punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

The OLPC so far

Well, I got my OLPC last night. If you browse the OLPC forums, it's full of posts of angry people who have not gotten theirs yet, along with some first hand accounts of really bad communication issues on the part of volunteers at OLPC. Having been in volunteer situations many times, I felt bad for all involved. I think there was no official face of OLPC G1G1 shipping, and the updates were often wrong and conflicting. This was a logistical issue that should have been thought about, but I suspect that they didn't anticipate the US demand.

That being said, this laptop is very awesome.

Playing with the Sugar qemu builds helped. Both in knowing how things should work, and the fact that even with kqemu acceleration, the OLPC Sugar GUI qemu image is dog slow, making the real OLPC seem really fast. Although it should be noted that launching applications on the real OLPC is slower than most laptops.

I don't want to go into the anxiety of waiting for it. Reading the forums, chock full of "I called the first hour of the first day the 'Give One, Get One' program went live, and I have heard nothing!" was stressful. A few people, very few, got theirs stolen off their doorsteps, in FedEx shipping, and one guy got a box with nothing in it. The total incidents of this happening on the forums was like less than a dozen people, but ooooh... it spawned a prairie fire of worry and fueled rants about those who didn't get theirs before December 24th. Which was a LOT of us.

For the record, mine was ordered at 7:50 am on Day 2 (Nov 13th). I got it at my doorstep 3:30pm on Jan 2nd. I was promised I'd get it before the 24th, then after the 24th, then "by Jan 15th at the latest."

I didn't get home until 9pm due to work (Bugzilla/Bitweaver server install and migration), so I was anxious to the point of peeing myself. Okay, not really, but that sounds funnier than "I was giggling inside like a kid." The box was, as others have mentioned, deceptively small and brown. It was 28 deg F outside, and even though the box had been dragged inside around 5pm or so by my home-bound son, the laptop was ice-cold. I think had my house had proper humility, it would have been covered with a thin layer of frost.

It was packed in a cardboard egg-crate thing, similar to the way I am finding various SOHO switches and routers these days. The only covering was an unsealed plastic baggie. Same with the tree-frog-green AC adapter and battery pack. The only documentation was a large folder sheet with some "Don't do this" international symbols (you also get the same when you power down the OLPC) and a letter of thanks from Nicolas Negroponte.

My OLPC "XO" colors are blue body, yellow head, making it look Swedish. Awesome. Both laptop faces are bumpy with little dots, making covering it with h4xx0r stickers a bit difficult. Not so awesome. This is probably one of the few subtle ways to keep this laptop looking juvenile to discourage stealing. But I can't attack "Hello Kitty" stickers, either. There's not even laptop lock hole to hang a doodad from.

I had seem umpteen videos on how to open and use the OLPC. I am glad, because opening it is really not intuitive. I let CR and takayla try and figure it out. takayla came the closest, since she opened up both the wireless ears, but she didn't take the next step to open the lid the right way (which is opposite what you'd think if you have ever owned a normal laptop). I think, if given more time, she would have figured it out, but I was impatient.

See, the boards have a few people with dead OLPCs, bad power switches, and stuck keyboards. After all this wait, will mine be a dud? I pressed the power button, some jaunty music played, and the laptop screen immediately winked to life. Hooray!

The first thing you notice is how crisp the screen is. It's very easy to read. The boot time is about a minute on mine. There's an animation that looks a little like a clock, a flash of CLI at a very teeny font, and then the XO Sugar main screen.

Playing around:
My first attempt was to connect to the Internet. I had heard that the wirless "ears" made this little laptop have a much wider range, and so far this seems to be true... but there are some caveats I was already aware of, but would like to pass along.

There will always be three "dots" in your Neighborhood: Channel 1, 6, and 11. This is supposedly part of the mesh network and how the OLPCs find one another. The other wireless networks will show up as dots, and how "full" the dots are represent signal strength. If you don't see your network and you have SSID broadcast enabled... wait a bit. The OLPC can take several minutes to see all the networks. After half an hour, I had 8-10 networks showing up, and I can only see about 3 from any of my other laptops. My WAPs are SSID disabled and encrypted, and I didn't see them. I am not sure how to enable my encrypted connections yet, but I recall there's an easy how-to somewhere.

Luckily, the OLPC connected right to some Linksys unsecured yutz on my block. I got IP, and was on the web within seconds.

At first, my keyboard was awful. It seemed like I had incredible lag when typing in forms and stuff. And then sometimes the browser would launch write, most of the keys did nothing, and there was obviously a keyboard malfunction. Reboots did not fix this. I was scared that I had one of those broken keyboards until I figured out that the "control" key was stuck. A few presses, and it hasn't stuck since. It may have been the severe cold it was exposed to. Since then, the tiny, rubber-skinned keyboard is sensitive enough to type on, but not so sensitive, you double half your letters. I don't even know what some of the keys on the top row do yet. I got brightness, volume,

This is very much geek friendly. There's a terminal program launchable right from the application bar. The XO ruins a modified version of Fedora Linux, but so far I haven't run into much "sandbox" restrictions. I was able to use a lot of CLI, like df, ssh, and even Red-Hat-ish commands like "service" and "reboot." Sadly, "su -" has no password... yikes!

There a lot of re-learning concepts with Sugar. Like the "task bar" is really a circle that is in "Home," which is second of four layers: Activity, Home, Group, and Neighborhood. These are roughly like "Application, Desktop, Other OLPCs, Wireless Connections."

There's the "Journal," which is kind of like a combination of Favorite Places, Recently Used Applications, and syslog. It shows what you've been up to and for how long. TamTamMini, terminal, or "Browsing Porn."

Almost all applications can be shared by your Group. So, two or more kids can work on the same project on the same laptop. Turn a text document into an IRC like chat!

As far as drive space, "df -h" shows 1gb of hard drive space (under a weird name) total, with 320mb taken, on the solid state drive. I added an A-Data 8gb SDHC "Class 6 Turbo) card, which slides into a hidden slot under the screen (label facing away from screen). It was detected instantly, and the card shows up in "Journal." It also showed up under a df -h call in terminal, also under a weird name.

More later as I play with this nifty thing. Feel free to ask questions about it.
Tags: computer, olpc, review
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