So, for those of you who could not figure out what yesterday’s cryptic post was about, my XO laptop finally arrived.

xo laptop

You can learn more about the XO at laptop.org. In short, it’s an extremely rugged laptop designed for deployment in schools in developing nations; I got mine through the Give One, Get One program, by donating funds and getting a laptop in return. I have a lot of criticisms about the way in which the program was run, but I’m not going to talk about those right now, because I would rather not dwell upon them. I want to talk about my shiny new toy, instead.

The first thing you need to know about the XO is that it is small. Very small. It is designed, after all, for children. Here’s a shot of it with my wireless keyboard and monitor, to put it in context. That keyboard, by the way, is a very small slimline edition which most of my friends can’t use because their hands are too big.

xo laptop and desktop computer

The whole thing is only about nine inches (23 cm for my metric readers) across, and the keyboard is tiny. Really tiny. I started writing this post on the XO and stopped because it was taking so long; while I will get used to the keyboard eventually, right now I’m a very slow typist on it. I keep hitting “S” instead of “A” and having trouble with the shift key.

The other important thing to remember about the XO is that it is really not designed for computing in the industrialized world. It is slow. There’s no way around that. I think that later builds and beefier versions will improve on this, and considering what the XO is designed for, I think that the speed is perfectly acceptable. After all, I can’t drop my desktop onto a stone wall from four feet and calmly pick it up again and start working. It is not insanely mind numbingly slow, but you do need to wait a moment for it to open programs, and sometimes it has trouble switching between activities…

…which brings me to the really interesting thing about the XO, the interface, Sugar. Sugar is a stripped down form of Linux which takes some getting used to. I worry, actually, that kids will get used to it and then be unable to use more widely available operating systems, including distributions of Linux. It definitely makes me rethink the way I compute, what with “activities” instead of programs, and all. But it is an easy interface to use, as long as you are comfortable working in the terminal. I am finding it very intuitive, and that may be because I am reasonably comfortable in Linux; I think that some folks are really struggling with it, which is unfortunate.

As soon I got my XO booted up, I was off and running, exploring the interface and playing with various commands. It feels extremely native and logical to me, and I like a lot of the features. I like that I can push a button to view the source of any program I am in, for example; I think that’s pretty neat.

XOs have a whole lot of other neat features, like mesh networking, which make them amazingly cool. They really are innovative, and I am proudly geeky about being able to obtain an XO, because it is fun, even though I think I will be using it mainly for the novelty and less for computing. I was hoping that mine would arrive before the G1G1 program ended so that I could gloat and convince y’all to get one, but instead you’ll have to look on eBay, alas, although there is talk of reviving the program later this year (hopefully sans the kinks I had to deal with).

I originally got the XO for work, actually, but I don’t think that I am going to be able to do work on it, unless I can adapt to the keyboard. I am also concerned about the potential for causing repetitive stress on the small keyboard, which is an issue for me. It’s still pretty damn awesome, and it will be great for sitting on the porch in the summer, because it has a screen which is specifically designed to be highly visible in daylight. Wahoo!

The other amazing thing about the XO is the user community which has grown around it. People are really helping each other out in forums, leading each other on a voyage of discovery and making resources for Sugar readily available. I was able to install Opera and Finch right after I booted up, by following very precise directions from people who had already done it, and I happen to think that is really neat. I think that developers in the industrialized world are going to contribute a lot to the XO, as we play with it, tinker, and think about ways to retool it.

Some criticisms of the XO and One Laptop Per Child have been raised, and I do think some of them are valid, but I’m not going to address them just yet. Right now, I just want to explore my new toy…I’m sure I’ll have more posts up about the XO as I play around with it and learn more about it.

For now, I’ll leave you with the truly awesome warning screen which comes up when I shut down:

warnings on XO laptop shut down screen

I especially like the one with the baby.