Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

OLPC Project Interface Revealed 196

BogusToo writes to mention an EE Times article describing the interface for the OLPC project laptop. Using some fairly intuitive UI concepts (like simplified web browsers and a chat client), the Linux-based system attempts to do away with the kludgey parts of computer use. A video demo of the interface has been placed on YouTube. From the article: "Earlier postings around the Internet have also shown how the physical design of the laptop has changed, including the elimination of the much touted on-board hand crank that was supposed to power the cheap, lime green laptop. It's still there, reportedly, but has now been moved to the power adapter. The OLPC's produced earlier this week in Shanghai still need to go through loads of testing, such as knocking them off desks and dropping them in mud, as kids are wont to do. They may also be kicked around, like soccer balls, a popular sport in 99.9 percent of the world."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

OLPC Project Interface Revealed

Comments Filter:
  • Durable Laptop? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0jjjjjjjjjj0 ( 1024211 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:24PM (#16975234) Homepage Journal

    Having worked for a school, I know how durable these devices are going to have to be to withstand day-to-day use. The Compaq, Toshiba and NEC laptops of 10 years ago didn't take much more than a nudge to the back of the LCD to crack it or break the backlight, leaving the (admittedly rich) parents to fork out another $3,000 for a replacement unit, or $1,200 for the out-of-warranty repair.

    I hope that these computers end up being not just "cheap" but inexpensive to own, operate and repair. Insurance premiums on cars go up if the cost of parts/repair is high; the perceived value of this device changes in inverse proportion to this - why would a school/state/country buy thousands of them if the spare parts/repair cost is going to be high?

    Here's hoping it's right when it comes out ...

    • Re:Durable Laptop? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:35PM (#16975358)

      My problem with the OLPC is related to the whole low power/low spec business. I keep hearing about how important it is to save memory, CPU and power on the machine. And yet... the GTK widget set that it uses has gotten slower and slower with every release since GTK 2.6.

      The GTK developers simply have no idea what they are doing. They ditched all the old X code and moved to Cairo which massively increased the RAM and CPU requirements for GTK apps... particularly hurting phone/PDA users like Nokia google for it... it's all there on the web). On top of the Cairo problems, they also made changes that sabotaged the performance of the various widgets. Basically, every version of GTK past 2.6 has been a fucking performance trainwreck, and the developers responsible (people like Owen Taylor) have just snuck off quietly and not taken responsiblity.

      I remember the GNOME mailing list discussions about adopting the then forthcoming GTK 2.8 -- adopting it meant taking a risk on GTK getting it RIGHT since they would be reliant on untested code. Lots of credulous developers said that they should adopt it because they had faith in the GTK developers not screwing them over. Mugs.

      Half a dozen versions later, and GTK still sucks fucking balls... and what's more, the OLPC suffers from it even worse because it is a low-performance system. Essentially... it runs like shit because of the GTK developers never having heard of stuff like optimization and benchmarking.

    • gimme a terminal! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:39PM (#16975402) Journal
      I agree, I hope they can stand the rough climates of some of the third world countires... for example Chiapas climate (in Mexico) can be really hard for electronics (humidity and rain) and if this is going to kids who have never owned a high tech portable equipment they must be quite durable.

      One thing I was wondering while watching the video is that it seems there is no way to open a terminal. I agree that the interface MUST be dumbed down a lot but I am also completely sure that there MUST be a terminal in order to access more "complex" things in the computer. I know (from personal experience) that the kids are the first ones to learn the new technologies and exploit them. If you are going to give them this computer, then lets make them able to get the most out of it.

      A terminal and a python enabled system would be enough (IMHO).
      • Re:gimme a terminal! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:52PM (#16975532)
        I agree that the interface MUST be dumbed down a lot

        Why? My 4 year old granddaughter seems to be pretty capable of cruising around limited parts of the house PC. Her aunts, uncle, and mom seemed to be pretty capable of doing the same when they were that age. Kids are not dumb. They will quickly learn whatever interface you put in front of them.
        Seeing as how the big box stores are selling standard laptops for $400 and under (somtimes a LOT under) this week...when you consider the vast difference in purchasing power...the "OLPC" concept is mostly already here in the west. It's just not backed by a fancy organization.
      • by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:06PM (#16975732) Homepage Journal
        Take a look at the software components list []. It looks like they are planning to add a shell, and a lot of the system is already Python based. I really do hope the shell gets included as standard. As a Ruby fan (and someone intensely hating the Python indentation stuff), I question the choice of Python, but I guess it's better than nothing ;) (and inevitable when Redhat is involved...).

        I don't agree it must be dumbed down - I started programming on a VIC-20 where almost anything remotely interesting required lots of PEEK/POKE. I was 5 at the time, and didn't know a word of English. By the time I was 7 we got a C64, and I could program it better than my dad (who wrote programs for it as part of work) within months. I was an exception among my friends, but even the ones that didn't take up programming had no problems picking up whatever they needed to do what they wanted to with the machine.

        It's adults without computer experience that needs dumbed down interfaces, not children. All you need is some examples they can copy and modify to get them started.

        • by Dan Ost ( 415913 )
          I'm curious why you hate python's use of indentation.

          Indentation-wise, my current C code (and my C code from 10 years ago) looks no different from my Python code.

          Most people I know who complain about Python's use of indentation stop complaining once they realize that it doesn't apply to line continuations within open parens, brackets, etc.
          • by vidarh ( 309115 )
            I hate it because I hate having formatting imposed on me by the language. Formatting is very important to me in any language, and with Python I feel limited to the point where I never use it unless I absolutely have to (i.e. when I need to work on someone elses code). Ever seen how long C/C++ people can talk about positioning of braces? Well, it happens because people care deeply about formatting. When the choice is taken away, some people stop arguing, and some people refuse to work with that language.


        • by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @02:32PM (#16976656) Homepage Journal
          As a Ruby fan (and someone intensely hating the Python indentation stuff)...

          If you don't indent your code (whatever the language), I hope it never makes it onto one of these laptops. Or any of my computers, for that matter.
          • by vidarh ( 309115 )
            Presumably you don't know Python, or you would have understood that the "Python indentation stuff" I referred to is Python's use of indentation to determine nesting level in code, a practice which a lot of Python fans love, and which a lot of non-Python people absolutely loathe and which in many cases is people's main justification for wanting to avoid Python whenever possible (I'm in the latter camp).
      • by kgp ( 172015 )
        OK, its designed for kids not syadmins. It's not a "linux box" it's a computer that runs the linux kernel.

        But in the XO B1 version shift-F6 brings up a terminal with a shell in it.
      • I say, kudos to the designers! They couldn't have done a better job. As seen in the video, they have inserted the Squeak environment! This is a Smalltalk powered system.

        if this is going to kids who have never owned a high tech portable equipment they must be quite durable.

        And these constraints have also software requirements; given that this project is aimed to *children* and around the *whole world*, IMHO this decision is much better than including a UNIX terminal. An environment designed to be connected t
      • Re:gimme a terminal! (Score:4, Informative)

        by burns210 ( 572621 ) <> on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:28PM (#16978160) Homepage Journal
        One thing I was wondering while watching the video is that it seems there is no way to open a terminal. I agree that the interface MUST be dumbed down a lot but I am also completely sure that there MUST be a terminal in order to access more "complex" things in the computer

        There is a terminal activity. It does not, by default, have a frame icon (bottom left row of icons). It is opened with a key combination.

        A terminal and a python enabled system would be enough (IMHO).

        Which is also included An activity's UI, Sugar itself, etc, is all written in Python and is the 'blessed language' for development on the OLPC. Backend code (Abiword, Gecko) are obviously not Python, though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      Which is why my daughter carries a old C640 laptop for school. I can buy a complete replacement for dirt compared to new laptop prices and parts are very readily available.

      Fools give kids a new laptop that costs > $500.00US And yes I am calling many rich people fools.
    • The laptop hardware is made to be pretty rugged, specifically there are no internal moving parts. Only thing that move are (1)The monitor joint (2) the keyboard's keys (3) the 'bunny ear' wireless antennae.

      As for protecting the LCD? Well, the plastic casing is slightly thicker than on standard laptops (2 MM, I think) and should give it a better resistance to bumps and drops. But it is important to note how well these laptops have traditionally been taken care of. Nicholas Negroponte (the MIT professor from
  • by pieleric ( 917714 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:32PM (#16975320) Homepage
    Actually, although the youtube demo shows mostly everything, you can try it yourself using emulation (it runs on a x86 after all).
    Intructions are here []. It uses QEMU and a special 100Mb system image.

    Happy slashdotting...
  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:35PM (#16975352) Homepage Journal
    These people are hungry! Isn't it more important to get them clean water? Why would people who make less than a dollar a day want a computer? It's all a plot to enable the next generation of outsourcing. These people need sewing kits, not computers! If you give computers away you are furthering the evil cult of altruism. The color is uggggggly! How can I buy one?

    There. Did I miss any?

    Now you can talk about the contents of the article rather than blather about the same stuff that comes up every time the One Laptop Per Child project gets discussed.
    • by Knuckles ( 8964 )
      Did I miss any?

      Not much, just every other OLPC discussion plus the comments above and below yours that explain that this IS NOT AIMED AT COUNTRIES WHERE PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY. Check the fucking buyer list for christ's sake. I swear, /. gets dumber by the day.
      • by vidarh ( 309115 )
        And you obviously missed the entire point of the message you just replied to... Try reading it again, and keep an eye out for sarcasm..
        • by Knuckles ( 8964 )
          *hides in shame* Apologies to StefanJ. It seems I was so enraged by having to read through a multitude of similar postings -- but written in earnest -- just before I came across this one that I completely missed the sarcasm.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      Gawd you people are silly...

      open OLPC device, select web browser type clean water and food into the google search bar and click on more> even more> and select local.

      use search results that show you the clean water and food.

      It's really simple!
    • How about "what the hell is OLPC?"

      The standard "could you spend at least 3 words explaining WHAT THE HELL YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!" complaint applies for this summary also.

      (For others like me, OLPC is the "One Laptop Per Child" project, apparently, making those wind-up laptops to sell for cheap. You've probably heard about it, just under a different name or no name at all other than "cheap wind-up laptops.")
  • by Nermal ( 7573 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:35PM (#16975356) Homepage
    From TFV:

    "Note that there is no url bar" (in the browser)

    I really hope there's more to it than that. I mean, I realize that google isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but having any single search engine be the mandatory primary interface for the web, to the exclusion of even being able to type in urls directly seems insane to me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gdek ( 202709 )
      Bzzt. The prototype I played with last Tuesday did, in fact, have a URL bar in the browser.

      Nice try, though.

      P.S. it's unbelievably cool in person. :)
    • by evronm ( 530821 )
      Just because there is no URL bar doesn't mean you can't type in a URL. I routinely hide the URL bar on my laptop to preserve screen space, and then just hit Ctrl+L when I need to type in a URL.
  • They may also be kicked around, like soccer balls, a popular sport in 99.9 percent of the world.

    If you thought curling [] was a strange sport, get ready for laptop soccer!
    All the kids are doing it, well 99.9% of them at least!
  • New UI - why?? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Richard_J_N ( 631241 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:02PM (#16975662)
    I don't understand the reason for the new user interface? It can't be due to resource limits, since they already ship GTK (with firefox), and it can't be for reasons of complexity, since most kids pick up computing skills really fast. So why re-write all the apps? I think that it's quite wasteful of programmer effort. Wouldn't it be better to work on reducing the resource requirements(*) of Gnome (refactor it to make some parts of it compile-time options)? Existing minimal linux distros (eg DSL) are very good at providing good programs with low resource requirements; they just need some "tidying" to make them more user-friendly.

    * For lower resources still, use the excellent IceWM. But if we already have firefox, then we've already loaded GTK, and may as well use Gnome. Anyonw who wants a demonstration of how fast simpler programs can be, please try Dillo.
  • The OLPC's produced earlier this week in Shanghai still need to go through loads of testing, such as knocking them off desks and dropping them in mud, as kids are wont to do. They may also be kicked around, like soccer balls, a popular sport in 99.9 percent of the world.
    Hmm... kicking OLPCs around is a popular sport?
  • by bazorg ( 911295 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:05PM (#16975708) Homepage
    There, said it. :(
  • I thought that it was very cool, but I wonder how confusing the Squeak "playground" might be without some hands on training/tutorial.

    I only spent 20 minutes running the image, but one thing that I did not notice was region-specific documentation for water cleanliness training, etc. I thought that these would be customized for each country/region. Does anyone know about this?

    I was telling a lot of non-nerd friends about this project at a big Thanksgiving party yesterday, and not only did everyone really like
    • by MrHanky ( 141717 )
      I don't know, but I did manage to get the turtle to move about a bit when I fiddled with Logo on the C64 as a child. From what I remember, I think I started out with whatever was there as "instructions" (wow, reverse-engineering), then made my own stuff from how I understood it worked. Actually, that has often been my approach to shell scripting as an adult as well. As long as you aren't afraid to destroy something, you should be able to learn a lot from just playing with it.
  • Is this worse than bob? If removing tool bars and menus and only allowing one application to run at a time maximized was some sort of user interface panacea, I think every OS on the planet would already be operating that way. The actual reason for removing tool bars, menus, and forcing applications to run maximized: that's really easy to do. It is much much much harder to actually _create_ some kind of new user interface that will be 'easy' for anyone in the world to pick up and use, and then write applicat
    • These OLPC devices only have 640x480 resolution, the same as a pocket PC. If you can work with fullscreen applications on PDA or cellphone, then there is no reason why you should complain about OLPC's use of the same paradigm. OLPC is more like a PDA than a personal computer. It's just more rigged, and its architecture is open.
  • Just travel, see with your own eyes what happens outside the 1st World, meet people from other countries and you will agree that, even if it is a risky project, it has to be done. Reading about OLPC some African friends of mine come to my mind. - Kemi from Nigeria, she studied Accounts. In 2003 she had no job and she asked me for a laptop (that I couldn't afford) to install any account program to learn how they run. Finally she emigrated to London. Last news from her, were that she was working in a fast-
  • The concept of developing country assumes that these countries believe in evolution. I wonder how many great things the OLPC would do in Kansas..... Sorry, I had to.
  • Is it just me, or does anyone else think that the One Laptop Per Child would be better served if the OS running that laptop was GEOS [] (renamed Geoworks, renamed NewDeal, renamed Breadbox)... Then the OLPC machine would really be the C=64 of it's generation and bring computing to millions who never had it before.

    It seems to me that Commodore had it "right" from the start, making a low-cost, simple to use, easy to operate, durable, hackable, expandable system that started off as a toy and had nearly unlimit

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.