Print 26 comment(s) - last by Chase Tacos.. on Nov 28 at 10:02 AM

The XO Frame and Desktop

Very simplistic word processor

Web browser is Firefox
OLPC interface simple but lacks enthusiasm

More updates have been released on the OLPC XO machine which has yet to be fully deployed in any country but is still going forward. The XO machine itself is already commencing production in China, and the project is on its way to be test-deployed across several countries. Despite all the recent news about the XO however, the user interface remained at large, until now.

A video on YouTube revealed the Linux-based XO machine to have somewhat of a clean interface, although perhaps too clean. The interface is comprised of two main parts, the desktop and the "frame." The frame is the main interface mechanism for applications and system navigation, which appears around the edges of the screen. From the frame, an XO user can launch a word processor, messaging client, web browser and a host of other applications and games.

At first, navigating the system seemed to be quite user friendly, but some applications appeared to be toned down in terms of usability. The word processor for example, was very simplified and it did not appear like tables, charts, and other more advanced elements could be created. Basic text formatting and page formatting functions were available but other than that, the application seemed sparse. Despite the simplicity, the target audience for the XO may not ever require more features.

The web browser that the system uses is Firefox, and appeared to work quite fast. Most web browsing controls appeared in tact although it's unclear whether the system has much in terms of storage capacity for downloads. Other things included with the system include a number of typical games such as chess and a version of Minesweeper.

With initial first impressions, the user interface appeared simple and easy to use. Considering that the XO is targeted towards young school kids however, the interface appeared to be cold and lacked any sort of color coding. Almost everything is black and white, which makes the machine appear more like a simple terminal than an actual user friendly computer.

DailyTech previously reported that Thailand backed out of the OLPC project despite being one of the first countries that expressed interest. Representatives from Thailand mentioned to reporters that it was considering developing its own OLPC-like project. On a positive note, Brazil is now expressing interest in the XO, but the country has not yet released a confirmed order.

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Target still unclear.
By lemonadesoda on 11/24/2006 6:57:22 PM , Rating: 1
If this thing is being targeted at kids... then where are the games ?

It needs an email client, a messenger/chat system, and something to help with the schoolwork: ie. a PDF reader, dictionary, something for math, (and graph), and something to write. I hope it has all these things.

Or is this device supposed to help the schoolkids get tech savvy, in which case an IDE is required, php, mySQL, etc.

Do these countries have free broadband. Or are the parents going to lose their phone lines and run up huge bills on internet access?

I still haven't seen a truly credible raison d'etre for these things, other than political vested interests.

In a developed country this "thin" device is too crippled. In an underdeveloped country, the issues relating to power supply, internet, printing, etc. cripple the device.

I'll gladly accept contradictory arguments. I'm actually looking for them... and the reason for the post.

RE: Target still unclear.
By TheStudent on 11/24/2006 7:21:23 PM , Rating: 2
I believe the device in question is actually a sort of _personal computer_. This means that, (and this is purely theoretical, by all means), you may be able to, (and I really like this part) download the necessary software. Incidently, the only thing that IDE teaches you, is, how to connect IDE. I was doing it when I was around 10, and it hasn't helped me do anything else, I can tell you that.

Broadband is unecessary if there is any sort of Wi-Fi available (actually a possibility, as Cellphone networks have replaced wired access in the poorer countries) or if schools can upload software to the machine using limited networks. The mile network, if it works out, could possibly allows these machines to make a type of network themselves, although it would obviously be somewhat limited.

RE: Target still unclear.
By rmaharaj on 11/24/2006 7:40:01 PM , Rating: 3
Incidently, the only thing that IDE teaches you, is, how to connect IDE. I was doing it when I was around 10, and it hasn't helped me do anything else, I can tell you that.

I believe he meant IDE as in integrated development environment, not the hardware interface.

RE: Target still unclear.
By Live on 11/24/2006 7:45:14 PM , Rating: 3
Watch this speech and see what this computer could be used for and by who. If you don't want to watch it for that watch it because its very cool and thought provoking:

RE: Target still unclear.
By judasmachine on 11/24/2006 9:02:30 PM , Rating: 2
Interesting speech.

RE: Target still unclear.
By iNGEN on 11/25/2006 10:55:16 AM , Rating: 3
Actually, a lot of the OLPC idea is to correct for the difficiencies you mentioned. The target use is a shool child in a poorer, but industrialized nation. The unit itself is very tolerant of unstable power, the system itself always runs off the battery. The local software was intentionally designed to be highly dependant upon the availability of distributed client resources. The thin client usage model facilitates further cost reductions in the hardware.

Many of the user applications you mentioned are already completed and deployed or being ready for deployment. They will be distributed using the web-browser as the primary terminal client. That is why only the most basic functionality is available without an internet connection.

Yes, the internet connection will be provided at no additional expense to the user in most cases. Though each country will provide the Internet connection by a manner of their own choosing, schools, even in remote areas, can use satelite, wireless, or even multiplexed X.25 for connectivity. The applications themselves are very low bandwidth and can be served from anywhere in the world. So hosting can be accomplished in areas where the availability of material and human resources are not so unreliable.

Recently, several faith-based organizations have even volunteered to put up wireless hotspots to help extend connectivity beyond the schools.

Your statement that "In a developed country this "thin" device is too crippled." is accurate. To, the following comment, "In an underdeveloped country, the issues relating to power supply, internet, printing, etc. cripple the device." I must reply; The OLPC is the current answer to those problems, specifically.

RE: Target still unclear.
By stmok on 11/25/2006 11:18:54 AM , Rating: 4
If this thing is being targeted at kids... then where are the games ?

*jabbers on with other crap*

Idiot. Did you even try the VMware image of OLPC? Clearly not.

Like most tryhard techies here, none of you have actually tried the GUI, but have no problem criticising it. Well done. Judge a book by its cover.

How about you folks grab VMware Player and download the OLPC image to see for yourselves.

RE: Target still unclear.
By Chase Tacos on 11/28/2006 10:01:14 AM , Rating: 2
I dont know much about this at all but i think that you should wait till the thing comes out before you start bashing it because it doesnt have the requiered things to make it all child like.

Im sure when it comes out itll have messengers, email clients and all that jazz but untill then lets wait and see what its still to have coming with it because its like common sence to add those things to it.

i'm not a fan of OLPC
By msva124 on 11/25/2006 8:37:20 AM , Rating: 1
So the theory is, give laptops to third world children, they learn stuff, become smarter, and contribute to the world. This is operating under the assumption that children in these countries have equal innate ability to children in first world countries, and the only thing that seperates them is different environments. Or maybe it's based on the blank slate theory, who knows. I wish the best for this project, but I fear that it's based more on optimism than logical planning.

RE: i'm not a fan of OLPC
By gerf on 11/25/2006 12:02:48 PM , Rating: 2
Wow, I'm not sure whether to mod you down, or simply tell you that you're a bigot.

Well, I guess I've chosen. Bigot.

RE: i'm not a fan of OLPC
By msva124 on 11/26/2006 10:07:14 PM , Rating: 2
You're right. Actually everyone has equal innate ability, the notion of genetically determined intelligence is a myth.

RE: i'm not a fan of OLPC
By rykerabel on 11/27/2006 3:00:10 PM , Rating: 2
genetically determined intelligence would emply that an environment with greater natural selection would improve rate of genetic intelligence which modern society lacks and 3rd world society has in abundance. So are you saying that there should be more geniuses in 3rd world countries just waiting for the right educational tools to propell them into world domination and that is why you fear them?


RE: i'm not a fan of OLPC
By mindless1 on 11/25/2006 11:50:01 PM , Rating: 2
It's not based on logical planning, first there needs to be development so there are jobs needing skilled workers. Advanced levels of education are only a vanity if it can't be applied, else it requires the children move to another locale which will tap the country's resources without return on investment. Some might see that as a distant goal but it's not the case, children grow up and enter the workforce in matter of single-digit years.

Ironically it might have done the children better to have the factory building these OLPC systems and most development local, then train the recent graduates to run it. Keep it local and give them another export product. This is of course a far larger project but thinking small tends to have small results.

RE: i'm not a fan of OLPC
By Chase Tacos on 11/28/2006 10:02:29 AM , Rating: 2
I second that!

Worst GUI ever
By peternelson on 11/24/2006 8:45:15 PM , Rating: 2
That looks absolutely bad for a modern GUI.

It's like something from the 1980s.

But 1980s computers had some good guis like Acorn RISCOS, Amiga workbench and Atari. They managed it on less processing power than the OLPC has.

The frame is lame and wastes the already scarce pixels of the screen. They need something that comes and goes like a hidden windows taskbar.

The only good thing about that screenshot is the google homepage.

It's all very well to make a cheaper less powerful pc, but is bad to cripple it with something so unattractive and dysfunctional. I was hoping to see a standard linux desktop environment like KDE or gnome.

Similarly there is no need to install and teach cut-down apps when people can use the real thing.

RE: Worst GUI ever
By AraH on 11/25/2006 7:56:41 AM , Rating: 2
i think it's highly likely that the reason that they made it the way it is, is that it might be helping when it comes to using the monochrome display (which i believe they use to save battery and increase sunlight readability?)


RE: Worst GUI ever
By peternelson on 11/25/2006 11:00:41 PM , Rating: 2
Yes I'd thought of that possibility of supporting mono.

However, monochrome can be grayscale shades it doesn't have to be black and white. This reminded me of the amx mouse menu driven icon interface for my old bbc micro, all black or white. The mono colour scheme in windows 3.1 showed what can be done with greyscales, it was usable.

In any case it should be adaptive. In mono power saving mode it can use mono, but when the rest of the desktop is being used in full colour like firefox, the rest of the gui ought to take advantage of it too. I still maintain that it's inefficient use of desktop real estate to have these frames.

I perfer my interfaces unenthusiastic
By TheStudent on 11/24/2006 7:17:06 PM , Rating: 2
"OLPC interface simple but lacks enthusiasm" What does that even mean? Does it not attack you with popups on a frequent enough basis? Does it actually shut up and let you do whatever you're doing? Quite frankly, this sounds like the ideal machine... Particularly for a kid in a 3rd world country who doesn't have experience fending off the more enthusiastic of our interfaces, and simply wants to browse, read, or learn.

By Aikouka on 11/25/2006 2:19:59 AM , Rating: 3
It means that the interface is dull and boring. That's really all they're trying to convey that while it does its job, it's just so lackluster, especially with the American view of electronics. I mean, look at those specialty dumb education laptops that companies like Fisher Price put out, they're all purdy and extravagant. To us, it may look like it lacks enthusiasm (especially with our computer background of pretty Luna and Aero interfaces), but to a kid in a third world country... I don't think he or she would care much :x.

One bicycle per child
By lemonadesoda on 11/24/06, Rating: 0
RE: One bicycle per child
By ElectricMayhem on 11/25/2006 1:46:24 PM , Rating: 2
I think you need to put your tongue-in-cheek comment in [sarcasm][/sarcasm] because a lot of people here can't read between the lines . LOL. I thought your comment was funny.

Nonetheless, a very good point: that in these target nations there are other, perhaps more pressing, needs. However, we need to remember that in general these sorts of initiatives are not coordinated... so the fact that OLPC is getting press, and may indeed be successful, is good news. Because then some of the other issues (esp. welfare related) that need addressing become EVEN MORE OBVIOUS and will, in time, be solved, by other groups.

If you are a foreign tech consortium, you can't make initiatives in public infrastructure in other countries... but you can make a difference by providing the individual with access to technology (albeit limited).

I remember the UK govt used to have a One Hot Meal Per Child, and One Third Pint Milk Per Child initiatives in the school system in the 1970s. They have also just announced a One Healthy Meal of Fruit and Veg for Pregnant Mums. It's incredible that govts need to make such initiatives. But seeing as we do this kind of this in developed countries, then OLPC is a very politically interesting concept for lesser developed nations.

RE: One bicycle per child
By mindless1 on 11/25/2006 11:36:15 PM , Rating: 2
While your comment does seem sarcastic, providing an environmentally clean means of transportation to any child that needs one is not such a bad idea, as well as giving them exercise. Let's hope they don't all end up in sweatshops, but IF the family is so hard up that everyone has to work, well it's better than starving.

Alpha grade software
By psychobriggsy on 11/25/2006 7:34:44 AM , Rating: 2
Given the hardware limitations of the display used in the OLPC (using colour reduces the resolution by a factor of 4 in the areas it is used) I can see why they are using high resolution black and white imagery for icons.

However the rest of the interface looks awful. Plain blocks of colour without any highlights at all! Simple highlights are good - they don't have to be extravagant images like in XP or Vista. Simple greyscale gradients, etc.

Maybe the children won't mind - it isn't as if they've used modern PCs, and there are strong arguments for a task based interface that is clean and simple to use.

Having not used it I will reserve my final judgement, and I'm sure it will be tweaked over time.

Given that this device is more about replacing textbooks in countries that can't afford them, and so on, it probably isn't too bad. I went through most of school without using more than a calculator technology-wise -- but there was One Textbook Per Child (per course) and pens and notebooks. This appears to be an adequate replacement for these -- school reports should be fine using the Wordpad-like editor, for example.

RE: Alpha grade software
By mindless1 on 11/25/2006 11:39:19 PM , Rating: 2
Gradients? you know nothing about interfaces or icons.

Gradients look pretty but actually reduce recognition and usability. It's not a matter of clean and simple, it's that artistic endeavors are harmful, not helpful to a GUI, particularly with resolution limitations.

By Jagz64 on 11/24/2006 6:45:18 PM , Rating: 1
Dead As A Door Nail For The Geeks But Simple For The Simple Minded.

RE: Simplicity
By lemonadesoda on 11/24/2006 6:59:18 PM , Rating: 2
Then is should be called an iLAP

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