Two Projects We Love


OLPC: In Rwanda schools and on their moneyOLPC: In Rwanda schools and on their moneyIt was recently announced that the Raspberry Pi (RPi) has sold 1.75 million units in the 1.5 years they have been available. That is seen by most folks as a screaming success. In contrast, the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC) has sold about twice as many OLPC units in about 6+ years... yet it is seen by some as a quasi-failure.

Target Audiences - Both projects have targeted the education market. OLPC is aimed at general education and early grades whereas the RPi is targeted at the same and older age groups specifically in computer science education.

The OLPC has been sold specifically to governments and school systems and while they dipped their toes in the consumer market with the Give 1 Get 1 programs, those efforts were not well executed and as a result only became a small fraction of their sales. The bulk of the RPi sales have been directly to the retail market. RPi is still working on educational materials and it is still unclear how well it will do within school systems. Retail sales may still help with the RPi goals but to what degree is unclear. It appears the bulk of their sales are going to hobby type projects and I'm not sure if those qualify.

Copy Cats - The hardware of both projects launched new mass-market product categories because oddly the retail and wholesale mega-corps got scared and had to introduce competing products. The netbook did quite well for a couple of years but the pricing on more traditional laptops dropped low enough to practically eliminate it. There are a large number of ARM-based RPi like single-board computers (not counting the embedded market that pre-existed) but I'm not sure that any of those will be notably successful. RPi clones are somewhat overlapped by the mini-Android clone market.

Hardware and Pricing - Both projects have had unanticipated delays in their design and production phases but they made it through. OLPC ended up being more than double their target price, which appears to have been unrealistic... while the RPi, perhaps having a closer relationship to a component manufacturer, hit their targets. The OLPC is a more complete gadget whereas the RPi requires a significant amount of hardware extras before it is usable. While it is easy to overlook the extra costs associated with the RPi, they are definitely real.

Both projects have revisited their designs coming out with newer hardware releases. The OLPC is in their fourth iteration and they completely changed CPU arches yet the outsides look exactly the same. The second RPi release doubled the RAM without a price increase... awesome.

Software - One major difference is in software. The OLPC Project designed a custom user interface and several stock educational activities on top of Linux whereas Raspberry Pi hasn't had to do as much in the way of software. Both projects have successfully relied on the communities that sprung up around them to augment the software both provide but the RPi seems to have a ways yet to go with the software for their target audience.

Roots and Expectations - Given the similarities and differences between both projects, why is one more often perceived as a greater success than the other? I think a lot has to do with the roots and expectations. One had a big name and lots of media up front and was expected to "change the world" and the other, not so much. I think that is the main reason for the perceptions but there is certainly more to both projects than such a simplified type of judgement conveys.

Unanswered questions - Here are some of the questions that come to my mind. Did I leave any out?

How well will RPi do inside of school systems?

Will RPi rev their hardware like OLPC has with major changes? If so, how will it impact manufacturing costs and pricing?

Will any of the wanna-be products be able to significantly poach users away from RPi or will RPi do that themselves with a later model?

Does the current RPi model B have such a strong mindshare that a future model may be overshadowed by it?

What future plans does the OLPC project have?

How many more OLPCs could have been sold if they had added the consumer retail market as a target and executed as well in that space as RPi has?

OLPC has taken a small foray into the consumer market by allowing their name and look be to be used by one budget Android tablet maker. How well will that do and will there be others?

How exactly do these OLPC licensed third-party projects benefit the OLPC project?

And lastly, will any of those questions ever be answered??! :)

Conclusion - In any event, I'm glad we have both projects and wish them continuing success and a long future. Keep up the great work everyone. Will there be any other projects that make it this level? I certainly hope so. We definitely need more open hardware in the market.

OLPC XO-1.75 Arrives


Thank you Fedora Project! The One Laptop Per Child XO-1.75 unit arrived via FedEx today. It was sent to me by the Fedora Project as part of their Summer of Fun and Open Hardware contest. It didn't come in a traditional OLPC box but rather it was wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a cardboard FedEx shipping container.

One thing that is cool about this unit is that it has a "high-school" keyboard on it which is made of hard plastic and much like a traditional netbook keyboard... rather than the standard soft rubber keyboard. I'm actually able to touch type on the keyboard without too much effort. There are a few keys that have been moved around to accomodate the cramped size but the vast majority of keys are fine. I never thought I'd be able to type very fast on an OLPC but this keyboard makes that very easy. In fact I typed this blog post on the OLPC.

The first thing I did was to update the software to the latest (Fedora 17-based) release. Sugar has some really nice software but if one desires, the GNOME 3 Fallback Mode desktop is also available.

One of the Sugar Activities I like a lot is "Get Books" which is a combination book catalog and reader. It ties into Feedbooks.com website which has plenty of public domain books to choose from in a number of genres. Most books are available in PDF and EPUB versions... both of which are readable inside the "Get Books" activity. The features provided by the program to adjust font sizes and jump around in the book work quite well. There is even a feature to have it read a selection aloud using a software-based mouth. I believe it uses the popular Festival text-to-speech system but I'm not positive. If one rotates the screen and flips it down, the navigation keys on the screen work well for scrolling, changing the font size, etc. The OLPC is a darn good eBook reader.

For more pictures see the OLPC gallery. Credits for some pictures go to Christoph Derndorfer and Mike Lee on Flickr.

OLPC: Major Software Update

The OLPC folks sent out an announcement this morning that reads:

We're pleased to announce the release of OLPC OS 12.1.0 for XO-1, XO-1.5 and XO-1.75. Details of new features, known issues, and how to download/install/upgrade can all be found in the release notes:

Many thanks to all contributors, testers, upstreams, and those who have provided feedback of any kind.

For those who were following the release candidate process in the last few weeks: candidate build 21 is released as final with no changes.

Thanks and enjoy!

I have all three models and will be updating soon. I had tried the update on an OLPC XO-1.75 already and it is pretty sweet. Good job folks!

It is based on Fedora 17 and Suger 0.96

Fedora Summer of Open Hardware and Fun


I submitted an application for the Fedora Summer of Open Hardware program. Haven't heard of that? Well, the Fedora folks had accumulated quite a bit of hardeware that they wanted to pass along to their community members. The hardware consisted of Aurdino, Raspberry Pi, and OLPC XO-1.75 units. Since I already have a Raspberry Pi that I bought myself... and I'm part of an OLPC Lending Library project that already has X0-1.0 and XO-1.5 units... I thought I'd go for an XO-1.75. I just got word today that I was approved and should get the laptop in a few weeks.

How does the XO-1.75 differ from previous models? Well the main difference is that it uses an ARM-based CPU rather than an Intel compatible. As a result the XO-1.75 supposedly has an improved battery life. All of the OLPC models so far use the same case so even though they may be vastly different inside, they all look the same on the outside. Another area where some of the models vary is in the keyboards they have. For example, the "HS" model stands for "high school" and it has a hard plastic keyboard like a traditional netbook rather than the rubber keyboard the non-HS models have. With the XO-1.75 it appears that the keyboard has changed again. While it is still a rubbery keyboard, it is mostly covered by a white, hard plastic cover that has holes that they keys stick out through. See the picture above. The laptop on the left is an XO-1.75 whereas the one on the right is a previous model with an HS keyboard.

Video: OLPC Tablet reports from CES


OLPC News: The OLPC Tablet at CES?

OLPC Tablet A1 board prototypeOLPC Tablet A1 board prototype

It seems that the upcoming OLPC XO 3 Tablet is getting some buzz right before its debut next week at CES. It is said to be an 8" tablet that may come in a few models. Information about it is currently very sketchy but supposedly some will be revealed next week. I am NOT posting any of the early concept pictures because they are dated and I'm fairly sure the real thing looks quite different... since it is designed to be very rugged for children. Here are some external links to get you in the mood:

COMPUTERWORLD - OLPC's XO-3 tablet to debut at CES

ELECTRONISTA - OLPC XO 3.0 tablet to show at CES with Android, Sugar

ENGADGET - OLPC outs XO 3.0 tablet at last, will make its debut at CES

GIZMODO - The $100 OLPC Tablet Is Really Real and Debuting at CES

OLPC News - What Will OLPC Show at CES 2012 Next Week?

OFFICIAL OLPC WIKI - XO-3 Tablet Alpha test model

There is a lot of repeating of the same speculation (echo chamber) and even some misinformation... but at least there appears to be some interest. For one thing the XO 1.75 is NOT out yet (March 2012?). They are keeping the Pixel Qi screen layer that gives it an eInk display mode just like in all previous OLPCs... but probably not in the $100 model. I think both Amazon and Barnes & Noble really missed the boat when they DID NOT but the Pixel Qi eInk layer in the displays of their Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet products. An eInk display mode in a color display from book sellers would have been a no-brainer. Who would of thought the OLPC project would have remained innovative with a 5 year old feature they pioneered?

I have to wonder if the OLPC folks have finalized the design and all of the models they plan to offer and what features they will have. I doubt it because the alpha board appears to have arrived about a month ago and they said they have more shrinking to do and a few more features to add... although it is currently half the size of the XO 1.75 board. The $100 model will almost certainly sacrifice some features because they can not sell them at a loss and make up the difference with "content sales" like the commercial vendors.

Is the $100 entry-level price hard to believe? Not really. The upcoming $25 / $35 Raspberry Pi devices (not shipping yet but probably within a month) have shown that modern SoC designs can actually be inexpensive. The OLPC XO-3 Tablet will have more hardware features than the Raspbery Pi including the not-cheap display, camera, wifi and battery (although no wired network port).

While the low price points are definitely achievements, there are three factors that make such pricing possible:

  1. Both OLPC and Raspberry Pi are non-profits
  2. Both are using completely free (speech and beer) software
  3. Both are aimed at the education market

One big difference though is that the OLPC project remains focused on only selling in bulk directly to governments and school systems whereas the Raspberry Pi is targeting single-unit direct-sales to the public.

Update: I found some images of the real external design. It is supposedly going to be shown early (Sunday night). The images look real and to the best of my knowledge, they are... and some ports are visible. Note that the thickness is what you'd expect in a rugged device... and is very reminiscent of the display-half of the current OLPC models. Since the existing OLPC models ALREADY had all of the guts behind the display (with the exception of the battery), this is definitely what I was expecting... but the lids are a surprising twist, eh?

OLPC XO 3.0 Tablet with coverOLPC XO 3.0 Tablet with cover

Two OLPC tablets, one with solar panel charging lid(?) and other with flexibleTwo OLPC tablets, one with solar panel charging lid(?) and other with flexible

By the way, a package showed up in my mailbox yesterday... a long lost OLPC XO 1.5. I just updated it to the latest stable software release and will be revisiting it since I haven't gotten much time with a 1.5. It will be available in the OPLC Lending Library RSN.

Video: OLPC 1.75 - ARM-based


The OLPC Project announced the OLPC 1.75 based on an ARM CPU some time ago so it is good to finally see some of the fruits of their labor. Enjoy this video:

Video: Nicholas Negroponte on The Colbert Report


I've been watching The Colbert Report since episode one from five years ago... and I see sites like crooksandliars posting videos from TCR and The Daily Show all the time... so I assume it is ok to post... but if someone from Viacom says otherwise, I'll gladly take it down.

Anyway, Nicholas Negroponte was a guest and although there isn't much real content for us Linux / OLPC knowledgeable folks, it is still fun to watch. Embedded is the webm version.

If inline playback isn't available, feel free to download the Ogg Theora flavor.

OLPC: What does the XO-1.5 HS look like?

Ok, so you know about the XO-1.5 and you've been told about the XO-1.5 HS which is an X0 but with a different keyboard. I finally ran across two pictures of one and here they are:


You have to look closely but yes, that is an OLPC. The darker color, antennas down, and hard plastic keyboard really make for a different look, eh? I have no idea why the desktop background on display is from Fedora 7. I believe the idea for offering a model for older kids with a different keyboard came from seeing some altered OLPC units that modders had done. I wish I had some bigger pictures so I could see the keyboard better. It looks very similar to my Acer keyboard except for the function keys.

OLPC: Upgrading X0-1 to new SugarLabs Release


I saw an announcement the other day about a development OS release (os16) for the OLPC XO-1 laptop that basically brings it into parity with the release on the XO-1.5. I downloaded it, got a developer key, unlocked an OLPC, and figured out how to install it. Once you become familiar with the process, it is actually easy and straight forward. I even played with the FORTH-based firmware for the first time.

The main new features in the OS16 devel release are:

  1. Based on Fedora 11 (was 9)
  2. 2.6.31 Kernel (was 2.6.27)
  3. Includes "Switch to GNOME" option
  4. Additional productivity Apps
  5. Updated Sugar release

Of course the hardware in the XO-1 has not changed but the new software still runs quit well in 256MB of RAM with no SWAP.

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