Monday, October 15, 2007

David Pogue's Review of the OLPC XO Laptop

In his characteristically funny way, David Pogue reviews the OLPC XO Laptop on the New York Times' site. Pogue does a great job hyping the ruggedness of the hardware, the power of the software, and the possibilities such a device creates.

Pogue shows how nearly indestructable this tough little laptop is, taking a glass of water to the keyboard (the electronics are all behind the display), dumping a handful of dirt on the keyboard (it's sealed), and even dropping the unit onto a stone wall, where it falls to the ground unscathed. This laptop is expected to perform in rugged environments and to be handled by children, so it is important that it is as rugged as Pogue demonstrates it is.

He also notes a great feature: with the press of a combination of keys on the keyboard, the user can instantly see the source code behind whatever application is currently running! This encourages the user to peek under the hood, perhaps to debug a program that doesn't work right, or to examine how a particular application works in order to build a new or different application. This open-architecture is empowering.

The collaborative possibilities offered by the XO laptop must also be noted. The hardware allows for mesh networking among individual units without the need for a centralized access point in the event one is unavailable. But what is really cool is the collaborative nature of the applications themselves: the word processor, for example, allows people to collaborate on a document. This collaborative possibility is unique and powerful. LOGO makes a short appearance in the video as well, which was exciting.

Pogue addresses the "snarkiness" of bloggers who take the laptop to task for being underpowered, slow, or nothing more than a toy. He gets it: this device is for students, not bloggers. He notes that while there are limitations, the hardware and software are powerful. Westerners who wish to get their hands on their own XO may purchase one for themselves and one for a student for two weeks, starting November 12. This is an innovative program that should help widen the distribution of these amazing machines.

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