The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO laptop may have been designed as a small cheap computer for children in developing countries, but it's become the antecedent of all netbooks
It's bright green and white, runs Linux and could be the most important laptop you're never likely to use. The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) XO was designed expressly to put modern computing into the hands of children in developing countries.
And it's been something of an inspiration to commercial laptop manufactuers such as Asus, to make small and cheap laptops for the rest of us.
If you've ever used, owned, or wanted a netbook... think of the XO as its spiritual and more academically tuned predecessor.
A target price of $100 was set for manufacturing, although production costs are currently closer to $200. With nascent demand from the developed world, the OLPC organisation started a Give 1, Get 1 (G1G1) scheme, so that around $400 would buy you one of these unusual gems, while putting another in the hands of a child elsewhere in the world.
The XO has been engineered as a robust, low-cost computer able to withstand the conditions of working outside in hot and dusty countries. With the help of a special dual-mode screen technology, it can even be used in direct sunlight.
Putting an XO in the hands of an experienced laptop user, meanwhile, can be an exercise in entertainment. Because the designers have rethought almost every aspect of the XO's construction, to enable it to perform best with its target audience of young children in an outdoors environment, it's a devil to get open the first time you try it.
First you must open the bunny ears - actually twin antennae for send/receive mesh networking, where wireless access points can be extended by every connected XO-user - then pull the main ‘body' up. This is actually the screen, which has the electronics built behind it. The keyboard is a water- and dust-resistant type with a rubbery green membrane to protect it. Anyone familiar with a ZX Spectrum will be right at home here.
It's not the easiest keyboard to work with, as there's less tactile feedback - but once you get used to that it's easier to type with confidence.
With the screen open, it's actually possible to rotate it 180º and fold it flat, rather like some tablet PC laptops, and use the XO as an ebook. But this blocks the keyboard and trackpad, so you'll probably want to swing the screen back and explore the operating system.
Again, experienced windows, Mac and even Linux users will have to scratch their heads initially to find the apps they need. There are plenty of programs here, 26 of them splayed out in a graphic ring on the Home screen. These range from predictable inclusions such as Write (for writing) and Web (for browsing), to more bizarre inclusions such as Scratch (for stop-motion animation, naturally).
In use, it's no speed demon, but web pages load almost as fast as a modern netbook, and there's certainly enough power for word processing and light creative duties.
NEXT PAGE: Earlier US review from January 2008 >>>