It’s cool being green

Don’t worry, this isn’t some worn-out anecdote about being eco-friendly. It’s about being small, sturdy, and adorable. I have the great pleasure of writing these words with an XO, courtesy of the assistant librarian and OLPC program. Here’s the shakedown:

The good

The XO

*edit*- This is exactly how far I made it before being interrupted by a phonecall from an elderly Chinese woman wanting to complain about the billing practices of her dial-up provider.  Le sigh.

So anyway, the good:

  • The XO is cute, extremely cute.  You can’t help but love it.
  • It’s also quite rugged and easy to carry around thanks to the molded plastic handle (take note, other laptop manufacturers).
  • The novel interface makes you use your brain
  • Converts into tablet-pc
  • Battery life around 4 hours
  • Small wall charger!
  • The screen is crisp and easy to read

The Bad

  • I can type about 11 words per minute with the keyboard, probably for two reasons:
  1. It’s essentially little squares of rubber with contacts embedded within, so there’s no tactile response.  I know this is for durability sake, but it needs to be improved.
  2. It’s small, as in child-size.  Not really it’s fault, I feel
  • The interface can be challenging, mostly because of the wrap-around menu options that pops up every time you approach the edge of the screen.
  • No touch screen.  The tablet-ness is wasted!
  • It can be sloooooooow.  I’m not sure why this should be, since the XO uses the Amd Geode chipset, which I know from experience can perform very well at low-speeds.  Perhaps the flash storage is the slow car in the fast-lane?
  • Webcam looks sharp when you’re chatting, terrible when you record video.

All things considered, I really liked it.  Will it drastically improve the lives of children in developing nations?  Probably not.  Here’ the rub:

The XO is the brainchild of idealism and tech-savvy, whose intent was to make laptops affordable to people everywhere.  A very noble sentiment, but the execution of such a plan is fraught with difficulty.  On the production side, there are constant delays (this XO was supposed to arrive in 2007, and only arrived 4 days ago).  Orchestrating such grand operation can’t be easy, and the give-one/get-one program may have made things worse.  But there are bigger fish to fry- certain corporate entities (*cough* Wintel *cough*) are not about to let the sub-prime laptop market go to a non-profit competitor, and have sprung into action to furnish Wintel-based laptops for the same purpose as OLPC.  On the other side of the equation, it seems that getting developing nations to sign up (and pay) for the OLPC program is becoming difficult.  I sympathize with their leaders, since at it’s inception, the OLPC was going to cost only $100, instead of the $200 it currently fetches.  Double the cost?  That can’t sit well with a nation struggling to feed and vaccinate its populous.

It continues to be a noble effort, but the OLPC program’s greatest triumph is being witnessed on the shelves of retail outlets everywhere.  I’m referring to the race to the bottom, as one myopic suit put it.  The race to produce the smallest, cheapest portable devices has scores of new competitors, each with a pint-sized product that does everything its owner needs at half the cost (and heft) of a laptop.

Using the XO in a room filled with laptop users made me feel like I was driving an MG on a road filled with Buicks.  Of course, some people need the Buicks.  The XO clearly has limitations, and genuine power-users would be appalled by it’s spartan feature-set.  Conversely, people who don’t need all the trappings of a regular laptop have traditionally been forced to purchase them anyway, since there were few alternatives.  Truthfully, most everyone would be perfectly happy using an eeepc or XO, and I’m one of ’em.

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