Yesterday I received my XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child “Get One, Give One” program. I got some pictures of the laptop being unboxed and booted up for the first time so you can check those out if you’re interested.
It doesn’t ship with much in the way of instructions - it relies on you either connecting to their web site to get started or “exploring” the interface to see what things do. That actually brought me to my first problem - connecting to the Internet.
The way the networking on the thing works, you visit a “neighborhood” page that displays a graphical representation of the wireless access points available to you as well as mesh networks and other XOs that you can connect to. That was my first stumbling block: It only displays wireless access points that broadcast their SSID (mine didn’t).
It runs a flavor of Linux, so I suppose if you’re a Linux person you could do some manual configuration and get it to connect that way. I’m a Windows person, and while I have run Linux before, I’m not really that knowledgeable about it, so the best I could do was try their manual wireless network association steps to see if that worked. It did… for as long as I was in that terminal session. But as soon as I rebooted, the connection was lost and I was back to square one. So, rather than fight that beast, I just turned SSID broadcast on. Hey, that wasn’t really stopping the malicious folks out there anyway.
It won’t connect to WPA networks (yet), which isn’t a problem for me since I’m still in the stone age using WEP. After some trouble getting the security on it set up, I finally got connected. Honestly, I don’t know how kids are supposed to do this, but maybe they assume that school wireless access points are just open without any security or something. Maybe that’s how it really is.
The only other real problem I had with it was that the initial setup (when you first boot up) asks you your name and what colors you want your little computer icon to be. (Your icon represents you on the network.) Once you’ve set them, though… there’s no control panel applet or anything to change them with. It took me a while, but I found that they have a command-line interface to change these things called “sugar-control-panel.” Got my stuff all customized up and now I’m set.
The interface is primarily graphically-driven. There’s very little text, which is good for its purpose (kids, developing countries, etc.), but not so accessible until you’ve really explored the thing and learned what it all means and does. Applications are referred to as “activities” and it ships with several pre-installed ones including a web browser, an RSS reader, a paint program, and a Python programming environment. There’s no email program, but there is a Gmail activity currently under development (right now it just launches the browser).
All in all, I think it’s a pretty great tool. If they’d had this in school instead of ye olde Apple IIe, I’d maybe have learned something more than the BASIC code that runs the cannons and castles game. On the other hand, I’ve found already that I’ve interfaced a lot with a Bash prompt (the “terminal” activity) already and, without any instruction, I’m not sure how kids are going to know what to do with some of the stuff. From “I’ve never seen a computer” to “I’m programming in Python” is a pretty steep learning curve. I think the real good stuff will be from the additional activities you can download as well as coupling this with a teacher’s curriculum.
If you’re interested in learning more about the One Laptop Per Child charity, how to give, or how to use the XO laptop, check out www.laptop.org.