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Hands-On with One Laptop Per Child's XO Laptop

We visited the OLPC Labs to get our hands on the much-hyped laptop. Created with children of the developing world in mind, this notebook might just change the face of mobile computing.

handson-olpc-os_shThe software running on the XO is just as compelling as its hardware. The Red Hat Fedora Linux-based Sugar operating system is fairly basic, and we got comfortable using it within a few minutes. The home screen displays the XO logo within a circle, and the surrounding circle fills up with running programs. At the bottom of the screen, you'll find the Start Menu and system application icons, including Paint, Write, Chat, and RSS.
At the top of the home screen are four horizontal shortcut buttons. These buttons, which are also mimicked on the keyboard, will predictably become second nature to kids. The first shortcut button resembles a Honey-Comb cereal pellet and launches the "My Neighborhood" interface. This is the mesh-networking interface that allows you to see the other XO laptops in your geographic area. The next shortcut button launches the "My Friends" window, which displays the XO laptops you're chatting or collaborating with. The last two icons bring you back to the home screen and to a list of running programs.
With games and an RSS-feed application, as well as a impressive collaboration software, there's little you can't do with the XO. We were certainty entertained by the BlockParty game, which is a version of Tetris that can be played in the tablet position. Similar to playing Tetris on a Nintendo Game Boy, rotating the blocks was easy and fun with the plastic button controls on the screen. The Etoys game is a modern version of the 1980s educational LogoWriter program, which teaches kids to write basic programming by moving the onscreen turtle in different directions using simple command prompts.
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