My first reaction to my new XO Laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project was basically, "Wow, that is neat."
Same with the IT Business Edge editorial team, as they shuffled around the thing while we figured out how to open the nifty swivel screen that has won so much acclaim. (I feel better after reading this Wired note that OLPC's president had to work out an FAQ on how to open the rugged little thing.) The ear antenna are hip, too -- no denying.
That initial reaction was tempered by disappointed questions about the heralded power hand-crank -- which was dropped from the final release design -- and the general observation that the thing is tiny. Really tiny. Here it is sitting next to my standard-issue, HP business laptop.
Of course, the XO was not made for me -- it was made for kids in developing nations. So the fact that my pudgy paw covers the whole keyboard is hardly worth a mention here.
What deserves mention, I think, is that I won't be able to get a good idea about performance and the general Web-friendliness of the new UI until I find one of those free T-Mobile hotspots I'm entitled to as a participant in the Get One, Give One program. Our wireless network here in the office is locked down by known device MAC -- like I can find that in a Linux environment -- and when I got to digging around in the online help (the shipped paper documentation is all of four slick pages long), I found this gem:
Currently, we do not support WPA-enabled WiFi access points; we anticipate including WPA support in early 2008.
Ack. In my Windows world, that means you have a privacy death wish or you are a Mac user. So, I'll be hot-spotting for a while, it seems, since efforts to connect to random exposed APs found by the XO's Neighborhood view have been fruitless.
As far as usability goes, my 30-minute run-through leads me to agree with other "adult" reviewers -- I flatter myself -- who conclude that the thing was not made for us, so it's not surprising that I should find its use metaphors, shall we say, infuriating. Our Kachina Dunn and Ann All played with it for a spell, and Ann tells me they found it "not intuitive."
Then again, we are trained computer users. And we are old. And the XO is for children and their porous, unencumbered learning curve.
There's little verbiage in the UI, which makes sense, given that these machines are designed to be distributed to youngsters who speak innumerable different languages. There's an obvious focus on simple peer-to-peer networking -- all XOs talk to each other, by default -- which makes obvious sense in a non-networked classroom. I played a bit of a game demo designed to teach the way to handle objects in WYSIWYG environments -- seems like a lot of grief to me, but then again, I keep a copy of FreeHand 8 on that HP.
So, I will take my XO home tonight and -- in conjunction with the Windows laptop that can actually get on the Internet from my house -- work through some online help files to see if I can make a little more sense of this system.
One crabby note: Honestly, no search on the user help page?
In a couple of days, I'm going to send my XO home with Ann to her 7-year-old to see how he likes it. More accurately, we are going to come up with several tasks he can already accomplish on the PC and see how "intuitively" he can replicate them on the XO, because I'm confident he will like it.
Seven-year-olds go in big for "neat." http://www.laptop.org/en/laptop/start/