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Operating system for OLPC still up in the air

OLPC chairman and evangelist Nicholas Negroponte told reporters earlier this week that OLPC test units were at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond getting a Windows treatment. Negroponte made it clear that it is very possible that OLPCs will ship with a version of Windows as well as the current Linux build. Microsoft is currently developing a low cost. entry level version of Windows XP for installation onto the OLPC units.

Unfortunately, system requirements for Windows XP are steeper than what the OLPC is capable of. Current OLPC XO machines only ship with 512MB of flash memory, enough for a nicely developed version of Linux but not quite enough for Windows. In fact, Microsoft says that the OLPC will require roughly 1.5GB of memory to run Windows properly. Interestingly, Negroponte noted that the XO has an integrated SD memory card slot for memory expansion, something that he says was Microsoft's idea. "We put in an SD slot in the machine just for Bill [Gates]. We didn't need it but the OLPC machines are at Microsoft right now, getting Windows put on them," said Negroponte.

The OLPC group has not made it clear whether or not final XO machines will be shipping with Linux or with Windows. While Microsoft is hard at work putting together a stripped-down version of Windows XP for the XO, the customized RedHat operating system for the XO is already nicely complete. DailyTech previously reported on the graphical user interface of the XO. Simplified and easy to use, it is very likely that Microsoft will have some sort of similar front end for the XO.

XO machines are currently being sampled out to several interested nations. The machines have yet to go into full mass production, but previous reports suggest the time is close. Actual pricing for the XO units are expected to be around $140, which Negroponte hopes will drop down to the original $100 mark once production increases.

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Defeating the purpose?
By Saist on 12/5/2006 4:31:48 PM , Rating: 1
Now, as I remember the original specification for the OLPC program, Windows and Apple OS were rejected outright due to the intent of the units. The designer(s) wanted students using the device to be able to learn about the Operating System itself and how it worked with the computer, rather than just learning how to use the operating system as a desktop machine.

Unless Microsoft is willing to open up their source code, this removes one of the primary "selling" points that made the OLPC different than say, handing every kid in India a Cell Phone.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By therealnickdanger on 12/5/2006 4:44:18 PM , Rating: 2
I think it's good for two reasons:

1. It familiarizes people with Microsoft software - which is the one of the most recognized brands around. It is most often very useful in job hunting.

2. It strengthens the Microsoft brand and raises a whole new market of future customers, which is good for business, which is good for the economy.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By kibets on 12/5/2006 5:01:57 PM , Rating: 2
I totally agree, I have earned a very nice living developing Microsoft Web Applications for various companies.

A quick search on reveals thousands more job openings for Microsoft programmers. Best learn what is in demand.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By TomZ on 12/5/2006 9:05:16 PM , Rating: 1
I completely agree also. After all, if you have any ambition towards a career in any sector of business, having knowledge of Windows and commercial apps is 100x as important than having experience with open-source equivalents. Obviously there are exceptions, but for the most part, Windows is what is used in businesses throughout the world.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By msva124 on 12/5/2006 4:54:32 PM , Rating: 3
It seems like a good idea but they need to test it out first. You can't just give laptops to a bunch of kids with the expectation that everything will go right, the world will be a better place, etc.

Do a pilot program with a few schools in different countries. Observe what happens. Do the kids learn about Linux as planned? Do they just get fed up with the user unfriendliness and stop using the laptops altogether? Are there any unforeseen consequences?

I just get the feeling that this thing was not planned very well. Give them the laptops first, then ask questions later. It should have been the other way around.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By DallasTexas on 12/5/2006 4:58:48 PM , Rating: 2

Learning about Operating Systems was the intent of these units? A "selling point" was because it was not Windows?

I never heard that one. It recall it was about providing a learding tool and access to information cheaply and broadly. Never seen any mention on the above.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By Bonrock on 12/5/2006 5:02:03 PM , Rating: 2
The OLPC is targeted at people who are too poor to afford a normal computer, and may live in areas so remote that they've never even seen a computer before. Such a person does not have the expertise necessary to start dissecting an operating system's source code. OSes are incredibly complex. In fact, even a lot of computer science professionals in the U.S. wouldn't be able to make heads nor tails of the Linux OS code.

As a result, I think debating open-source vs. closed-source for the OLPC project is irrelevant.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By stmok on 12/5/06, Rating: -1
RE: Defeating the purpose?
By JCheng on 12/5/2006 6:40:37 PM , Rating: 5
From an interview with Negroponte about a year ago:

WN: Why the emphasis on open source? Why not use a donated version of Windows or OS X?

Negroponte: Because you want the kids to develop software.... It's hard to propose a $100 laptop for a world community of kids and then not say in the same breath that you're going to depend on the community to make software for it.

So the open source and the $100 laptop are sort of flip sides of the same coin, and you want the kids to contribute to it....

WN: So you're shipping this with development tools installed?

Negroponte: Yes. Absolutely.

WN: We're talking about C compilers and Make and the whole programming environment?

Negroponte: Yup.


WN: Do you have any thoughts on what the long-term impact of giving all these kids a programming environment and an open-source ethic might be?

Negroponte: Those are two different questions. Giving the kids a programming environment of any sort, whether it's a tool like Squeak or Scratch or Logo to write programs in a childish way -- and I mean that in the most generous sense of the word, that is, playing with and building things -- is one of the best ways to learn. Particularly to learn about thinking and algorithms and problem solving and so forth.

And providing the tools for some people -- it's going to be a very limited subset (who will use them) -- to develop software that will be redistributed and versioned and so forth out into the world is also important. It's part of the whole open-source movement.

WN: You're going to be unleashing a whole new generation of open-source programmers, who otherwise would never, possibly, have gotten their hands on a computer.

Negroponte: I hope so. I hope we unleash half a billion of them.,69615-1.htm...

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By TomZ on 12/5/2006 9:03:02 PM , Rating: 2
Well obviously OLPC plans to support open-source, but they have also been very clear about not wanting to close the door on a commercial OS, e.g., Windows. I don't think this news article is saying anything more than the possibility for Windows still exists. And really, it would probably be up to the customer (purchasing country) to decide what OS it gets. Microsoft is obviously working to help ensure that some form of Windows can be considered.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By mindless1 on 12/6/2006 4:12:54 AM , Rating: 1
... and it's just a BAD IDEA. MS has shown pretty clearly that they insist on installing and running nonessential things, which will usurp performance and memory/storage, and having the bloated OS installed that barely fits, the machine running more code will be in a lesser power management state, needing and using more power which is a big issue.

Maybe MS can do what was seemingly impossible up till now, recognizing these as an appliance but it seems quite unlikely given MS' urging for more memory via SD slot and the statement "Microsoft says that the OLPC will require roughly 1.5GB of memory to run Windows properly".

So essentially MS wants others to foot the bill to run their bloated OS, so they can push their product into developing countries. Maybe they should just take a few billion and provide some systems themselves instead of trying to weasel their way in.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By TomZ on 12/6/2006 10:06:34 AM , Rating: 3
Not sure what you mean by that. Microsoft ships OSs that match the resources available on the target system, with an eye towards the future.

1. Windows CE - this is their OS that targets low-resource, fixed systems - resource usage there is entirely managed by the system integrator that chooses precisely what individual OS components to be part of the image.

2. Windows XP Embedded - same as Windows CE, but based on the XP kernel. Again, totally modular, so that system designer can add/remove whatever features they want. Again, the system designer controls the required resources.

3. Windows XP / Vista - These OSs do take more resources, but they also run more capable machines. Vista is best on 1GB of RAM, and today, most machines sold are 512MB, 1GB, or 2GB. So if you consider that the "prime window" for Vista is starting some time next year and lasting for 2-4 years, I think the resource requirements are no problem.

I should point out that the 1.5GB figure is probably flash, not RAM, and when you consider the lack of a HDD in the system, would 1.5GB be unreasonable? The base OLPC already has 1GB flash available to support the Linux configuration.

Finally, I don't see where Microsoft has asked anybody to "foot the bill" for anything. Where do you get that from?

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By Saist on 12/6/2006 9:50:20 AM , Rating: 2

Oh stmok, nothing to say to what JCheng posted? Say, an apology?

Seems to me that you where the one talking bullshit. Try again, maybe next time you'll actually say something meaningful.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By smitty3268 on 12/5/2006 5:37:10 PM , Rating: 3
Windows was initially rejected because it couldn't be guaranteed to be free - MS said they would give it away, but no one could guarantee that would last forever. When the entire computer is only supposed to cost $100, the price of software can be a major part of that.

The point of OLPC was never to help people learn about OS's, they are for little kids who will be able to google stuff and look at Wikipedia, not for Computer Science majors.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By JCheng on 12/5/2006 6:49:54 PM , Rating: 2

Also, many of the OLPC's will not be able to connect to the broader Internet, only to other OLPC's in the same village through a mesh network. Everything I've read about this project indicates that the people behind it fully expect at least some subset of children to learn how to develop their own apps as well as tinker with the operating system.

RE: Defeating the purpose?
By pugster on 12/6/2006 5:17:54 PM , Rating: 2
It is possible. I have an Citrix dumb terminal which runs windows NT which fits in a 48mb flash. They could probably make a stripped down version of windows xp on a 512mb flash. They could've probably make people connect these laptops to Microsoft servers where they can make most the bulk of their money.

By The Boston Dangler on 12/5/2006 7:56:06 PM , Rating: 2
"Microsoft is currently developing a low cost. entry level version of Windows XP for installation onto the OLPC units."

Considering XP was released 5 years ago:
1.How could the cost possibly get lower for MS?
2.How much development is actually needed?
3.Is "development" a euphamism for "stripping out tons of bloat"?

RE: ???
By Ecmaster76 on 12/5/2006 8:38:49 PM , Rating: 2
Well I have run Windows 2000 on a 512 MB flash disk (with some room for other stuff) after following some simple directions on the web.

So the anwers for 2 and 3 are 'very very very little' and 'definitely yes' respctively.

RE: ???
By TomZ on 12/5/2006 9:00:09 PM , Rating: 2
1. MS could decide to give away Windows for free, or even pay OLPC for each copy of Windows they ship. There would be good business reasons for this, right?

2. I personally don't think much development is needed - mainly just some device drivers and integration work. The core OS is already complete in the form of Windows XP Embedded (modular version of WinXP) and/or Windows CE (also modular and requires less resources). Windows XP (desktop variant) makes little or no sense on a limited-resource, fixed-functionality computer like OLPC.

3. Since the OSs I mentioned above are fully modular, meaning that you can configure exactly what components you want from them, the job is simply a question of choosing the correct components - there is no coding needed beyond what may be needed to support custom hardware or application required by the OLPC.

please wiNdos3 byotches
By L1NUXownz1fUR1337 on 12/5/06, Rating: 0
RE: please wiNdos3 byotches
By Christopher1 on 12/6/2006 7:50:15 AM , Rating: 2
Windows isn't really that bloated when it comes down to it. Most of the 'bloating' that people keep on harping on is because of the drivers that Microsoft includes with their machines in order to make them more user-friendly.

If they DIDN'T have to include all those farking drivers back to the W95 days, it would be about the same size as a Linux installation, while still being more user friendly.

Microsoft needs to realize that they need to include a SEPARATE DISC for all those drivers, and only include GENERIC drivers that work with 99.9% of hardware on the Windows Installation disc.

RE: please wiNdos3 byotches
By TomZ on 12/6/2006 10:10:14 AM , Rating: 2
I disagree - since Windows installs ship on 4.7GB DVDs, I think it is very convenient that there are a large number of drivers there that can get loaded during the OS install. And remember, your system only loads the drivers it needs - it's not like all 20,000 (or whatever the number is now) drivers get copied to your HDD during the install.

I just loaded Vista on my 1-year old machine, and Vista had built-in drivers for everything, and the only one that I updated was to get the latest ATI driver for my video card. That saves time going to each vendor's web site, like I had to do with XP.

It is about choice
By montgom on 12/5/2006 7:03:16 PM , Rating: 3
It is a good thing, allows choice and competition. IF MS fails, then they have no one to blame but themselves. If they succeeed, then kudos to them.


By mforce2 on 12/5/2006 6:34:38 PM , Rating: 2
I think not only is MS going to give Windows away on these "laptops" but it is willing to make Mr. Negroponte see the light if you know what I mean. I don't know how much that will cost but just think what MS is getting in return. Millions of children getting used to its OS from a very young age and building brand awareness.
Now we certainly wouldn't want the kids to know Windows is not the thing and there are alternatives , would we ? And yes , keep being selfish and being content to make a few bucks developing Windows apps. I heard that anything you do for Linux you've got to do for free .... Windows is the only way to go.

XP Lite, anyone?
By ceefka on 12/6/2006 9:27:23 AM , Rating: 2
Whatever happened to XP lite? Come on MS, if a third party can lower the XP-memory footprint, why can't you?

By Spivonious on 12/6/2006 10:50:12 AM , Rating: 2
Microsoft Bob anyone?

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner
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