XO-1: The $100 Laptop (Which Cost $200) - Krazy Ken’s Tech Talk

XO-1: The $100 Laptop (Which Cost $200) - Krazy Ken’s Tech Talk

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- This is the "$100 Laptop," which costs $200. What?! Don't worry. This will all make sense soon. And whether you know it or not, this little green guy altered the tech world you're living in right now. (upbeat music) Hey everyone, how are you all doing? If you're new here, welcome. My name is Krazy Ken. And this is the OLPC XO-1 AKA the $100 laptop.

It flips, it swivels, it's green, it's just a cool looking computer, but the computer is just a tiny part of the story. OLPC stands for One Laptop per Child and they were an ambitious charity on a quest to change the world, and I highly respect that. So let's see how well that worked out. But first we need to know how it all started. This is Seymour Papert. He was a media lab professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he was one of the founders of constructionism, an educational theory that states children can learn much more effectively when they're able to build things.

Seymour was also one of the inventors of the logo programming language, which was designed for children. It was released in 1966 and went on to play a key role in children's education in the early days of the personal computer. Its popularity grew significantly in the 1980s and it ran on multiple platforms. Now, there was another person who observed Seymour's constructionism theory, Nicholas Negroponte. Nicholas co-founded the MIT Media lab in 1985 with Jerome B. Wiesner. This is where Professor Seymour Papert worked.

20 years later in January, 2005, Nicholas was about to form the non-profit, One Laptop per Child, and the organization's roots were based on constructionism. OLPC's mission was to be an education project, not a laptop project. Their goal was to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment, and express themselves. That may sound a little nebulous, but OLPC would achieve this by providing each school age child in a developing country, their very own laptop, and these kids would keep the laptops. OLPC wasn't just donating some computers to some classrooms, each kid would get to keep their very own computer, but there was just one little problem, money. In 2005, laptops were relatively much more expensive than they are now.

You typically couldn't get a good machine for less than a thousand dollars, and there were no Chromebooks or iPads back then. So Nicholas had to get the price down, but first he had to gain awareness for this project. Thankfully, Nicholas had some success doing something similar in the past. He helped bring computers to developing areas such as Dakar in 1982 and Cambodia in 2002. So why not? Let's do it again. On January 26th, 2005, Nicholas spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Oh, not on some big stage or anything, that's what I originally pictured. No, it was in the hallways. John Markoff of the New York Times wrote about Nicholas's laptop pitch, and he said Nicholas didn't get a more official platform at the World Economic Form because the form was prioritizing other inequalities. They weren't focusing much on the digital divide. - We have 10,000 children who die every single day, 10,000 because they don't have this clean glass of water.

Nicholas brought a mock-up of the soon to be computer along with him and he pitched this new idea for a $100 laptop. And overall it was pretty well received, but like with anything new, there will be skeptics and there will be critics. Some attendees complain that charitable efforts should focus on clean water in real schools. Bill Gates even told reporters, "Geez, get a decent computer where we can actually read the text." It's okay, Bill, it's just a prototype.

It's barely even a prototype, just give it a little bit of time. But on the plus side, companies believed in Nicholas's idea and he was backed by big names, AMD, Google, Red Hat, and Nortel, just to name a few. Quantum computers also backed the project and would go on to manufacture the laptop. And in 2006, Marvell would join too and soon their chips would help power the laptops. The forum ran from January 26th to the 30th and in the middle on the 28th, Nicholas officially started the One Laptop per Child project and colleagues from the media lab joined him, Joe Jacobson and Seymour Paper.

Joe was the co-founder of E Ink Corp, which sounds like a good guy you want to know if you're making a product that has a screen. Later in the year, Nicholas met with Mary Lou Jepsen, who just joined the Media Lab faculty in April, 2005. Talk about good timing. She co-founded the MicroDisplay Corporation, so Nicholas et al picked her brain to see how can we make a good display that fits the design of this laptop and fits within the price. As the team worked hard on the physical laptop itself, Nicholas traveled the globe to drum up attention for this project and more countries were getting on board. We really believe we can make literally hundreds of millions of these machines available to children around the world, Nicholas said, and it's not just $100, it's going to go lower.

I was actually surprised that he said that because I already thought $100 was super ambitious, but to go even lower, Nicholas is pretty optimistic, maybe too optimistic. In November, 2005 at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Nicholas and United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan presented an updated prototype of the laptop named Green Machine and it captured the interest of more journalists. This new prototype featured a hand crank to power the laptop, which was first demoed on September 28th, 2005 at MIT's Emerging Technologies Conference. And according to Morgan Ames book, the Charisma Machine, when Annan demoed the crank, it promptly broke off in front of everybody.

By the end of 2005, OLPC gained the attention of several foreign countries and Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney. They were all planning to deploy laptops to millions of children. The project even captured Steve Jobs attention. He offered free copies of Apple's Macs 10 operating system for the OLPC, but Seymour declined the offer because he wanted an entirely open source solution. Now it's time for the next world economic forum on January 26th, 2006.

And remember one year ago, Nicholas was wandering the halls pitching this $100 laptop idea, but a lot has changed since then. At the forum, the United Nations Development Program announced it would back the laptop with the aim of selling 1 million units by the end of 2007. So the momentum was growing. At this point, the laptop didn't have an official name, but it was still commonly referred to as the $100 laptop.

That's a bold name with a bold promise. And when you toss that name around for a year, you start to set certain expectations and hopefully they can be met. I think you know where I'm going with this. Yeah, the price never got that low. But before we dive into the price some more, let's talk about the name.

In 2006, OLPC changed the name too, the Children's Machine, which was also the name of a book that Seymour Papert wrote. Coincidence? I think not. In 2007, the official final name for the laptop was XO. The name was based off the logo, which was designed by Michael (indistinct) at the Pentagram Design Firm. And it looks like a happy kid, you know, with a head and arms, you know, I see it, it works. You know, now I see the singular logo and I can't unsee it.

Okay, so now let's talk about that price situation. Walter Bender was the president of OLPC and he and the team worked very hard to get the price down. They actually got it down to $130, getting pretty close to a hundred, but they cut so many corners, the laptop barely worked, so they had to make some adjustments. Ultimately, the final price was $188, which is obviously above 100. In Nicholas's defense, he did say it's a floating price. We have a target of $100 by 2008, but probably it will be 135, maybe 140.

We are promising that the price will go down. After a pilot program and some more testing, Uruguay became the first country to place an official order, and this was in October. They ordered 100,000 laptops. So this was a big step. And on November 6th, mass manufacturing officially began. Now you couldn't just waltz into a Circuit City and buy one of these things.

They were sold to governments and then they were distributed appropriately. But after mass production started, OLPC started a donation program where you could donate $200 to give a laptop to a child via xogiving.org. And on November 12th, they launched a Give one, Get one program. If you donate $399, OLPC will give a laptop to a child and ship one to you or to your cat, I suppose. The program lasted until the end of the year and it raised $35 million. I think that's a great start.

So that brings us to the physical product itself, and thanks to the Betty Crocker Gushers giveaway, I have an XO-1 right here. No, I'm just kidding, I didn't win the giveaway, I just bought it on eBay. We'll also cover this laptop's battery life, which is really important because in some use cases you may not always have electricity and sometimes you might find yourself in a similar situation and that's why it's always nice to carry a power bank with you.

And I like this SHARGE Power Bank because honestly it just looks freaking cool. I love Clear Tech. SHARGE made the world's first transparent power banks, and this is the Shargeek 100. 25,600 milliamp hour capacity, 100-watt fast charging in and out. You can charge the whole thing in just 90 minutes. It has a display so you can adjust settings and monitor temperatures.

And it has two USB-C ports, one USB-A port, and a DC port with adjustable voltage. You can charge almost anything like phones, tablets, laptops, you name it. But Ken, is it airline safe? Yes, it actually says right here, airline safe. And here's another cool SHARGE product, SHARGE Disk.

It's a tiny M.2 SSD enclosure with a cooling fan. It uses USB-C for data transfer up to 10 gigabits per second, and it's cable-less, but you can use a cable if you want to. It has a right protection switch and with the included case, it's IP54 rated for six and a half foot drops. So go ahead and click the link down below in the description to get your own SHARGE products right now. Okay, let's take a closer look at this laptop's hardware. The XO is green and white, and the colors were inspired by the Nigerian flag according to ZDNET Asia.

Now look, it even has a handle too. Oh dang, I just remembered this is the same laptop, Strong Bad, used. He must have donated. Good for him!

The shell was built to be child friendly, which inherently means durable two-millimeter-thick plastic is a must. The design is rain resistant and can survive five foot drops. But don't take my word for it. - Try doing that with one of the other laptops. Okay, and it's always gonna work.

It seems to be working still. - Yes, it does work. - It does work. There's also no vents, which helps prevent water and debris from getting inside and there's no fans or mechanical hard discs. Fewer moving parts means potentially fewer failure points. The keyboard is constructed of this green membrane and while the small keys and lack of tactility might be annoying to us adults, for kids, this is maybe a better solution because it prevents dust and debris and spills from getting underneath the keyboard. Beneath the keyboard is an Alps electric touch pad with left and right click XO buttons, and there's two resistive pads for a stylus, but an official stylus accessory was never released and in the next XO revision, the resistive pads were completely removed.

The top and bottom plastics are textured with a bump pattern. And here's a subtle touch. Closer to the handle reveals an XO logo pattern.

The large XO logo on the back was also printed in numerous color combinations so kids could tell their laptops apart. The rubber flip up ears on the sides of the screen serve three functions. They latched the laptop closed, they covered the IO and they house the wifi antennas. They can be positioned upwards to extend the range.

On the left side is the AC barrel jack, USB and audio in and out. On the right side are two more USB ports and underneath is an SD card slot, which is kind of hard to get to, but it's there. On the display bezel, we have a camera and microphone, speakers, a D-Pad, a screen rotate button, the power button and game buttons. And the D-Pad and game buttons come in handy when you flip the screen around and lay it flat. Now you've transformed your XO into a tablet slash e-reader, and here's where that Mary magic comes into play.

The team built a seven and a half inch two-in-one display. The first mode shows color and uses a backlight and power consumption is only 0.2 to one watts. The second mode uses a transflective panel for light.

The backlight turns off and the color switches to black and white. This mode works better in bright conditions and it draws much less power, 0.1 to 0.2 watts. It's great for reading and the XOs display controller chip and RAM enables the display to remain live while the processor is suspended. The system regularly turns on and off components on the motherboard to help save power, and this rapid switching is imperceptible to the user.

And speaking of power, the removable battery is built into the base. It's a 3.1 amp hour battery, and according to Linux Today, it can last around six hours on a full charge.

It's a good balance of form and function. A smart guy must have led the design. Oh yeah, it's Yves Behar on the Fuseproject. They make some cool looking stuff.

After the XO, they went on to design many more products including the Jambox and something I made an episode about recently, the OUYA. Now let's go inside and look at the specs. The bezel display and back panel are held in with a total of 12 Phillips screws. Then there were three more Phillips screws holding this metal shield/heat spreader on the motherboard.

Inside we have an AMD Geode LX processor clocked at 433 megahertz, one gigabyte of flash memory for storage, 256 megabytes of RAM and here's our DCON chip and RAM we were talking about earlier. And here we see Marvell helping us out with a camera and flash enabler chip, which helps drive the camera NAND flash storage and the SD card interface. They also made the wireless chips. The XO supports 802.11b/g wifi and 802.11s mesh networking,

which means XOs can work together to provide internet access to other XOs. The feature was buggy to say the least, and users complained. And in the next revision of the hardware, OLPC didn't even bother building in the mesh networking feature.

Now when you're in a developing country, you may not always have access to electricity, which is why OLPC tried the hand crank thing, but we all know how well that worked out. So the team worked really hard to get the peak energy consumption down to five watts and only one watt when idle. However, in my testing, my XO peaked at 9.1 watts.

I'm not sure why there was that discrepancy there, but I still think that's pretty low. But if you didn't have an outlet, the XO can be powered by a pole cord generator or a solar panel. So that's the XO-1 hardware. Now let's take a look at the software and much like the hardware, the software was heavily customized to fit the goals for children's education. Keeping the open source software goal in mind, the XO runs a slim version of Fedora Linux, a Linux distro. Running on top of the OS is an education-focused desktop environment named Sugar.

Walter Bender led the development and Pentagram helped design the UI. I'm not sure why OLPC chose the name Sugar, maybe it's just because kids love sugar. Okay, funny enough, I just checked inside of Morgan's book and she said something similar. Great minds think alike. Anyway, when you boot it up, you get a startup sound. (tech music) I love that.

So sugar's fundamentals are a little bit different than a typical desktop environment we're used to. There's no applications per se. Programs are named activities and when they're used, they're recorded into the journal, which is a core part of sugar. Everything the user does throughout the day is automatically recorded into the journal and there's no traditional desktop with overlapping windows. Instead, all activities occupy the full screen and your favorite activity icons are arranged in a circle in the home view, depending on the build, sometimes a spiral.

You can switch to freeform mode to place the icons anywhere and to see all installed activities, you can click the list button. The home view is the third layer or view of the operating system. Sugar has four of them, and you can switch between the four views with these circular buttons on the keyboard. Zooming all the way out gives you the neighborhood view, which shows other XO users and internet access points including mesh networks. Zooming in gives you the group view, which shows your friends, then the home view, then your current activity.

The frame button instantly displays several features and it's accessible in any activity. From here, you can view your clipboard, change your zoom level, switch between activities, alt tab also works, see your buddy list and check status indicators. You can also access the frame by moving your cursor into a corner. And when typing, you can use the alt graphic key to enter special characters from the keyboard.

And this next part really surprised me. If you press function space bar, the source code for the activity you're in displays right in front of you. Off the top of my head, I don't know if any other computer that does that, like that's pretty cool. They're really focusing on open source.

There's some other keys on here, which according to the manual, were saved for future releases, but I don't know, I can't get them to do anything. There's lots of built-in activities and you can also download more from the library. On my XO, I have music playing activities, a web browser, drawing, Python programming, physics simulation, games, and probably my favorite, speak. - Shall we play a game? - Building on Seymour's constructionism ideas, these activities help children learn by building things. Heck, you can even program in logo if you want, and the turtle is still there, just like in the old days. Maybe you've had enough sugar for the day, so if you need to, you can switch to gnome and have more of a traditional desktop environment and then to switch back, just double click the sugar icon.

For security, XO used a system developed by Ivan Krstić named BITFROST. It was Password-less and if a laptop didn't check in with the school via wifi or a USB dongle, the laptop would lock itself. BITFROST also runs activities in a sandbox so they can't see other programs, system paths or user documents without direct user intervention. So that's the XO software. And for what it's worth, you can still download versions of sugar from sugarlabs.org. The activities library is also still online and OLPC still offers images of the operating system that are specifically made for their hardware.

But you know, like with anything, there's limitations especially on first generation products, but those were small issues in the grand scheme of things. The bigger issues were with OLPC's mission and the execution. Just like earlier, critics argued that the mission ignored bigger problems in the world like food, water, and shelter.

Is this a bad time to mention I donate a laptop to someone in need every time I hit a million views? You know, these criticisms kind of remind me of that donkey comic. No matter what you do, even if it's with great intentions, like you're always gonna have critics. Other issues stemmed from the lack of maintainability. OLPC was accused of just giving every kid a laptop and then that's it.

Where's the tech support? Sure, the system was easy to open, but that doesn't mean you can repair it properly. First off, you have to know how to repair it, not just how to open it up and you need the parts. Some of the parts were proprietary, so if there was a hardware problem, fixing them would not be practical. And that's what happened over the months. There were issues, there were hardware problems and the usage declined.

There were also logistical issues. For example, Peru committed to 2.2 million laptops, but as of a 2009 report, only 350,000 were delivered. And unfortunately, problems like this contributed to the lower sales numbers. And I know it's still early in the whole process, but when you toss around the word millions a bunch, just like with the price, you set certain expectations.

2007 sales totaled around 600,000, which is 400,000 short of the United Nations 2007 projection, and it doesn't look like they're on track to hit their year two goal of 100 to 150 million, which Nicholas projected at MIT world in September, 2005. Son of a beach ball, a hundred to 150 million, that is a really optimistic number. At this point, some countries started backing out and competition was starting to heat up. And to understand that a little bit more, we need to rewind a bit. In March, 2007, Intel shipped their first generation Classmate PC. This kind of pissed Nicholas off.

He accused intel of trying to destroy the non-profit and to make things even more awkward, Intel joined OLPC on July 13th of the same year. Yeah, that relationship lasted less than five months. Nevertheless, before the XO even shipped, it was gonna have to brace for competition and it didn't stop with just Intel. While the first XO was still under development, ASUS revealed the Eee PC, which gave birth to the netbook boom.

The first Eee PC would go on to sell five million units in the first year, despite costing twice as much as the XO at $399. Back to early 2008, Nicholas tried to give the XO some competitive advantages. Him and the team toyed with the idea of running Windows XP on the laptop but ultimately that plan did network out and Walter actually left OLPC. Don't worry, he founded Sugar Labs so he can still maintain sugar as a separate independent open source project. He wasn't the only one to leave though.

Mary and Ivan also left in early 2008. And Mary did what's called a pro-gamer move. She founded the for profit company Pixel Qi and they made low power displays, which OLPC needed. Don't worry, they both signed across license agreements so they're getting along just fine, on paper anyway. So numbers were being missed and people were leaving the organization.

Things were looking a little bleak, but surely things can't get any worse- - The signs were everywhere, but now it's official we are in a recession. - Most significant financial crisis in the post-war period. - The Dow plunged nearly 680 points today. - But the news could only get worse.

- Oh yeah... the housing bubble. These economic challenges eventually led to the death of the XO-2, which was a dual screen tablet concept priced at $75. And I don't wanna blame the economy entirely for this next part, but I'm pretty sure it didn't help.

On November 17th, 2008, OLPC ran another give one get one program, but it generated less than 10% of the 2007 program from only one year earlier. In the midst of these challenges, Nicholas had some serious thinking to do. On January 7th, 2009, he began restructuring OLPC. He cut the staff in half and not literally, 'cause that would be bloody, I mean he downsized the staff by 50%. He slashed the budget from 12 million to 5 million and he split OLPC into two entities.

The new OLPC Foundation handled hardware development. While the OLPC Association continued the distribution of existing hardware, maybe this restructure could save them. OLPC wasn't calling it quits yet. Progress isn't linear. There is peaks and valleys and OLPC still believed in their mission and it looks like Nicholas did too 'cause otherwise he wouldn't try to save it. So what's next? XO 1.5. That's what's next. The XO 1.5 released in January, 2010.

It replaced the AMD Geode with a faster VIA C7-M clocked at varied speeds from 400 megahertz to one gigahertz. The RAM was also upgraded to one gigabyte and the flash memory was upgraded from one gigabyte to four gigabytes of storage, which was now an internal micro SD card, so it could be upgraded. In March, 2012, the XO 1.75 was released, and the biggest new feature is an 800 megahertz Marvell Armada 610, which is an ARMv7 processor. Previous XO processors used the X86 architecture, which is typically more hungry.

This ARM-based architecture only drew two watts, and I've seen various prices for the XO 1.75, but it never got down to $100 in case you're wondering. At CES 2012, OLPC showed the XO-3, which was a tablet. Essentially, it was a redo of the XO-2 without the dual screen form factor, but it was canceled in November in favor of the next XO laptop, and I'm sure you can guess what the name was.

That's right. XO-5. Just kidding! It was XO-4. Released in March of 2013, according to Engadget, the XO-4 was available for $206 per unit with a minimum order quantity of 10,000. The XO-4 had some souped up internals and a micro HDMI port but the most exciting feature was the optional touchscreen. The XO-4 touch used infrared technology. Yeah, it could only track two fingers at a time, but I guess that's okay for the price. And on July 16th, OLPC launched the Android-based XO tablet for $149, but there was still one more laptop up OLPC's sleeve, but we're about three years away from that.

On March 11th, 2014, OLPC News reported that the OLPC Foundation had quietly disbanded, but the association continues to operate. In 2015, it was acquired by the Zamora Terán Foundation and it now operates as OLPC Incorporated. At this time, OLPC was actually working on a new laptop with a bigger screen and faster internals. And one of the reasons was manufacturers were saying, "Hey, the parts are getting harder to find." And it launched in 2016 and here it's.

Yeah, it's kind of transitioning to a traditional laptop look. And they called it NL3. I'm not sure where the name actually comes from, but there you go, NL3. Shortly before the NL3 launch in 2015, OLPC's total laptop shipments reached nearly 3 million children around the world. The OLPC website today currently says over 3 million. So perhaps that number slowly grew over time.

Was the sales number as big as originally hyped? No. Was the price ever as low as a hundred dollars? No. These utopian predictions caused some complications for the organization, but ultimately I still think 3 million is a really good achievement. OLPC today still focuses on fundraising efforts, and in 2022, they changed the meaning of their name to represent Operation Learning Project and Computer. Over OLPC's life, people came and went. Mary originally left in 2008 to form Pixel Qi and she eventually formed OpenWater.

Ivan went on to work for Apple in 2008. Apparently he achieved this by emailing Steve Jobs at 1:46 in the morning. Talk about being a go-getter. And Nicholas is an angel investor, and I believe Nicholas has pushed for a 100 to $200 laptop plus the competition that came out around the same time helped push down prices throughout the industry. And shortly after this whole XO thing started, we saw iPads and Chromebooks hit the market.

A lot more affordable and accessible devices were becoming available. In June, 2016, during an interview on Martha's Vineyard Arts and Ideas, Nicholas said, "We estimate that there are about 50 million laptops in the hands of kids who wouldn't have otherwise gotten them. Not because we made those laptops, but because we pulled the prices down." And I agree, I believe this tiny white and green laptop and the countless employees and volunteers who helped make it happen had rippling effects through the industry. But what about Seymour Papert, the man behind constructionism, which all of this was based on? Sadly, we lost Seymour on July 31st, 2016 at the age of 88.

But the legacy he left on computers and education is timeless. And I swear I did not plan this. But a couple weeks before I started writing this episode, and before I knew anything about Seymour, I internally scheduled the release date for February 29th, which happens to be Seymour's birthday. Happy birthday, Seymour! Thank you to Nicholas and the team for creating such a noble cause and thank you for coming along with me today and learning about it.

It was a lot of fun. Catch the crazy and pass it on. (upbeat music) Guess what activity I just downloaded? Can you believe it? Reversi!

2024-03-02 15:54

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