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XP on the XOSo after the LaptopMag review of XP on the XO, the W2 Group (“a global marketing services ecosystem that helps CMOs in their new role as builders of communities and content aggregators”) sent a letter over to OLPC President Charles Kane Jr. , which was posted on the OLPC Wiki “at Chuck’s request”. The “clarifications” (I hesitate to use that word in conjunction with the bullet points provided) include gems such as:

The article mentions the 4GB SD card is a San Disk model that it is not the “Extreme III” model with 20bps read/write speed slated to ship on Phase-1 Windows machines. In fact, the pre-production test machine used for evaluation was not using the SD card provided by Microsoft. Microsoft has not provided OLPC with a Windows image on a 4GB SD card nor has Microsoft provided an electronic or OPK for image creation. [Emphasis added]

If that's not the XP-XO version of "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," I'm not sure what is. Giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, why the differences in what LaptopMag played with and what Microsoft has been saying? It all boils down to the fact that LaptopMag got a prototype machine that wasn't the latest and greatest, of course:

Based on the system description in the article, it is clear that OLPC organization provided the author with a prototype/development build of an XO system that significantly differs from both the system Microsoft had worked on with the OLPC org, featured in the partnership announcement in May and then subsequently released to manufacturing a few weeks ago (Phase-1 release) as well as the version the two organizations are working on for future release (Phase-2 release). [Emphasis added]

The XP-XO that Microsoft shipped to Jupiter analyst Michael Gartenberg was much more reflective of reality, and he posted (in haste?) a short blog entry defending XP-on-XO:

Cant’ speak to the exclusive nature of Laptop Mag’s running an OLPC running XP as I’ve been running one here for several weeks. I am finding a totally different experience with performance and load times much different and much better than the Laptops folks are getting. I checked with MSFT and it seems there’s came from the OLPC folks directly (mine came from MSFT) and our builds it seems are different. Overall, I think the hardware itself is just lacking (my first unit developed keyboard problems after a few days and needed to be swapped out) and the overall performance is hardly going to meet the needs of the uber user. It is much better than the stock OLPC OS IMHO and I imagine much more useful as well.

LaptopMag has since updated their posting with a caveat of " It has been brought to our attention that the XO we saw yesterday at OLPC’s offices was not the final release of the XP software. In fact, OLPC showed us a prototype XO that should significantly differ from the final release to Microsoft manufacturing (RTM) version." .

And remind us that all that free and open BIOS stuff is out the window, and good riddance:

Current tests reconfirm that the commercial BIOS that is planned for shipment with Phase-1 boots Windows in less than 54 seconds.

But what about software? I've yet to see a mention of how the XP-XO will be protected from virii and malware(maybe mount the core system as read-only like the AMD PIC?). As for educational software:

The article says “While Microsoft puts its Learning Essentials on the XO, which include preloaded presentation and report templates, missing are the specialized education programs central to Sugar. There are no learning games preloaded.” However, the software stack will be defined on a deal by deal basis.

I think that was meant to come off as a good thing - customized solutions per school/country with specific software installed to meet their goals. However, in the Windows world of paid licensing, I'm sure that cost will factor in to the basis of these "deals," in an inverse Namibia SchoolNet bait-and-switch setup? Let's hope it's the latter; with a "Sugar-on-XP" system, eToys/Squeak, and other open source educational materials that can run in XP.

So, overall, it's not as bad as LaptopMag made it out to be, because they were using the wrong hardware, the wrong software, and all-in-all basically a prototype machine which will never (again) see the light of day. However, some of the redeeming features of the system that LaptopMag had (particularly the ability to remove the SD card and revert to Linux/Sugar) is another artifact of the prototype:

The article states that the SD card (4GB) will require 1.81GB space for Windows and Firefox. In reality, the Windows image with Office 2003 & LE fits in just under 1GB. So, the image referenced in this article was modified from the original image provided to the OLPC org […] The article states that the entire 1GB NAND storage will be untouched. This is incorrect. The entire 1GB NAND storage will be formatted and used as free space for personal storage on Phase-1 Windows machines.

So, take that SD card out (or have it stolen and sold to a tourist for their camera's storage), and you brick your OLPC. And here I am thinking that having to have removable media in a computer to boot went away when we left the IBM PC jr. and DOS 3.1 floppies at Goodwill's doorstep in the eighties.

So I'm glad that at least most of the problems that LaptopMag reported aren't as serious as they seem; but I remain concerned about the usability of XP for education (beyond "teaching" MS Word / Powerpoint / etc.), and the loss of the natural partnership between open source and education.

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