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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."
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OLPC Project Interface Revealed

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  • by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:21PM (#16975196)
    So when was the last time you say a child use the family laptop for a soccer ball? Grow up please.
  • 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: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).
  • by PGC ( 880972 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:40PM (#16975408)
    You want to feed them fish , OLPC is trying to teach the coming generation how to fish.
  • Re:OLPC BS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by east coast ( 590680 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:44PM (#16975452)
    It takes a world full of nerds and geeks to come up with a project like this where a big bunch of the planet still has NO electricity and NO running water, not to mention little food and illiteracy on a large scale.

    While you are correct in part also consider the old saying: give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for the rest of his life.

    If people are dying in a village because they have no food they need food first but after that what? Do you expected a never ending trail of planes dropping food forever? The unit could be used to help educate the village into doing what's right for themselves. By teaching better practices to the ignorant we can hope that they become self sufficient. Education is the foundation of a solid society.

    It's not like they're shipping these things out with Counter Strike installed. These machines could become a keystone in fighting bullshit like illiteracy. They can learn the dangers of certain water sources and make better decisions on what crops grow best under conditions that these people can directly interact with.

    A lot of the third world's problems would become vapor with a bit of the education that you and I take for granted.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:45PM (#16975462)
    One of the things that sucks the most about GTK is the non-standard file dialog that doesn't allow you to type in a location or browse directories in a sensible way.

    Unfortunately it is hard to avoid this, because many popular applications use it (Firefox, Azureus, and GAIM, to name but a few). Additionally, the GTK developers appear to be married to this design, despite many complaints (including a complaint from non other than Linus Torvalds, who called them "fucking idiots", IIRC :)).

    Is there any way to make a sensible file dialog appear instead? Like a 3rd-party patch that changes it?
  • Re:OLPC BS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Upaut ( 670171 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:47PM (#16975478) Homepage Journal
    If they survive, the machines will be shipped off to places like Brazil, Argentina, Nigeria, Thailand and Libya, where strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi signed a deal with Negroponte to supply the country's 1.2 million children with the machines and supporting infrastructure for $250 million.

    Look at the list of deployment. These are not horribly poor countries. They have electrical infestructure, access to medical care in many cases, food, clothing, and domestic products they sell. What they lack is a well established educational system, or funds for the ever changing textbooks. This laptop is to eliminate the second, and help build the first.

    Not to mention in even poorer countries, such as the Dominicain Republic, the best hope for leaving poverty is to get a job in the tourism industry. What are the qualifications for the best jobs? English. Computer skills. People skills. This project could help hundreds of kids grow up with a decent future that does not involve baseball in another land... Then as these people grow and earn more, their savings will be reinvested into improving the lives of themselves, and their families, lives. Better houses. Improved streets. Creature comforts. And a better school for their children.
  • by david.given ( 6740 ) <> on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:56PM (#16975596) Homepage Journal

    Why is the GUI non-standard?

    Because all the existing GUIs in the world today --- including System 6 --- are overweight, overcomplicated, way more powerful than are needed, fiddly, baroque, inconsistent, difficult to use, difficult to learn, and in fact are downright scary to people who aren't accustomed to computers.

    KDE, Gnome, Windows, OSX, etc are all completely inappropriate for a machine of this nature.

    (In fact, I still think they have a lot of work to do. The relationship between activities isn't particularly clear. Some applications, such as the word processor, still use popup menus, which is very bad. Etoys --- that's Squeak, isn't it? --- is visually inconsistent with the rest of the system. But at least they're heading in the right direction.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:01PM (#16975648)
    Did the post say that basic human services are in place everywhere in Brazil and India? No. Hell, they're not in place everywhere in the U.S. But basic human services still exist in those countries.

    What, did you think that it was people living homeless in the jungle that are responsible for Bollywood and taking our IT jobs?
  • 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.

  • Re:Durable Laptop? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oliverthered ( 187439 ) <oliverthered@h[ ] ['otm' in gap]> on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:17PM (#16975838) Journal
    There's nothing stopping you from using the 2.6 version of GTK
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:20PM (#16975870)
    I agree. This is a terrible mistake, and a terrible waste of time. It breaks software standards and de-facto user interface standards. It makes it hard for both users and applications to move between the OLPC and any other computer.

    If I'd been on the OLPC team, I'd want to get everything done in the simplest way possible: I'd want to reuse software as much as possible, and I'd want to comply with every standard that I reasonably could, including user interface standards. Thanks to the extensive library of free software, it would be easy to get almost everything needed without having to write any code at all. But it seems that the OLPC developers knew better. I'd love to know why.
  • smarts (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:51PM (#16976242)
    staying ignorant when presented with new ideas and techniques might contribute to it, and yes, probably a matter of intelligence *in some cases*. It is not a universal thing, but applied generally..sure. If you have a group of folks who think raping 2 year old girls cures AIDS, yep, I'd call that lack of smarts on several levels leading to continual chronic poverty, both from ignorance and just..well..stupidity. I mean, that practice is just *stupid*, no two ways around it. How about thinking "dragon bones" are some sort of magical elixir? Is that ignorance or just ingrained, inbred stupidity? There's a fine line there some place...

        And I think this is one of the goals of the OLPC, get some fast good way to get some real knowledge out to millions of more people in developing lands, so that this sort of thinking can be replaced with something a little better. Even starting with the youngest generation at least you might have a chance, kids are sure a lot easier to educate than older adults in most cases. The only way to replace ignorance is with better data, and the only way to work around stupidity is a lot of patient repetition of good data, in a variety of ways.
  • Re:OLPC BS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by name*censored* ( 884880 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:53PM (#16976252)
    I like all these people who are so eager to poke holes in other peoples charitable ideas, but dont have their own projects (or they'd have mentioned them). If we gave the OLPC money to the kids in the third world countries (ie, mudhutland) then yes, they would live, but once they grow up they wouldn't be able to get jobs. They don't just need food, they need medicine, education, shelter, clean water, revolutions (to overthrow corrupt governments).... It's not like first world countries where absolutely anyone could get a job, even if its cleaning sewers. Meanwhile, the kids in the second world countries (ie, where the OLPC project is designed for) grow up and can't compete in a country where the vast numbers of people and the scarcity of jobs (although not as bad as in third world countries) means that they don't have any advantages (eg, computer literacy) they can use to work in companies, or start companies, which would generate economic growth, and bringing them out of the second world. With extra jobs and less population growth (the affluent tend to have less children), the second world countries will start employing people from the third world countries, which further drives economic growth..

    It's like the dilemma of "would you save one disabled person or 2 fully mobile people from a burning building" - yes it's horrible, but it's more effective to save the mobile people... the disabled person still has exactly the same right to be saved as the other two, but it's not possible to save all 3 given the available resources.
  • Re:OLPC BS (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:55PM (#16976296)
    What we really need to conquer is elitist bullshit like people thinking that half working cut rate versions of the laptop they use to search Wikipedia will finally impart knowledge of which water sources are polluted to poor Africans when 5,000 years of accomplished that taks 4,999 1/2 years ago. Same thing with crops.

    When will you Westerners figure out that no matter how great you think you are the entire rest of the world does not have to learn to mimic you to survive. The problem in Africa isn't that your average tribesman is just too dumb to find water, it is that every untainted watering hole is guarded my men carrying rifles made in your country and shipped here by your government, standing at the ready to put a bullet in any head that isn't on their side. Their side being the side that will let Westerners pillage the country in return for more rifles to guard more water sources to kill by attrition anyone who isn't complicit in the scheme to carve up the entire world and hand it over to the West.

    Keep your laptops.
  • by eggz128 ( 447435 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @02:05PM (#16976384)

    and flash as the only secondary storage

    Speaking of which, the word processor is using a picture of a floppy disc to represent saving a file. Since a)The OLPC doesnt have a floppy disc and b)The target users may never have seen a floppy disc, they may need a new icon...
  • Re:Durable Laptop? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @02:15PM (#16976502) Homepage
    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.
  • by hollywoodb ( 809541 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @02:18PM (#16976536)
    Actually, as a college student, I think it would be pretty handy to have one of these myself... Assuming whatever they use as a power source isn't noisy, how cool would it be to be able to take notes in class all day long (I can type faster than I can write) without having to monitor your battery, carry multiple notebooks, etc etc? I'm also a bit older than your average college student, I have a house, yard, garage 45 miles from the university that I drive each direction every day. I can't just "run back to the dorm" to type up a paper. Perhaps not as a main system, but something I can throw in my backpack that is rugged, cheap, purposeful, wifi connectivity, unlimited runtime.... I could use that. Granted I can carry the AC adapter around for the laptop I have now, but that severly limits where and when I can use it before my battery runs out.
  • by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @02:44PM (#16976744)
    I do have kids and I came from a large family. I guess we are just better behaved.
  • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:07PM (#16976968) Homepage Journal
    I see this excuse and scratch my head. I have seen some incredible GUI designs that fit onto a single floppy disc. Of particular note were the QNX distro (with a web browser to boot!) and GEO-works. Yes, that is a 1.44 MB floppy disc, not a CD-ROM even. I would dare say that if you can't get the UI honed into 2-4 MB, there is far too much cruft within the code base. The only possible exception would be to deal with CJK (Chinese-Japanese-Korean) glyphs, but even that only should take up an additional 3-5 MB due to font issues.

    128 MB is down right roommmmmmmy and is a problem only for those programmers who are just plain lazy to optimize their code, or a UI that is driven more by PR than by code doing what a UI is supposed to do: display information in a clean and unobstructed manner that the user can take advantage of. Even a secondary objective of being easy enough to use that a non-geek can understand how to access the information they need is also easily done. Buttons, spinners, edit and check boxes, and "movable windows" don't really take that much extra programming.
  • good project! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by antonio_barcelona ( 1031616 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:54PM (#16977346)
    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-food. - Evelyn from Ghana. She lives on the foot of Adaklu Mountain near Lake Volta in a small village without electricity power, she is the coordinator of a Eco-tourism project. When I met her in 2004 she had email address but she had to travel 50 kilometers to check her mailbox. - Hachir lives in Tunisia near the desert. He lives in a small village they have to pump water with an engine to get a shower. He has 2 kids of 6 and 7 years old. Why his kids will never have the opportunity to know what a word processor is? - Gracious from Wa in Ghana. He studies at the University in Kumasi. In September this year he also asked me how could he get a cheap PC to learn... It's obvious that there are priorities: to eat, to read but some of the children today will be the people that tomorrow will lead these countries and the more they know the better for everybody. Sorry for my English but it's not my mother tongue.

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's