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Re: [TTLUG] Fwd: [hc] One laptop per child (OLPC) - $100 laptop

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  • Falina Baksh
    I want one!! ... [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 6, 2007
      I want one!!

      On 3/6/07, Deosaran Bisnath <deobisnath@...> wrote:
      > The face of the $100 laptop
      > Steve Hamm, BusinessWeek | March 06, 2007 | 13:47 IST
      > The so-called $100 laptop that's being designed for school children in
      > developing nations is known for its bright green and white plastic shell,
      > its power-generating hand crank, and for Nicholas Negroponte, the technology
      > futurist who dreamed it up and who tirelessly promotes it everywhere from
      > Bangkok to Brasilia.
      > What has not received much attention is the graphical user interface --
      > the software that will be the face of the machine for the millions of
      > children who will own it. In fact, the user interface, called Sugar, may
      > turn out to be one of the more innovative aspects of a project that has
      > already made breakthroughs in mesh networking and battery charging since
      > Negroponte unveiled the concept two years ago.
      > Sugar offers a brand new approach to computing. Ever since the first Apple
      > Macintosh was launched in 1984, the user interfaces of personal computers
      > have been designed based on the same visual metaphor: the desktop. Sugar
      > tosses out all of that like so much tattered baggage.
      > Instead, an icon representing the individual occupies the center of the
      > screen; "zoom" out like a telephoto lens and you see the user in relation to
      > friends, and finally to all of the people in the village who are also on the
      > network.
      > The $100 Laptop's New Interface
      > Acer's Hot New Designs
      > The Road Warrior's Toolbox
      > Child-centric
      > It's the first complete rethinking of the computer user interface in more
      > than 30 years. "We're building something that's right for the audience,"
      > says Chris Blizzard, the engineering project leader for Sugar. "We don't
      > just take what's already there and say it's good enough. You can do better."
      > The audience he and his colleagues have in mind is the hundreds of
      > millions of poor kids all over the world. Negroponte came up with the
      > nonprofit "One Laptop Per Child" idea when he was chairman of the MIT Media
      > Lab and observed the failure of standard attempts to use computers in
      > education to improve the lives of underprivileged children.
      > Typically, a handful of computers, designed for business applications, are
      > installed in schools; students only use them in special computer classes and
      > are forced to share. Negroponte's idea was to give a laptop to each student
      > that he or she could take to every class and bring home at the end of the
      > day.
      > "OLPC is child-centric, designed to be a seamless part of their lives at
      > home, at school, and in play," he says.
      > Nearly a dozen countries, including Brazil and Thailand, have committed to
      > buying the computer, now officially called XO. The UN Development Program
      > will administer the program locally. About 2,500 beta test machines ran off
      > assembly lines in Taiwan in February and are now being shipped to
      > participating countries so they can kick the tires on the technology. The
      > final version is supposed to be ready by August.
      > "You Just Do It Right"
      > While XO has been greeted warmly by many, some technologists criticize
      > Negroponte and his colleagues for not testing out their new ideas on
      > underprivileged school children earlier in the process. And that goes for
      > the user interface as well.
      > http://im.rediff.com/money/2006/apr/07look.jpg
      > What Your Gadget Really Costs
      > The Making of an LCD TV
      > Jakob Nielsen, a user interface designer and principal in the consulting
      > firm Nielsen Norman Group, falls into the critical group. While familiar
      > with the design of Sugar, Nielsen's criticisms focus on the process. It's
      > only in the coming weeks that they'll begin to get feedback from kids. "It's
      > always dangerous to release any product without the safeguard of user
      > testing," says Nielsen. "But it's outright reckless in a case like this."
      > But XO developers defend their approach, which grew out of a core
      > philosophy of the MIT Media Lab known as "demo or die." Researchers are
      > encouraged to build new things, critique them, and then make improvements --
      > rather than doing a lot of concept-testing up front. They're backed up by
      > John Maeda, a user-interface design guru from the Media Lab who has been
      > watching the XO development process from its beginnings.
      > "They're using the Steve Jobs method," he says, referring to Apple's
      > famous chief executive and design whiz. "You don't use focus groups. You
      > just do it right."
      > When BusinessWeek visited the OLPC offices in Cambridge, Mass., in
      > mid-February, one of the XO designers had just achieved something of a
      > milestone. He had loaded a game modeled on Tetris on a test machine and was
      > trying it out.
      > This scene took place in a large, brightly lit room where a handful of XO
      > computers were scattered on tabletops, many with their miniature circuitry
      > exposed -- a reminder that Sugar is still very much a work in progress.
      > "You're the first to see Tetris running on our computer," said Walter
      > Bender, OLPC's president of software and content.
      > Neighborhood Approach
      > The game, called Block Party, is being used as a sample of how developers
      > should create applications for XO. "We're showing them how to 'Sugarize'
      > their applications," Bender explained. That means conceiving applications
      > from the start as activities that take place on the network and are shared
      > by groups of youngsters and their teachers.
      > "Sugarizing" also has a technical side: The software is built on top of
      > Red Hat Linux, and is an open-source project itself, meaning that any
      > interested software programmer could write software to run on the machine.
      > But the programs must be small -- the XO has no hard drive -- so existing PC
      > software must first be rewritten.
      > Sugar has a look and feel all its own. When you start up the machine, you
      > see the image of the so-called "XO Man," an O on top of an X, placed in the
      > middle of a circle. A darkened border frames the display, lined with icons
      > representing activities such as e-mail, a simple word processor, a
      > photography program (XO has a built-in camera), a Web browser, instant
      > messenger, and an electronic book reader.
      > There are also icons representing the three different modes -- home,
      > friends, and neighborhood -- that are integral to the "zoom" metaphor. In
      > home mode, a user sees the XO Man, and, when she clicks on the icon to
      > launch an activity, the icon for that activity pops into a gray ring
      > encircling the XO Man.
      > In friends mode, she sees icons representing her circle of friends, each
      > identified by nickname and chosen color scheme. Next to the friends are
      > icons depicting the activities in which they're engaged.
      > If several friends are sharing an activity -- say, working on a school
      > report together -- they are pictured clustered around the appropriate icon.
      > Our user can ask to be invited into a group activity or can start one of her
      > own and invite others to join. The neighborhood mode gives a broader view of
      > all of the individuals and clusters of friends on the network at the moment
      > and the activities they're involved in.
      > Wi-Fi For the Village
      > One of the key technologies behind the XO computer is its so-called mesh
      > network. Created by Mikhail Bletsas, the OLTP's chief connectivity officer,
      > the XO mesh connects all of the XO computers in a village via a Wi-Fi
      > network. If any one of the computers is connected to the Internet, they all
      > get Net access.
      > And the computer's antenna is always left on so the network remains active
      > -- though networking draws less than half a watt of power from the
      > computer's battery. The children are expected to keep their computers
      > powered by occasionally turning a hand crank or operating a yo-yo type
      > device that keeps the battery juiced up.
      > From the start of the Sugar project last summer, Bender urged his small
      > team of programmers to keep the interface simple and to organize things so
      > children could learn by doing. Even now, the Sugar development team is made
      > up of just eight full- and part-time contributors.
      > Several of them, including Blizzard, work for Red Hat Software, the
      > leading distributor of the Linux open-source PC operating system. One of
      > them, lead designer Marco Gritti, an Italian, gave sugar its name.
      > Then there is the open-source community, which the organizers are just now
      > engaging. Any programmer who is interested is free to view the core software
      > code on an OLPC Web site and suggest improvements. And a handful of OS
      > efforts have formed to create applications for the computer.
      > The project leaders hired Pentagram to help out with the visual design of
      > the interface. The Pentagram designers have kept the icons spare and
      > universal so kids can understand them instantly no matter where they are
      > growing up.
      > Text labels are kept very short. The "zoom" feature is being designed so
      > kids see the transition from individual, to group, to village as if they're
      > in a helicopter lifting off from the earth. "We're trying to use as many
      > references as we can to the physical world so it will be easy for kids who
      > haven't used a computer before to use this foreign thing," says Lisa
      > Strausfeld, the Pentagram partner whose team is working on Sugar.
      > Kids Can Tweak the Code
      > The interface is being designed to encourage the users themselves to
      > explore -- and improve on -- its inner workings. Bender chose a software
      > programming language called Python that's simple enough for more-tech-minded
      > children to learn.
      > If a student is playing a game on the computer, he can actually look at
      > the game's code and modify it -- say, changing the colors on the screen. If
      > the student makes a mistake, he can restore the program to its original form
      > with the click of a button. "The machine is a tool, but it's also an
      > experience. It's a way to be creative," says Blizzard.
      > To that end, Sugar offers a simple technique for moving objects -- a
      > document, say, or an image -- from one application to another. A student can
      > pluck a photo off of a Web site by clicking on it and dragging it to the
      > left side of the frame. Then, after she launches another activity on the
      > display screen, she can click on the icon for the photo and drag it onto the
      > screen. The drop-off spot on the frame is conceived as a "pocket" that the
      > kids can use to carry around things they want to use later.
      > The Journal, another nifty feature, allows youngsters to create a record
      > of what they did with the software and what they thought about it that can
      > later be shared with others. Once a Journal reaches a certain size, earlier
      > entries are automatically shifted to a more powerful computer on the
      > network. Documents and photographs can be stored in the same way.
      > While the Sugar team hasn't run any formal usability tests yet, Bender et
      > al. have received unscientific feedback from a number of children who have
      > tried the machine.
      > Typically, says Bender, the kids get totally absorbed and disappear for
      > hours. Now he's glad to be able to test Sugar in real-world situations. The
      > first 2500 Beta 2 machines are being distributed to schools in participating
      > countries, and OLPC will finally receive more substantial user feedback.
      > "I'm sure we have the basics down, but we can still make changes," he says.
      > "We want to get this right."
      > See The $100 Laptop's New Interface
      > http://www.rediff.com/money/2007/mar/06laptop.htm
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