html

And many other reasons.

Software Freedom is about ethics more than it is about anything else, this is the most important thing.

"Proprietary software by its very nature prohibits learning."

That's totally absurd. If a child is learning about the Revolutionary War with a tutorial program, for example, the fact that he or she cannot look at the source code of that program in no way inhibits them from learning about the intended subject. I would even propose that looking at the source code might actually distract them from learning about the Revolutionary War.

"The most fundamental mission of schools is to teach people to be good citizens and good neighbors"

That's funny, my school spent most of its time teaching me math, science, English, history, how to play sports, etc. There was no good citizens and good neighbors class. I did get sent to the principal's office sometimes--does that count?

The problem with Windows XP is twofold:

1. 256MB is not nearly enough RAM to run it anymore due to bloat.

2. If you had enough RAM, you won't have enough processing power to run any antivirus program. Every disk access has to be checked for a virus when using Windows. This is a serious issue when deploying any version of Windows.

Politics aside, it is impractical.

Please, do some research before posting. 256 MB RAM is definitely enough to run WinXP FLUENTLY, especially when taking out the bloating parts.

Wow, more confusion. 256MB *is* enough to run XP, if you strip it down. There are any number of web pages that will show you how to do this.

I agree, avoiding / removing bloatware is key, but it's possible.

And running an AV program for every disk access sounds more like paranoia than a fact. No, you don't have to run an AV program for every disk access with XP. Yes, XP is more prone to virusy crapola, but no, you don't have to over-process it with an AV program just to run it, do you?

I agree. I have 2 desktops with 256 that have been running XP for years. Boot time is 45 seconds which isn't that bad, commit charge after boot is 116MB leaving room for applications to run. Occasionally I boot them up with with BartPE based UBCD4Win, and run applications with no swap space, no problem.

What runs well on these machines:
Basic web surfing
PDF Xchange Viewer
MS Office (2003 and 2007)
Avira
Media player.
Live messenger (with voice chat)
DVD re-encoding
Paint shop pro 8
AutoCAD
Even light solid edge.


What does not run well on these machines:
Open Office
Flash
Java
Firefox after an hour
Adobe reader 7/8/9.
Norton / McAfee
Photoshop CS3

Look at that list. The cause of the problems is not "Microsoft bloat", it's third party bloat. Particularly those AV programs can sap performance and people blame it on Microsoft. Guess what? People write crappy programs for linux. Speaking of AV performance, I agree that excessive AV is paranoia. Run simple precautions (including not running as admin), and scan incoming files (email, downloaded off the net, removable devices) but there's no need to have the AV scanning every file.

Linux doesn't magically make the problem go away. Aside from extreme distros like DSL, most standard desktop distros have RAM consumption in line with WindowsXP. Running Crunchbang on my Eee, which is supposed to be leaner than a standard Ubuntu uses 129MB RAM after boot.

And applications like Flash and Open office are still performance hogs on Linux. Let alone building an entire desktop environment around an interpreted language...

Open office is so bad it uses over 6 times the RAM of MS Office, and takes 10x as long to start, yet somehow people claim it's a leaner alternative.

Note: That's just my opinion on the technical aspects of running WindowsXP on low end hardware. Politically I'm a fan of whatever provides the better learning environment. And I'm not sure if either Sugar nor XP accomplish this.

256MB may be enough for a desktop with an HDD to run XP, but not a little laptop.

You cannot bang on the flash with virtual memory. It is too slow.

Turn off the swap on your 256MB XP machines, install a modern antivirus program, patch it to be up to date, and see where you get.

And I am just describing how antivirus software works. They check every file upon open.

Sure, you don't need antivirus software or anti spyware software. Just use the bug free IE from Microsoft and you'll be fine! (Please type in your bank account info too - it secure, trust me)

Some antivirus programs can be very resource intensive. Whose fault is that? Microsoft didn't write them, the AV developer did.

If you notice I said "Run simple precautions (including not running as admin), and scan incoming files" You seemed to interpret this as "Run no protection and install spyware". Windows PCs can be made secure. It's a combination of lazy administrators and idiot users that cause the current problem. Scan files on the way in (downloads, email, removable drives), sheduale an occasional on-demand scan if you want. Viruses don't spontaneously appear.

As far as Windows capability, look at the linked image.
http://i42.tinypic.com/vy03us.jpg

Windows XP is running on 256MB RAM without a swap file, and running is:
A Mssstyle theme
PDF viewer with a 3.5MB PDF
Excel 2007 with a 1.1MB spreadsheet
Word 2007 with a 6 page document
Paintshop pro
Internet explorer

Yes it's full up to the gunnels, but it's still running. Avira is availible for on-demand scanning.

Does anyone have any ACTUAL RAM consumption values for Sugar?

Note: Task manager is weird reporting memory. "PF Usage" and "Page File Usage History" refer to the total amount of occupied memory space(RAM+Swap), not just swap file. "Commit charge Limit" is the total availible RAM+swap, which in this case is a bit less than 256M (shared video)

For anyone interested in experiancing Windows with less memory, you can use the /burnmem flag in boot.ini, which tells it how much memory to not use. So if you had 1024MB RAM, and you wanted Windows to only use 256, set burnmem to 768. If you don't know what you're doing, don't try.

Also, I might add, I cannot open a document in Open office in this configuration (256MB RAM, no swap). Even with nothing else open, by the time Open office writer opens, and brings up the open file dialog, the system is out of memory and OO.o closes (however the system doesn't hang)

It works for me just fine on XO running Ubuntu.

Your OS sucks.

It works for me just fine on XO running Ubuntu.

Your OS sucks.

Wow, just wow. The application performs poorly therefore it must be the operating system? Even with applications of comparable feature sets perform better?

What a terrible argument.

Open office takes upwards of 100MB of RAM and can take over 10 seconds to load. Microsoft Office and Softmaker office take about 10MB of RAM and 2 seconds to load. Given that Softmaker office is a third party application, you can't give me the commonly cited excuse "That's because Microsoft is hiding the resource cost of Office in the operating system".

I know when I ran Xandros on my Eee Open office also performed like crap. And I've yet to see it run stable on OS X at all.

A reason you may have better performance is that many distributions, including Ubuntu, don't use Sun's release of Open office, but instead the Novell based fork, Go-OO, which includes many performance improvements that upstream doesn't want to accept for some reason:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go-oo

Open Office is such a forking mess.

You said: "Wow, just wow. The application performs poorly therefore it must be the operating system? Even with applications of comparable feature sets perform better?"

THE SAME application runs better.

Some applications' performance only depends on hardware. Some applications' performance depends on OS efficiency and the amount of resources used by OS. Some applications are designed to take advantage of the features that are only present in some but not other systems.

Shitty OS vendors (such as Microsoft) love tests made with benchmarks and applications that only depend on hardware performance because they don't show how poorly their system does its job. However in many real-life situations, especially when constrained resources are involved, Windows' substandard VM, scheduler and filesystem, lack of proper interprocess communications, "snappiness-based" GUI resources and events handling, etc. cause massive slowdown when compared to Linux or other properly designed systems. This is especially noticeable when applications are capable of using the advantages Linux provides (that is, an application is not a port from Windows).


You said: "Open office takes upwards of 100MB of RAM and can take over 10 seconds to load. Microsoft Office and Softmaker office take about 10MB of RAM and 2 seconds to load. Given that Softmaker office is a third party application, you can't give me the commonly cited excuse "That's because Microsoft is hiding the resource cost of Office in the operating system".

Hey, moron. Count the amount of RAM "used" by all applications that run on a Linux box (that is, if you have a Linux box). Add them together, add the amount of memory currently "free" and used in "buffers". You will get few times your RAM size.

Not only Microsoft indeed preloads components of Office, the "100M" you see in Linux also includes components that Microsoft wouldn't count as belonging to the application -- they are shared between all processes linked to the same libraries. And as opposed to Microsoft, Linux distribution maintainers make sure that all applications use the same libraries whenever possible.

Just face it. Openoffice is one of the most horrible open source software ever. The performance of Openoffice is simply terrible and has never improved much. I don't understand why OpenOffice needs to take much longer time than the already bloated Office 2007 to open a same document! The only reason some people are supporting it is simply because it is open source.

No wonder why Firefox can eat up a huge chunk of IE's market share while OpenOffice still can't make a dent on M$ Office's market share.

@John:
"Windows PCs can be made secure."

I would like to see proof of that. I have never been able to succeed here. Every study shows that even fully patched Windows PCs have been vulnerable for more than 6 months of every year.

@John:
"It's a combination of lazy administrators and idiot users that cause the current problem. Scan files on the way in (downloads, email, removable drives), sheduale an occasional on-demand scan if you want."

How do you see Children in this context?

Are they too lazy or just all idiots?

And these are really a large burden on the computing resources.

@John:
"Viruses don't spontaneously appear."

For this discussion they actually do. Just like the flue.

Winter

Some links for Internet Explorer vulnerabillities (which will be shipped with XP)

Internet Explorer was vulnerable to threats 284 days in 2006
http://www.downloadsquad.com/2007/01/04/internet-explorer-was-vulnerable-to-threats-284-days-in-2006/

Internet Explorer Vulnerabilities in 2006
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/technology/daily/graphics/index20070104.html

Winter

I might be wrong on this. Isn't the flash used by OLPC a type of SSD, which is supposed to be faster than traditional HDD? I think XO's slow performance is due to the CPU rather than the flash drive.

Not only XO flash is slow, it also does not implement wear-leveling, so it requires software wear-leveling on filesystem or device driver level. OLPC uses jffs2, a filesystem specifically developed for those devices. Windows doesn't have reliable support any filesystem other than FAT and NTFS.

Enjoy your bricked laptops in a few months if you install Windows on their internal flash.

Microsoft does not need to be involved with this. Linux is the right choice for the use of these laptops. Free, stable, and low-spec requirements.

I like Windows, I use it all the time; but for this laptop's purpose and for its own well-being, Linux is appropriate for the job.

The OLPC wiki STILL says that one of the basic tennets of the ENTIRE project is the use of open source software.

Moving to an out-of-date, non-supported closed operating system is folly at its worst. If the goal is to really change the world, keep using an operating system that IS changing the world.

Kids don't care about the OS. The looks on their faces when they get an XO tells the bottom line story.

If you want to make a real change, work with various educational ministries to include the full slate of that country's pedagogic materials as part of the local distribution of laptops - pre-loaded.

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    I bought 2 "Tablets OLPC." I had to return because the two did not work. O …

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  • Dear sir
    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

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  • Dear sir
    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

    Comment on The XO Tablet - A First Impression in 750 Words

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    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

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  • Bonjour Mokifisi!
    Je suis bien d'accord avec vous. Je travaille depuis 4 ans dans un petit …

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  • You just follow the same route upstream how you got the 2XO Tablets? How did you get them? Bring …

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  • Ŕ quelle adresse envoyer mes deux XOTablet qui ne fonctionnent pas?

    At what address to s …

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  • That's called "Death on arrivals". They happen. That's why there's always some additio …

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  • Voici mon message en français...

    Bonjour,
    Je viens d'acheter 2 tablettes XO. Les d …

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  • I just bought 2 shelves XO. Both tablets are not working. One does not start and the other touch …

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