12 minute read

Check out this video of James Utzschneider from Microsoft's Unlimited Potential team walking us through Windows XP on the OLPC XO (Video via OLPCNews.com


XP on the XO So the good news is it boots faster than Sugar; (1:05 into the video) Good going, folks. Too bad you have to cram in an SD card to make XP and Office work – so that makes it really difficult if you ever want to upgrade to a larger SD card, view photos from your camera, or any of that, presuming it won’t successfully boot without the SD card (but maybe they squeezed the XP Operating system into the onboard NAND flash drive and the SD card holds Office? That’d make more sense, so it’s probably not true).

Update Unsurprisingly, it's not true. From James' blog, emphasis added:
As I have posted earlier, we had to write multiple custom drivers and a BIOS to get Windows to boot from an SD card in order to do the Windows port to the XO. This is the initial implementation customers will be able purchase when the product RTMs and will be a "Windows only" XO that Nicholas Negroponte himself has described as running "really fast." Customers can also choose to buy the existing Linux/Sugar XO. Longer term, the OLPC plans to write a new BIOS and increase the amount of flash storage on the XO to support a "Dual Boot" option that would enable children to use either Linux or Windows on the same machine. This is fine with us as long there continues to be an excellent Windows experience on the XO.

Recording audio It goes quickly downhill from there; at 1:36 in, James shows us how to record an audio file on the XPXO. Remember, in Sugar this means pressing the “Record” activity on the bottom toolbar, selecting “Audio” (it defaults to photos, this one “Record” activity records anything – photos, video, or audio!), and pressing record – done. In XP, James navigates through 3 submenus of the Start Menu (Start-Programs-Accessories-Entertainment, for you following at home with your own XP, because when I think “record this” I think programs, then accessories, then entertainment!). So after finding the Sound Recorder, he then has to muck with the custom audio properties (Stereo sound and normal compression??) before recording finally. Right. That’s intuitive.

Recording video At 2:20 he loads up Windows Movie Maker to capture video (again, to do this in Sugar, you’d just change from Audio to Video in the Record activity). Again he mucks with compression/quality settings (1/2 MB bitrate and 30 FPS – really? I just want to press record here). It works and has the standard Windows Movie Maker timeline/video editing capabilities – providing you have any space to store in or a USB thumbdrive (adding even more to the cost of the XPXO). Besides, the video looks choppy on playback – probably because too many Windows processes are slowing down the poor XO.

“Sharing” Speaking of thumbdrives; evidentially he expects teachers using XPXOs to have thumbdrives (at 3:19) and be ready to pass them around their class to share videos/photos/recordings and such. Heck, I don’t even let my thumbdrive leave my sight at work. With class sizes of over 30, how long will it take for each student to plug a drive in, have it pop up, copy a video to their desktop (again, providing they have any space left over after Windows and Office), and then finding the “Safely Remove” icon in the taskbar, clicking it, and correctly selecting the thummdrive and not the Windows SD card, and then passing it to the next student. Sharing a video becomes an all-class-session activity. What happened to using the mesh?

Power Putting the laptop into the tablet configuration in Windows seems to switch it to the no-backlight screen mode (4:00); which I hope is not automatic if a child wants to, I dunno, read a book at night in a house without any other light source? In no-backlight mode, he claims you can use the laptop for 20 hours, which I find hard to believe, but if Windows isn’t supporting the mesh network and therefore the wifi is also turned off, it’s remotely possible. I watched full-screen video with wifi off on a flight recently and it lasted the full duration of the two and a half hour movie, plus some time left at the end to play the Implode activity (my secret XO addiction) before having to turn off all electronics for landing; so in full, CPU-sleeping screen-off mode, it probably could last that long; maybe us Sugar users should turn off wifi and see how long a backlightless Read activity can last?

Wifi At 4:50 he shows us how to access a wireless network. Now, as a guy who often gets calls from parents, friends, parents of friends and friends of friends trying to connect to a wireless network in XP, I can safely say that configuring wifi on XP is one of the most confusing tasks ever to be standardized. No mention of support mesh networking, which may mean that the laptops are not connected to even a local network once they leave the access-point connectivity of the school (if there’s even good connection at the school; my experience with Jamaican schools built with lots of rebar, cinder blocks, and metal roofing played havoc with omni-directional wifi ranges).

Security ? Not mentioned in the video of course is the dire need for security software – anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware, anti-phishing and so on that’s suddenly very important if you’re releasing XP+IE machines to people who haven’t developed a callous shell of cynicism and doubt when approached by Nigerian 419 scams, “Your computer is infected” flashing malware banner ads, and the like. By the time you load all of this up, the low-power computer will slow to a barely-usable crawl.

Conclusions Sugar had its faults; no doubt about it; but it was clean and intuitive with a core belief of an “unlimited ceiling” of upward development – Sugar was an adult bike with many layers of training wheels that could be removed; with lots of integrated paths to help do just that with eToys teaching programming methods and the various puzzles teaching slowly-more-challenging problem solving skills. Windows is designed against this, with no programming tools built in, and an almost anti-hacker/explorer/fiddler philosophy that goes beyond it merely being “closed source” to putting up impediments to learning any useful skills. Though Laptop.org currently seems down (perhaps under DDOS by annoyed former fans, or being redesigned with all the “Open” language removed; the Archive.org copy reminds us where the OLPC project was originally headed; and how far it’s strayed. Nicholas Negroponte can keep saying that the project has remained “very pure” as much as he wants, and claim that “OLPC remains fully committed to our goal: a completely free and open learning platform for the world’s children”, I think it’s safe to say that no one believes it:

XO is built from free and open-source software. Our commitment to software freedom gives children the opportunity to use their laptop computers on their own terms. While we do not expect every child to become a programmer, we do not want any ceiling imposed on those children who choose to modify their machines. We are using open-document formats for much the same reason: transparency is empowering. The children—and their teachers—will have the freedom to reshape, reinvent, and reapply their software, hardware, and content.

And I certainly don't see how he can with any straight face maintain that "The mission statement of OLPC has not changed in three years"

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