11.13.2008

Reflecting on the OLPC

I had an opportunity to mess around with an OLPC (that's One Laptop Per Child) today. The new computer teacher at one of my schools had gotten one, well two but the other one, as per the arrangement, went to a needy person in a third world country. My initial reactions: it is very small, very portable, has a great handle for secure carrying and was hard for the computer teacher to get open at first. With the little machine opened up and the port covers up, it almost has an animalesque sort of charm. One of my teacher friends remarked that it looks like something Lego would make.
I was busy with other things while it got booted up so I can't speak to its load time but it certainly didn't seem overly slow. I had to look twice before realizing that its actually a color screen, the main screen is very, very monochromatic and I guess I had some expectations of corner cutting. But it is, in fact, a color screen. The touchpad was responsive and I rather liked the large cursor arrow. The icons along the bottom had text popups to help decipher them which was good because several were just a bit too obtuse.
I tried the browser but the wifi signal in the room we were in was very weak so I can't speak to its surfing abilities.
The keyboard is sealed which should help its longevity even if its tactile feedback is pretty mediocre but certainly serviceable.
I liked that the screen could be turned around and the machine used as a tablet. Much like my Sony Clie UX50 but just a tad bigger (I'm kidding, its way bigger).

Some concerns about the machine. If I had no experience with a computer, this thing would have me scratching a hole in my head. It needs tutorials or instructions, video-based would be very useful as well as localizing (making them in the user's native language) them to help bring down the steep learning curve. I don't know what the rollout of these looks like but I really hope there are some classes and tech support to get people up and using them. I don't quite understand how the Wifi is supposed to work if the user is out in the middle of nowhere. Also, what happens when something does go wrong with them? Do they get fixed somehow or do they get tossed in a garbage can?

Overall, I think the OLPC is a very significant step forward and I would love to see millions of these get into the hands of people who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to join the information age. The promise of the OLPC is fantastic, the philosophy is laudable and, if I had any money to spare, I'd buy two to get one. No question.

And I hope she brings it back next week so I can get a little more time on it.
blog comments powered by Disqus