punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

More on the OLPC: Part 2: A week of tinkering

Thisby and the OLPC
Originally uploaded by punkwalrus
Keep in mind, my review is based on how we, as tech geeks in the US, deal with OLPCs. I know a lot of us got these to tinker around with, and that's cool, because that was the grease that got me to donate to OLPC. But a lot of geeky IT people want these for various things that might be useful for day-to-day activities they might have, and my reviews will focus on those aspects.

So far, as a kid's laptop for school, I consider this a great success and better than anything I have ever seen. For an adult in the IT industry, it's a geeky toy that if commercially done, might be a stretch to the "it just works" crowd. But us Linux junkies kind of approach these things like buying a stock car and then ricing it.

I am glad that many techs find the "child's look" to be cool. It's certainly unique because the green and white case has this kind of "Leapfrog" look. There was a Star Trek episode I recall where all the officers ended up as children, and Picard was trying to reach the bridge using a child's computer panel. "The Enterprise is a Galaxy-class starship. Can you spell Enterprise? E-N-T-..." I wouldn't mind having a "Hello Kitty" laptop if it was a speedy Linux-based system. Or using a child's piano to do complex musical scores. There's just something inherently cool about hacking a kid's toy to be more... useful, shall we say.

I also want to note that OLPC customer care sent me a letter saying my laptop was coming soon (even though I got it last week) and they sent me a URL to put in my PIN number to get a year's free T-Mobile Internet access. Now I can browse at Starbucks without paying (until January of 2009). I haven't tested it yet, but I signed in and got a T-Mobile account.

She's no dual core cheetah, that's for sure. Then again, she is faster than my first Windows 95 experience, and when I was testing the OLPC Sugar qemu image, it was so slow (even with kqemu), I don't feel right complaining about the laptop. While it may seem obvious, the more applications you run, the slower it gets. I am not kidding: it's remarkable difference between 3 and 4 applications running. I have found 3 applications running at the same time is acceptable, but any more and you have severe lag issues. It may depend on what you use, of course. Generally, I am patient, and find the laptop acceptable. Boot time is similar to many Windows/Linux laptops I have.

Battery Life:
More than any laptop I have ever had. Constant web browsing and swearing at TamTam is about 5-6 hours per charge. I have been told in monochrome "Ebook mode," it's up to 24.

Usability (software):
Well, I have fooled around with what many have wanted the OLPC for: cafe web browsing and writing.

Web browsing using the OLPC browser is a bit awkward. It's better than the qemu image; that build had some serious rendering issues making my text huge and my pictures jagged. The laptop does not do this, but it does not have a good way to browse two pages at once. For instance, if I want to cut some text from one page and paste it into another... I can, but I have to swap between sites, and wait for them to reload. To clarify: Page1, cut text. Load page2, paste text. No tab-switching or swap between two open sessions. To make matters worse, bookmarking is ... not meant for a serious bookmarker. It is saved session-only (which helps with the cut and paste, actually), and the bookmarks show up as a bar that takes almost 20% of the lower screen, but kinda helpfully makes a snapshot of the page so you can see what the page you saved looks like. It's obviously, again, geared for wee ones. I have been told some people have managed to get Firefox and Opera on this thing, which I might do.

Big web pages are very slow, which is probably not surprising. Browsing NewEgg and my friends page in LiveJournal was very aggravating. Also, they don't have Adobe Flash because of licensing issues, but they have an open version of it that works... sorta. You can install Adobe flash, and that works better... sorta. Youtube watching may be limited in enjoyment, from what I am reading on the forums, but I haven't tried that yet.

Some popups don't work in the browser. The most notable one so far is the one our conference room wireless router uses: a Juniper Netscreen 5GT. When you use it to connect, a popup usually asks for our company guest login and password, but I never see the popup; I just get a 401 rejected.

The RSS application is broken on my laptop, for some reason. It never updates. I see all links as 0/1, even after asking for a manual refresh. This is a bit of a bummer. It worked on the qemu build.

Mail. Someone has gotten Tinymail to work with the OLPC. I think you could get other mail clients installed, but... um... well, Gmail might be better, although I haven't tested it yet. Yahoo mail, the newest version, does not work. It asked me if I wanted to go back to the older version, and I said no. Maybe later I'll say yes and see if that works.

Writing. I haven't given this the full attention it deserves, so it's on my to-do list. See my positive review about the keyboard below.

Cut and paste. Responds to the universal cntl+c,v, x, and a in terminal and the web browser.

Doom. I got Doom installed by following these directions. Yes, it's a little laggy between levels, but the levels themselves seem okay. Tiny controls make this hard to play.

TamTam. I have played with this some. Kinda neat, but a little hard to understand. It's a music editor.

I would suggest getting a mouse. Any USB mouse I have used works (and even a trackball). The touchpad works, but sometimes loses track of your fingers, which may be due in part to the fact it's actually a lot longer than most finger areas of touch pads, so it gets a little confusing. Maybe that's just me. really, touchpads and I have been at odds for years.

I have used an optical Logitech mouse (I can't tell you which one, it's old, the label is missing, and it has house paint residue on it from a former life; I got it for free with a donated laptop), a Microsoft Optical USB Mouse (P/N X08-71118), but when I am in bed, I love this little finger mouse/trackball. I got it on a lark at some computer trade show a few years ago, and I have found it's a great mouse for browsing the web in bed. One cute green mouse that matches the OLPC color scheme (and suggested by many OLPC fans) is this small one.

I think I mentioned this before, but I put in an A-Data 8gb SDHC card in the OLPC. The SD slot is hard to find: it's under the screen on the right hand corner. When you insert it, the label faces away from the screen, and it slides in so tightly, you may need pliers or strong fingernails to pull it back out. The OLPC found it instantly, and put it under my "Journal" screen as a separate device. df -h mounted it under some gibberish name (like /mnt/k56fTloz0 or something) but sees all 8gb.

The keyboard is small. It's meant for a kid's hands, after all! But it's still bigger than, say, a PDA or text messaging cell phone. It has a QWERTY layout, thus dealing another blow to DVORAK fans, and perpetuating the 1800's kludge to jammed keys. The keys are a rubbery skin over keys, but the pickup is surprisingly tactile and responsive without being to trigger happy on the repeats. Then again, I can't touch-type, so my hunt and peck often becomes more flexible when dealing with keyboard shenanigans most of the time.

To do for the next review:
- Test Yahoo mail in regular older mode
- Test G-mail
- Use the "write" text editor
- Test for spell checker in Write
- Test read/write/save/delete off SDHC
- Export specs to file to post in blog (inlc. rpm -qa)
- Test Youtube
- Test T-Mobile connection
- Test playing ogg/wav/mp3 files
- Get Simcity installed, test
- Use "Ebook" more some more
- Get an IM client on this thing
Tags: computer, olpc, review, thisby

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