Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kicking off a gen-1.5 development process: Updating the XO hardware

OLPC is excited to announce that a refresh of the XO-1 laptop is in progress. In our continued effort to maintain a low price point, OLPC is refreshing the hardware to take advantage of the latest component technologies. This refresh (Gen 1.5) is separate from the Gen 2.0 project, and will continue using the same industrial design and batteries as Gen 1. The design goal is to provide an overall update of the system within the same ID and external appearance.

In order to maximize compatibility with existing software, this refresh will continue with an x86 processor, using a chipset from VIA. The memory will be increased to 1 GB of DDR2 SDRAM, and the built-in storage will be 4 GB of NAND Flash with an option for 8 GB (installed at manufacture). The processor will be a VIA C7-M [1], with plans on using one whose clock ranges from 400 MHz (1.5 W) to 1GHz (5 W). The clock may be throttled back automatically if necessary to meet thermal constraints.

Monday, June 15, 2009

XO Software Release 8.2.0 now available

Announcing the General Availability of XO Software Release 8.2.0

XO Software Release 8.2.0 was developed by OLPC engineers and the OLPC open source community.

The XO and its software is the only major computing platform designed specifically for the educational benefit of children in the developing world.

Release 8.2 is based on a child focused graphical interface called Sugar, a Red Hat Fedora 9 Linux operating system and OLPC customized implementations of core software including power management, wireless drivers, NAND flash file system, Open Firmware, and other components.

XO Software Release 8.2.0 runs on the award winning XO Laptop.

Major new features in this release include:

* A updated Home view and Journal with new options for finding and organizing activities.
* An enhanced Frame for collaborating with other XOs and switching between running activities.
* A graphical Control Panel for setting language, network, and power preferences.
* An automated Software Update tool which finds the latest version of activities and updates them over the Internet.
* Integration with the School Server for backup of XOs and restore of files to the Journal as needed.
* New and updated translations for many languages.
* A new user manual shipped with the XO as an activity.
* Hundreds of bug fixes.

For installation instructions and more details on the new features, see the the 8.2.0 Release Notes

Thanks to the many people who gave their time and energy to make this release a reality.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Enter the laptop kids

The One Laptop Per Child scheme aims at revolutionising education among the poor. But is it feasible in India.......

Just 81km from Mumbai, Vastishala Khairat-Dangarvada school is not very different from most primary schools in India. The one-room school has a single teacher. A painted black strip on the mud wall serves as a blackboard. Children, till the fourth standard, attend classes in the same dimly lit classroom with the same teacher.

One small difference makes this school special, not just in India but the world over. Each of the 20 children in this school has got a green-and-white laptop, no bigger than an oversized lunchbox. With the laptops — called XO — children learn their lessons almost by themselves, oblivious to what is going around them and even to what the teacher is saying or doing.

The teacher, Sandip Surve, doesn’t mind because some of the children have indeed picked up ‘XOing’ skills much better than him. Says Surve, “XO has solved problems like absenteeism. Now children relish coming to school every day.”

The children, however, aren’t even aware that they have been participating in an ambitious global education experiment called One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). The project had its genesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US four decades ago. XO represents a learning theory proposed by Seymour Papert who had worked with the educational theorist, Jean Piaget. Inspired by Piaget’s work, Papert developed the theory of constructionism, which proposes that children learn most effectively when they are doing things rather than when they are just sitting and listening. Later Papert’s colleague Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of MIT’s Media Lab, became an ardent believer of this seemingly utopian idea. Through a series of experiments, Negroponte and his team zeroed in on the computer as the key to enlightening poor children across the world.

“XO is not just a computer but an educational tool meant for collaborative, and self-empowered learning,” says Satish Jha, President & CEO, OLPC India. According to him, XOs have been devised keeping poor kids in mind. The laptop consumes little power, has got a screen visible in sunlight, is resistant to damage and can be powered by solar energy or electricity generated by a hand crank. “The entire course content of primary schools can be fitted in it. Kids won’t need any books, bags or even a school building,” says Jha. To enable collaborative learning among children, XOs are equipped with a novel mesh network that makes each laptop capable of talking to its neighbours. With broadband connectivity the mesh works even better.”

The laptops are sponsored by individual donors, companies, non-governmental organisations, international funding agencies and schools.

XO’s software is also unique. It is pre-loaded with various ‘open source’ or free software and supports most operating systems. It also has Wikipedia, and a program called Squeak E-toy — inspired by a programming language innovated by Papert for children — which helps kids visualise, simulate and create projects based on their lessons. According to its creators at OLPC, its central concept is ‘play… it makes children explore instead of being force-fed information’.

How is it working in the Indian pilot study? Says Jha, “The Khairat children have already cruised ahead of those that learnt without XOs. Even a six-year old can write in Marathi and English. They can work with videos and use Wikipedia for their curriculum.” Pilot studies in Nigeria, Brazil, Peru, Cambodia and even Nepal show similar results.

So far so good. But is the programme really feasible in hundreds of thousands of threadbare primary schools across the country? Notwithstanding the success of OLPC in the poorest setting, scepticism abounds. A top bureaucrat in India’s education ministry famously brushed aside the project as ‘pedagogically suspect’ and described XO as merely a ‘fancy tool’. Says Kumar Rana, a senior research associate at Pratichi Trust, a charitable trust promoted by economist Amartya Sen, which conducts research in primary education and health in India, “The concept is wonderful in theory for its potential to bridge the digital divide among people. But it doesn’t seem to be feasible in practice when there is so little infrastructure in primary schools in West Bengal, Jharkhand or Orissa.”

Others contend that the economics of providing a laptop to every child is daunting. Stephen Dukker, CEO of Ncomputing, the low cost computer company, wrote in technology magazine ZD Net, “Given the economic realities in the developing world, $200 (Rs 10,000) computers cannot generate the profit essential for the creation of a robust IT ecosystem, which is essential to ensure successful deployment, ongoing operation and maintenance.” Incidentally, Dukker is now in discussions with the Indian government to introduce his small desktops in primary schools.

Such scepticism is just the tip of the iceberg of hurdles that the OLPC project faces. Because the XO costs just around Rs 9,500 — the next version (XO2), set for launch next month, is going to cost even less (Rs 4,000) — it has irked big computer companies. These companies, which have been selling exorbitantly priced laptops loaded with extravagant tools (also called ‘bloatware’), are in a mad rush to launch cheap machines which are described as learning tools.

Jha ripostes that Dukker is talking about the economics of running a bus when OLPC is akin to a bicycle as an appropriate means of transport in villages. empowering everyone. He also says that the pilot project has shown that XO works even in situations with minimal infrastructure.

As the debate rages, two things are clear. First, OLPC has made laptops somewhat affordable for the masses. Second, the XO pilot project could have far-reaching significance for primary education in India.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Planning to start a 20 XO laptop deployment in July

Dear OLPC Pune Members,

We are planning to start a 20 XO laptop deployment in July. Lets gear for the same. All the technical specs and the deployment plan will be taken care by OLPC Pune members.

And the funding details would be handled by me. I would try to chalk out a detail plan with you all soon in coming week.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Open Office on Sugar on XO 4 Kids

Seems OLPC France is hacking away at Open Office. They now have it running on an XO through Sugar: OOo4Kids (OpenOffice for Kids) on the XO

One small drawback - launch takes 40 seconds

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Again OLPC Pune Gone Into Print...........

A news article about the project and OLPC-Pune has been published in the DNA News Paper dated 30th April 2009

One Laptop Per Child project comes to Pune

210 XO machines have been provided in India so far

Rajesh Rao(DNA)

The One Laptop Per Child Association Inc (OLPC), a US-based non-profit organisation, has started its Pune chapter.
A group of volunteers met in the city on March 1 to launch the project based on the pragmatics of child development and learning through laptops.
OLPC was founded by Nicholas Negroponte, the co-founder and director of the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to provide education to poor children. The Mumbai and Pune chapters are the only two active branches in India. The OLPC started its India operations in September 2007 through Digital Bridge Foundation (DBF), an NGO at Khairat village near Navi Mumbai. The members of OLPC India stay in touch with each other through the Google group forum.

"Currently, the biggest task is to find sponsors to fund this project. We also want volunteers to join us as mentors, forerunners and responsible players," said Amit Gogna from DBF.
Till date, 210 XO laptops (see box) have been provided in India, including 28 in Kairat, 100 in Latur, 10 in Nashik, 40 in Bangalore, 12 in Auroville (Tamil Naidu) and 20 in Dugawar (Uttar Pradesh).

The 15 members of the newly formed Pune group — who have divided their work under three areas of learning, technology and outreach — are in the initial phase of understanding the project and learning the technology. "We have decided to complete the activity by July 1; create a wiki page for top-level activities; work on the content and make a proposal for the funding of the project in Pune," said Pradnya Naik, one of the members of the Pune group.
The initial priority is to find potential sponsors for the first deployment of the XO laptops, she added.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

India has purchased 250,000 XO laptops. This move will boost the One Laptop Per Child project and could help the deflating effort get back on its feet

The government of India has signed an agreement with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project and will purchase 250,000 of the organization's XO laptops. The machines will be distributed to students throughout the country. India's decision to embrace OLPC is a bit unexpected in light of the country's past antagonism towards the project.

OLPC is a nonprofit organization that builds low-cost education laptops to sell in bulk to governments of developing countries. The project, first unveiled in 2005, has faced many challenges and has been forced to significantly cut staff and reduce the scope of its vision. Despite these setbacks, the program is still marching on and continuing to sell units as it works on an updated model and an innovative next-generation version.

OLPC launched a pilot program in India in 2007 with 20 XO laptops at a school in Khairat-Dhangarwada village in the state of Maharashtra. Although the pilot program was successful, the country's Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) was highly skeptical about OLPC, and expressed concerns about the health implications of prolonged laptop use among students.

The MHRD later reversed its views about the health implications of youth computing and launched its own dubious program to build a competing $10 laptop. Unsurprisingly, the $10 laptop never materialized. When the country finally unveiled its highly ambiguous plans for its $10 "Sakshat" computing initiative earlier this year, it was revealed that the device would not be a laptop and would cost significantly more than $10 to produce.

India has finally decided to adopt OLPC after all, despite the government's previous skepticism and plans for building its own technology. PC World, which spoke with OLPC India CEO Satish Jha, reports that the laptops will be sent to 1,500 schools. Jha hopes to ship 3 million laptops in India this year. PC World also says that a small roll-out will be taking place in Sierra Leone, where a human rights group is paying to deploy 5,000 XO units.

OLPC recently announced a hardware bump and plans to drop AMD chips in favor of the VIA C7-M. The update will also boost system memory to 1GB and internal storage to 4GB. Prototype boards are expected to emerge in May. It's unclear if the order placed by India is for the current hardware or for the updated version. OLPC is also working on a more ambitious 2.0 model which is expected to land in 2010.

In total sales and deployed units, OLPC still lags behind Intel's competing Classmate PC initiative. India's purchase of 250,000 XO units will help OLPC recover some lost credibility. It demonstrates that major buyers still believe that the program is viable and that the laptops deliver reasonable value.