XO and Others: Small, Cheap Laptops for Learning

XO LaptopThe OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Foundation's XO laptop was designed for learning and targeted at children in third-world countries. You might have heard of it by its original name: The $100 Laptop. Currently it costs about $188, but if the foundation can get more governments on board, the price per unit will go down.

The XO laptop has a 422 MHz processor and a 1 GB hard drive space. Its 7.5 inch screen is designed to be completely readable in direct sunlight. The laptop runs its own version of the Linux Operating System. XO is probably smaller than you might expect. Check out this size comparison photo.

Doug Johnson, an educational technologist, received his XO and wrote about it in his blog: OLPC - Follow-Up and Another OLPC Follow-Up Posting. He writes about the Operating System:

This is a VERY different operating system. Nothing is in
the same place you'd find it in a Linux, Windows or Mac OS. The learning curve may be longer for adults with computer experience than for kids with no tech experience at all.

BBC News has a piece about 9-year-old Rufus Cellan-Jones. Rufus has been using an XO and loves it. Check out the short video (via YouTube) with Rufus talking about his XO laptop.

A Child's View of the $100 Laptop (the article with Rufus) mentions EToys. Here's how OLPC describes it: "EToys is a media-rich authoring system aimed at helping children learn by doing. They can explore their ideas by creating models, simulations, and games complete with text, graphics, sound, and video." Sounds like a much more sophisticated version of Sketchy for handhelds. Besides EToys, there are many other free software programs for the XO. The applications are for exploring, expressing, and communicating. Some are Turtle Art, Web Browser, TamTam Jam, and Memorize. There are thousands of developers working on software for the XO, so many more applications will be on their way. I'm hoping these open source programs will run on other kinds of computers as well.

It is possible to emulate the OX's Operating System on a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer. However, installation seems to be too complicated for me.

U.S. consumers can purchase an XO laptop from OLPC through their Give One Get One program. For $400, you can purchase a laptop. The cost also pays for a second laptop to be given to a student in a third-world country. Give One Get One ends December 31, 2007.

Although it was originally meant to be in the hands of developed-world children, Birmingham City Schools has ordered 15,000 XO laptops from OLPC. They will be the first schools in the U.S. to put the XO to use.

Eee PCThe XO laptop is not the only small, low-cost laptop around. Intel's Classmate PC runs Windows XP or Linux and is developed for students in "emerging markets."

Furthermore, there's the $300 ASUS Eee PC. The Eee PC is not designed exclusively for education--it is a commercial product and not specifically aimed at the third-world. In fact, Fresno Unified School District in California recently purchased 1,000 Eee PCs for $464 each. The total includes Windows XP and other Microsoft software. The districts Chief Technology Officer said this about the Eee PC:

We wanted a laptop with a keyboard that was under $500 and was small enough to sit on a desk alongside the books or papers.

With quick boot times, flash memory, Wi-Fi, compelling software, and small size, ultra-portable laptops are becoming very inexpensive, nearing the cost and features of Palm handhelds and Pocket PCs.