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Five days with the Classmate PC and Mandriva

By Tina Gasperson on May 24, 2007 (8:00:00 AM)

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Some say the Classmate PC is Intel's answer to (or competition with) the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) effort. Intel is hawking the lilliputian laptop in "emerging markets" like Nigeria, India, and Mexico as a solution for worldwide education of primary and secondary students. It's to be officially released and shipped en masse to schools in Africa and South and Central America by the end of June. Recently my children and I borrowed a Classmate PC loaded with a custom version of Mandriva Linux. Most of us had fun.

The Classmate comes out of the box wrapped in a sky blue vinyl cover that extends out to a built-in handle with, interestingly, a magnetic closure. This is some tiny technology -- Classmate is about the size of a medium textbook and weighs only about 2 1/2 pounds. Intel says it is a "rugged learning device." With that in mind, I turned the Classmate over to my built-in target market, my eight-year-old daughter.

The Classmate PC
The Classmate PC
Mackenzie booted up the Classmate before I even had the box completely unpacked. She's a whiz at Windows, and she had no problem maneuvering through KDE and figuring out where resided. Mackenzie wants to be a writer when she grows up, so she spends lots of time on a computer composing works of fiction and transcribing from books and other printed material. Classmate and Mandriva handled this task with ease, as you might expect. Though my fingers cramped and I often hit the wrong keys, Mackenzie's hands didn't mind the very small keyboard, and if she noticed that there was only one set of Shift, Fn, Ctrl, and Alt keys, or that the +/= and "/' keys had been moved to save space, or that the space bar seemed to have been reduced to half its size, she didn't mention it. It seemed to me, however, that if kids learn to type with this keyboard, they're going to have to relearn a few things when they graduate to a full-sized computer.

Alas, typing stories won't keep Mackenzie's attention forever. Eventually she wants to get online and find games to play, send a few email messages to family and friends, and check actor Corbin Bleu's Web site for new pictures.

The Classmate is so adorably cozy it make you want to snuggle up on a comfy couch or lean back on some pillows on the floor while you surf. Good thing wireless is built right in. Too bad the typical Linux foibles apply. The first snag was having to log in as root to check the system configuration because the Classmate wouldn't log on to the network. Something tells me most elementary and high school teachers with nothing but Windows experience aren't going to get that. The second snag was that I did not know the root password. In fact, I had no login information whatsoever, and Mandriva had been configured to automatically log me in. I contacted Mandriva tech support, since Mandriva had provided the OS image to Intel, and got the root password later that day. Normally, Intel will provide end user tech support on Classmates.

I discovered there was a conflict between the wireless adapter and the X Window System that caused the Classmate to lock up hard every time we tried to connect. "I hope Intel has not changed the hardware in your sample," a Mandriva technician wrote. He said he would retrace the steps they used to get the wireless working and send them to me. Mandriva eventually sent an updated driver RPM with instructions and screenshots, which fixed the hardware conflict. Once we got connected, basic Web browsing posed no problems, except that the system's Flash plugin needed updating, which again required intervention from me for root login and knowledge of how to install software from an RPM.

Mackenzie also discovered and enjoyed playing with Tux Typing, which came preinstalled and worked perfectly. And over five days, that was the extent of her interest in Classmate, although she and her brothers used it often when they weren't allowed to use the "big computer." Once I saw them using Classmate and the "big computer" side by side as they played Club Penguin -- kind of a Second Life for kids.

Classmate with Mandriva comes with DansGuardian proxy and Web filtering software so that parents and teachers can restrict access to objectionable content online. You can enter keywords to filter or block sites by IP address or URL. I also noticed a user account dubbed "parental," but once again, neither Intel nor Mandriva sent me information about this, and there's nothing on their sites. Intel says it sends extra documentation and provides tech support for Classmates in the field.

On the hardware side, Classmate comes with a 900MHz Intel processor, 256MB DDR-II RAM, a 7-inch LCD 800x480 display, 1GB of flash storage, built-in speakers and microphone and a jack for external input, Ethernet jack connection and built-in 802.11b/g wireless, and two USB ports.

After five days with three active kids, the Classmate PC still works, and shows relatively few signs of wear -– just a little dirt and an unidentified food stain of some kind, probably ketchup, on the vinyl cover, which along with a thicker than usual plastic case provides extra protection from kids. The keyboard is not sealed, but we didn't need to clean it -- it wasn't that dirty. We ran through the battery three times, but Classmate was running most of the time we had it; the battery life was pretty good, lasting at least two hours at a time.

The Classmate seems durable and easy to use. I would recommend it for the same type of computer user I recommend desktop Linux to: a non-power user who does light-duty surfing, email, and word processing or spreadsheets, basic wired Internet, and no multimedia stuff. Anything more than that is going to require tech support. If the students in Mexico, India, and Nigeria stick to the basics, they'll fall in love with the Classmate loaded with Mandriva, like Mackenzie did.

Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.

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on Five days with the Classmate PC and Mandriva

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Tux Typing

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 12:07 AM
I noticed your reference to "Tux Typing" - I am currently one of the primary programmers working on tuxtype (as well as Tux, Of Math Command aka "tuxmath"). It should be noted that both programs are now being actively developed, after a rather dormant period. More help is always welcome, obviously (particularly in website design, as the link below will indicate!). The project now lives at Alioth, with the main public page at:

<a href="" title=""></a>

By following the "Released Files" link in the lower right corner, you can get to a page with source tar.gz archives for *nix installation as well as recent MacOSX (TuxMath-only) and Windows binaries.

Our source repository is the "tux4kids" project at

David Bruce


Should Learn to Write From Other "THAN" You Also!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 12:57 AM
The pot calling the kettle black? It's "other than you", not "other then you".

I once worked as a fuel transfer technician (pump jockey) at a local service station. One day, a man came into our office laughing himself sick. When asked why he was laughing, he replied, "there's a stupid customer at the self service island adding oil to his generator. What an idiot!"

What's the point of this bit? Well, the unknowing customer was indeed wrongly adding motor oil to his power power-steering pump, not,however, to his generator. No auto generator has ever been made that would allow you to add a quart of oil to it, and further, by the time this happened generators had long been replaced on automobile with alternators.

Moral: Don't criticize someone else's grammar, unless you can write one whole grammatically correct sentence yourself. Still laughing?


Re:I don't even know what to say

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 02:19 AM
I'd be interested in hearing about your hands-on experience with this laptop.

Be sure to get back to us with this.


Re:I don't even know what to say

Posted by: Administrator on May 25, 2007 02:31 AM
I'd be interested in hearing about your hands-on experience with this laptop.

Be sure to get back to us with this.

I like slashdot's way better; people like you who won't log in are correctly labeled as cowards.

Regardless, your rebuttal is irrelevant to the discussion at hand as what we are discussing is a hands-on in which at least one flaw that makes the ClassmatePC system utterly useless in the target market for the OLPC was revealed.

Intel astroturfers are invited to spew their nonsense on, thankyouverymuch.


Please, just admit Intel paid you for this review

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 02:24 AM
This review makes me angry. Why the hell would you review something as though it were a consumer product for spoiled white kids who have two computers to choose from and who see if their children's version of "second life" works. OLPC is intended for kids who have one extremely endangered life and need to learn basic computer skills. The fact that they had to CALL a tech support place is the sign of Intel's failure. What, are kids in Africa going to walk 30 miles to a pay phone that they can't afford just to be put on hold and deal with call centers in Bangladesh? Are we trying to punish these poor kids?


Re:Please, just admit Intel paid you for this revi

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 03:01 AM
Yes. clearly. Those endangered kids will do much better with the OLPC... it clearly is the better tool to use in defending themselves.

Or, oh wait, perhaps we could start with food, clean water, giving them a save environment to live in. Or we can teach them to type and write Perl scripts...

I am not convinced that the premise for either of these sytems is correct. let alone that one is better than the other.


Re:Please, just admit Intel paid you for this revi

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 05:20 AM
And how do you expect to do this?
There millions of different organization in the world each pitching to help in different ways. Why duplicate the effort when you have red cross, bill gates, christian foundation, doctors beyond borders, fred hollow, unicef, all doing that.
This is engineers, and this is how WE help. If you want to help another way, go a head and send your money. Get a clue.


Re:Please, just admit Intel paid you for this revi

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 11:41 AM
Yes they need food, clean water, safe environment. Even more important - they need their own nations' resources back... That is, they need a break from the neocolonialist policies imposed on them that cause the poor situation they are intentionally put in by the US and the Western Europeans.

After all, it's not like they are poor "just because".

However, there is a saying in activism: "Never go outside the expertise of your people." (Saul Alinsky, Rule #2)

So if you're a software or a computer engineer, it is better for everyone if you stick with what you know best.

That is why I respect the OLPC and hope that they will succeed with this project and also expand it. They are doing what they do best to help out.

Also note that what Intel is doing is not activism or help. They are trying to profit off of those students (so, refer back to neocolonialism). Not only that, but they are also trying to kill the non-profit effort to help them (again, refer back to neocolonialism).

And right at this point, your argument of "they need food more than a laptop" becomes true but truly useless and empty.


Re(1):Please, just admit Intel paid you for this revi

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 29, 2007 04:15 AM
Most of the countries in Africa have been independent for quite some time now.... still can not govern themselves, still do not "believe" in aids, and spend money gained from gold, oil, and jewels on their stupid endless fighting.... But blame it ALL on the West. Oh, and what about their wealthy oil rich friends in the north of Africa and in the middle east? Who do THEY provide humanitarian aid to?? - why don't they feed all of the children in their part of the world, rather than crying about the imperialist West?? I know every one else in the world had been peace loving, friendly, pacifists before westerners showed up... oh wait tribes in Africa enslaved and slaughtered one another, the Japanese were ruled by blood-thirsty empire builders, the tribes in the middle east fought one another endlessly, ....... yes, wait until some one else fixes your problems....and cry about it until then


yep, praising a CPU maker? - this review smells

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 03:24 AM
sorry, but i hope that the article's author will be held to some higher standards for posts and reviews than this stinker...


Re:yep, praising a CPU maker? - this review smells

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 04:20 AM
Come on! She named her kid MacKenzie. What the hell sort of "standard" do you expect?


Inadequate review.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 04:28 AM
The review seemed selective, but I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. (Having said that, I recently worked for a place that paid the Wall Street Journal to run an "article" for them, so I tend to be more skeptical than I used to be.)

First, if the laptop is aimed at overseas users, is the technical support going to be capable of handling that?

Second, also for overseas use, this will be sent to people who have never seen a computer - big or otherwise - and are probably unfamiliar with the notion of GUIs or possibly even typing. In fact, you can't rely on anything we take for granted being known. Some of it probably will, but you can't know which bits for which people. Is the interface culturally-neutral?

Third, two hours doesn't seem like a lot, when the nearest wall socket in Africa might be several week's walk. Is there an alternative power system? Doesn't matter what - solar cells, power crank, whatever. Without power, it's a lump of plastic-coated spare parts.

Fourth, how is the internationalization? IIRC, Hebrew and Chinese are written right to left - does the typing tutor know this? Are the desktop icons themable to something meaningful in each culture? Did you look to see that the SIL packages and fonts for internationalization were there?

Fifth, you mention wireless issues. But this would likely have been in a home with a wireless access point, or near a metro-provided WAP. This would be pretty useless in a school with no WAP, but only laptops. That would also be useless for mobile populations, where connections between groups will be at indeterminate times and places, but will need to be recognized and supported whenever they exist.

Even in England, you have over a hundred thousand "Travellers" who would benefit from dynamic wireless routing, Mobile IP and NEMO support. Is the wireless support for these sorts of things there?

Lastly, there's the durability. Three kids in a suburban, air-conditioned home is one thing. Whether you are talking about English Travellers, Mexican street kids or Tibetan Sherpas, the climates are more extreme, the stresses are infinitely worse, and the availability of replacements is next to zero.

In the real world, you are looking at external temperatures ranging from -40 to +120. Usually not on the same day, but that can happen. You are looking at shocks that could exceed 6G. Water won't be a spilled glass of coca cola, it's more likely to be monsoon season. The case won't be so much scratched by bumping into a wall as it will be stabbed by the occasional 6' mugger's knife.

When you get into the real-world situations, where "ruggedized" is really pushed to the limits, will this machine really stand up to the punishments it will receive? Or is it merely going to be a way for Intel to pocket some cash, with the customer ending up both financially and intellectually the poorer for it?

All I ask of reviewers, OLPC, Intel or any other person involved is to convince me. Why me, in particular? Because I'm demanding but stay within the limits of what is practical, and am knowledgeable enough to set the limits to what is practical. So can many others - I'm nothing special - it's that I'm posting a set of measurable benchmarks and criteria.


Re:Inadequate review.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 05:25 AM

Inadequate review. (Neutral)

By Anonymous Reader on 2007.05.24 16:28 (#99454)
The review seemed selective, but I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. (Having said that, I recently worked for a place that paid the Wall Street Journal to run an "article" for them, so I tend to be more skeptical than I used to be.)

That's complete bullshit. I'm very familiar with the WSJ. The WSJ has never let anyone pay them to run a story.

You certainly don't know the facts. You may have gotten a second-hand or third-hand story, and garbled it completely. You may have confused the WSJ with another publication. But it's clear that you don't know what you're talking about.


Re:Inadequate review.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 08:12 AM
Unfortunately, I have to tell you that you are incorrect. I wish I was wrong, I wish I did not know the facts, but this is very much first-hand (ie: eyewitness) knowledge and it disturbed me greatly that either the company involved or the WSJ would do such a thing.


Re:Inadequate review.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 10:51 PM
So just name the article, and we'll decide for ourselves.


Re:Inadequate review.

Posted by: tina on May 25, 2007 06:08 AM
I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. I'm trying to remain objective and simply present the facts. I always try to give my readers enough credit for being able to draw their own conclusions. It seems ironic to me that I get bashed for not purposefully leading people to a certain end. I take a lot of care to remain as unbiased as possible in the articles that I write. It's impossible to be completely neutral about anything, but I work at it. It's also always very interesting that when I have been fairly successful at this, is when the largest number of people get angry. That's because both "sides" don't see the bias they would (perhaps subconsciously) like to see.

I suppose I can see the benefit of subjecting the machine to whatever we perceive the conditions to be in whatever country. But there is also benefit in simply pointing out what it is to intelligent readers who can then say, well, doesn't sound to me like it would survive "x". There's actually a demo video on YouTube where they're sitting at a table inside a room that has electricity and the men are dressed in suits. Well, they aren't speaking English, does that make it more credible?


Re:Inadequate review.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 08:10 AM
That is one of the reasons I made it clear that my skepticism should NOT be confused with whether or not you had written a good article, and why I phrased things as real (not "let's pretend") questions.

Let us start with the unbiased bit. I said that I accept your article was unbiased, I stated the reasons why I might be unsure (so that everything was declared), and I have not changed my mind on that. I believe your article to be unbiased and I accept your word completely that you put enormous effort into making sure what you write is genuine. You are to be complimented on that. Not many writers have that level of maturity.

It is indeed very easy to bash, and I see a lot of other posters did indeed do so. My questions serve one purpose and one purpose alone - to find things out. I can't speak for others, but it was clear that many "questions" posted were never intended to be answered.

It is easy to bash ideas intended for people the basher will never meet, who live in countries the basher has never been to. It is certainly true that I personally have never been to Africa. Many of my relatives have, but that is not first-hand knowledge.

My own journeys are limited to most of Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, America, New Zealand and Australia, and my understanding of extremes is limited to what I have personally experienced in places such as North Dakota, both Northern and Southern Alps, assorted tropical rainforests and the terrors of the Breckon Beacons.

My knowledge of living conditions is likewise limited to personal experience. My experience of shanty towns and traveller wagons is first-hand. My knowledge of slums isn't from books or a pair of binoculars at a viewpoint, but from being there.

And I know, from everyone I've talked to, that my experiences barely even touched the merest fringes of what day-to-day life was like. However, it is the only experience I can personally vouch for and therefore is the only experience I can base any meaningful, honest questions around.

Then come the questions themselves. Do I expect them all to be answered with a "yes"? This is effectively version 1. Nobody, nobody at all, expects version 1 to have everything in place. Not even me.

So why ask? Because then I know what aspects of the machine I can match with my experience and, from that, conclude where I would expect the machine to do well and where I would expect the machine to not do well. It's all a matter of context. Know the context and everything else is simple numbers.

The YouTube video is not credible, because this isn't an issue of language or nationality, this is all a question of context. I already know the computer works well in the context of a room with electricity - your article is sufficient to show that.

Each of my questions targets a different context. One looks at groups who remain as groups but are mobile for whatever reason. Another looks at the effects of climate - and when it rains in Wales, it rains HARD. My questions are not aimed at discrediting the Classmate PC, but are aimed at discovering more about it.

Are my replies long and rambling? Probably. I've often been accused of being the Pontiff of Pontificating Posts. Is this a bad thing? Not usually. You can't put something the size of a planet into a tiny box. People probably won't read it all, but I'd rather be complete than popular.

But are my replies angry? Hopefully not today. That used to be a problem, a long time ago, but these days my aim is to get the thoughts flowing rather than the adrenaline. If my earlier post suggested otherwise (and assuming you've read this far), apologies.

Lastly, I will tackle the issue of intelligent readers. Intelligence is commonplace, experience is not, and it is experience which matters here. Intelligence allows one to infer that being out in the Australian desert in summer will be hot, and that being in the Badlands of the Dakotas in winter will be cold. That's important to know, and makes a whole one-fifth of those factors I consider significant.

Intelligence won't tell you anything about the other four-fifths and won't help you know what would be a reasonable, workable, cost-effective solution/compromise for any of them. For that, experience alone is what matters. And with no disrespect intended to anyone here, I probably have more experience than the majority of posters - and my experience is almost nothing compared to those living there.

This is a complex problem, demanding a thorough analysis if the analysis is to be truly complete. Your article may end up being part of that analysis. Who knows? All that I consider to be certain is that there are key questions for which I'm not seeing anyone provide an answer, and that bothers me.


Re:I don't even know what to say

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 09:04 AM
Quite right, 2 hours battery life is useless.

Maybe Intel should speak to Panasonic, because my laptop weighs slightly less (1kg/2.2lbs) and the battery lasts 6 hours. Of course even this is useless for people with a really poor power service.

OLPC comes with a yoyo recharging unit (last I read), what a fantastic idea! How anything else can claim to be competitive in this market without some sort of power generation unit is beyond me.


Re:I don't even know what to say

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 09:08 AM
I don't know the motives of the person to whom you're replying, but I haven't logged in due to laziness, not cowardice. I'm not sure how bravery is demonstrated by identifying oneself as 'drinkypoo', anyway.

You may well be right that this device is less suitable for use in developing nations than the XO-1. However, the hostility and agression in your comments is hardly likely to change anyone's mind and thus I wonder what you hope to gain by them?


Re:I don't even know what to say

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 29, 2007 04:42 PM
True enough - agression will buy nothing.

What is worth reflecting on however is the different approaches of the respective projects - OLPC vs Classmate.

The OLPC is a grounds-up design with a lot of consideration to the target audience. The Classmate PC is little more than an underpowered laptop in a cool blue cover.

The open, collaborative design approach of the OLPC has ensured that it has a superior design and actually saves power. The closed room design of the Classmate PC has resulted in a typically un-inventive, knee-jerk reaction to the path-breaking innovation of the OLPC.

There is no out-of-the-box thought that has gone into the Classmate PC. On the other hand, from the display, the sealed keyboard, the rugged enclosure, to the BIOS and software, everything is focussed on efficiency and friendly UI. Not 1 watt of power is used where it could be saved.

The result is a boot time that shames any other class of computer on the planet. The result is power efficiency that blows any other class of computer on the planet way out of the water. The result is actual usability and the knowledge that the system if completely open and can serve as a learning tool far beyond basic education - it can go right up to educating a new generation on how software is built and works.

Taken in this light, this review of the Classmate PC is more than a little off the mark. This review simply doen't even begin to appreciate the significance of OLPC. The Classmate PC is a scaled down laptop that demands power and broadband. The OLPC is a learning tool that can actually be used in places where power and the internet can not be taken for granted.


The reviewer has no clue

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 11:08 AM
I agree with the posts. She doesn't have a clue at the target market. 2 hours? That is a joke. With such a low resolution screen it should handle way more than that.

The idea that 3 kids typing is abuse? And talking about an "unsealed" keyboard which gets some dirt on it after a few days? None of that is relevant to being dropped on your the muddy floor of your hut, or being rained on.

This is about as non-technical and fluffy review as I have ever seen.

Really, Intel should pay better reviewers.


Re:The reviewer has no clue

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 11:43 AM
Even if it were a perfectly technical and perfect review, it would still miss the real point of this mascarade - kill off the AMD-sponsored OLPC.


Corporate response to humanity

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 11:23 AM
Your review is interestingly superficial. None of us really care about whether your kids are happy with their new blue vinyl toy in their cozy home... Sometimes you (and everyone else) need to go out of your secure shell and touch base with reality.

I can do nothing but despise what Intel is doing. The corporate response to a humane project (OLPC) is clear: "We will not help you. We will not contribute anything to your project. We will do our best to kill it, especially because you did business with a competitor. We will profit at all cost."


A better review

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 11:52 AM
OK, Tina. To satisfy dungpoo and his buddies (part of the Debian no-binary-blob-mob) here's what you need to do:

1) Move to a third world country.

2) Give away all your money and live in abject poverty.

3) Live in a hovel and dress your children in gunnysacks.

4) Send them to a poor, rundown school.

Then, you'll be qualified to write a review of this computer.

OR these doo-doo brains could just accept your review for what it is--spending a few days with this laptop. Get a life, you guys!! --AR


Re:A better review

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 02:01 PM
No moron. ALl she needs to do is to test it with the same conditions as how the OLPC would be tested. Do you think the people who designed the OLPC all moved to third world countries, give away their possessions, live in poverty to know how to design the laptop? No.
So how do you expect their laptop to
1) water-proof
2) sand-proof
3) 10 hours battery
4) doesn't require an electrical plug
5) automatically create its own mesh

Go and get a glue before you defend her with your stupid logic.


Re:Inadequate review.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 02:14 PM
You were not giving the "facts".
You were trying to draw comparison between the Intel and the OLPC by presenting your skewed perception of how the product is supposed to be used.
Remember that the intent of the OLPC is supposed to be used by children that lives in harsh remote area where there would be little to no electricity and/or wireless connection.
You justapose that with a short story of how you give your children, who live in the comfortable, air-conditioned, suburban home a classmate as a little toy which most likely were given to you by Intel to review.

So may be next time before review your "facts" I think you should disclose the fact that
a) Intel let you and your kids play with the machine
b) You haven't experienced what an OLPC is like because they don't have the luxury to give it away to a shill to review.


This whole OLPC/Classmate is a farce.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 03:48 PM
I am disgusted how these so-called academics haven't over the years, taken a step back and had a hard look at *what* it is they are trying to achieve. Alleviate the condition of poor third world children? With a $170 laptop? I haven't seen something so out of touch with reality in a very very long time.

These are kids without basic sanitation, food, a roof over their heads, education, nothing. You want to give them laptops and expect them to become computer literate? You don't need a PhD or be in MIT to see that this is a moronic idea.

Both Nicholas Negroponte and Intel are just pushing their own agenda(s), these laptops will probably benefit 1% of the kids they reach (if ever), the rest will be on the black market or sold for a month's food supply.


OLPC/Classmate is a farce?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 04:29 PM
In the real world, a place you appear not to live in, the Third World is RAPIDLY industrializing. If a kid lives to grow up, his future is most likely going to be in one of the Third World cities in hypergrowth mode because for one reason or another, being a peasant farmer isn't going to be an option anymore.

If you'd stayed awake in history, you might remember the Industrial Revolution in England as an example of that kind of thing.

The ticket out of the new slums is going to be knowing something about technology. While the user probably won't grow up to be a programmer, if that person is going to have a chance at higher education or a multimational job, that person had better know computers and the Net.

Actually, I think you know all this and your real concern is that one of those peasant kids you care so much for will be taking your job away from you. While I've publically called for government controls on offshoring... in your case, I'm willing to make an exception.


Yes it is a farce.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 29, 2007 10:59 AM
I'm posted to China since 2001. My work takes me around China and India, and to some places in Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand at times.

You wrote:
In the real world, a place you appear not to live in, the Third World is RAPIDLY industrializing. If a kid lives to grow up, his future is most likely going to be in one of the Third World cities in hypergrowth mode because for one reason or another, being a peasant farmer isn't going to be an option anymore.

I don't think so. No matter how much industrialization happens, China and India are primarily agrarian in nature, as are Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. If you are looking at England or US style industrialization, it is not going to happen in these countries. It will happen in some other way, but you're not going to see a US-style Laos any time, not now, not in 200 years, unless they discover huge Uranium or Plutonium deposits there.

I suggest you go out there and interact with the people, the farmers, the villagers. If you truly understand what they want, it is not technology. They are simple folk, who want better lives. Public sanitation, power, and housing projects are most often delayed by years due to corruption, nepotism, bureaucracy and other political reasons. I work with some NGO's here in China dealing with these issues. The OLPC/Classmate may be moderately successful in some towns, but to most, it will be a curiosity.

I have a lot more to say but this is not the place. Peace.


Suitable in More developed countries

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 04:39 PM
It seems to me that this kind of cheap computers would be more useful in relatively more developed countries, such as Turkey or Brazil, where people are not starving and a cheap computer would be appreciated. Like most of the other readers, I believe that in places such as Africa, solving the problem of malnutrition and disease is much more vital.


Reason for OLPC and other machines.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 06:36 PM
I think people are wrong about thinking that the PC is not going to be really helpful. The main use of OLPC and maybe Classmate will be in those villages that have the facility (honour?) of hosting a school, but the school is understaffed. The children can use the PC to learn new things and it will serve as an assistant to the teacher(if the school has one<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:^( ). The whole idea I think is to use it as a substitute for a real teacher. There are schools where a teacher handles 4 or five forms singlehandedly, and then the children have to go even further to attend higher education. This is also the reason that the OLPC interface is activity oriented and not task oriented.
Thanks for the attention.


A South Africans view

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2007 07:58 PM
I live in South Africa.

Just a thanks to the writer of this review. The laptop may not have been tested to the environmental standards it will experience, but at least we now know what it basically is. It was written in a genuinely honest fashion and is appreciated.
That being said, I'm not sure who this laptop is aimed at, but it isn't going to do so well in our rural areas if it can't get a power source. I used to do GPS surveying for rural projects and the biggest problems they experience is water, shelter, food and sanitation (not always in that order). Most of the kids do walk to school and 99% don't have a readily available power source at home. The schools and halls I was inspecting did (I can’t say what non South Africans have). I also agree with the fact that in most places that these things are going to be used, they won’t have available tech support. Let alone Linux inclined tech support. They should truly be “on and go”.
If these laptops are used as teaching aids and left almost permanently at the school, they may last a year or two. That being said, I would think that a benefit would be gained by any school that had these machines, and were able to run and maintain them. Off all the rural projects I’ve seen personally (500+) maintenance has been the final make or break. Giving a bunch of laptops to a school with a smile is going to be useless. Also some pre-education to school staff would greatly improve the usability of the laptop. In the end it doesn’t cost x, but x + training + maintenance, but will benefit the community if executed correctly.

My 3rd world 2 cents.


Generous review

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 26, 2007 02:03 AM
Saying that the battery life is good with 2hours of battery life! you're not difficult apparently!


PrePackaged PC Fails Miserably! Shamefully! Again!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 27, 2007 05:19 AM
Firstly, thanks for this article. There aren't nearly enough articles pertaining to the specifics of the hardware and software in these rugged--low powered-self powered--children's computers.

Having said that, it never ceases to amaze me that these soup to nuts solutions (hardware-and-software bundled) never work right/properly out of the box. Linspire, for one, has marketed a rash of these BOOB PC's (Broken Out Of Box). How incompetent or uncaring do you have to be to ship a product where you have, in hand, every single component, but it still won't work as intended without senseless niggles to work out, and around? This is shameful! How can anyone in the enviable position of cherry picking all of the hardware and software, not get it perfect? At that point, the product is very nearly an appliance, in stead of a PC. I simply don't understand.

Any reasonably skilled Mandriva/GNU/Linux power user could have done a better job of setting up these Classmate PC's before they shipped than the so-called professionals. Perhaps the primary purpose isn't that these Intel Classmate PC's should work properly OOB. Maybe acquiring huge government contracts and competing with the AMD processors found in the OLPC is.

Then again, I am not sold on the whole OLPC concept in its present incarnation. Negroponte could have simply designed a freely (open) licensed Laptop form factor that specifically addressed portability, ruggedness, mesh networking, free/open drivers, and low resources/price issues etc. Add to that, designing the Laptop shell so it has at least the possibility of adding an internal optical drive, or hard drive, to attract broader appeal in the first world domestic markets for child proof, ultra cheap, and portable computing. As it is, they didn't meet their $100.00 price point. If they opened up this platform for everyone to build/purchase, then the price target could then be more easily reached. Benefiting all consumers wherever they may be, as a result.

Also, I am personally opposed to the elitist collectivist concept of the government preempting consumers choice, and free markets, by buying computers for these children, in lieu of some type of a cash technology allowance that the schools and local communities would decide how to best spend for their needs. So too, and in particular, I am opposed to the Sugar UI. This user interface is apparently not (IMHO) designed to help teach these third world children how to read and use a computer. This interface is designed to teach a child to learn to use a computer and become a connected global consumer in lieu (instead) of teaching them to them the three R's. It's a UI experiment, that if successful, can be exported into, and as part of, the first world students educational curriculum, to further dumb-down, and churn out, functionally illiterate future generations of acquiescent consumers, globally.

Quit the third world lab rat experiment! Get a real, recognizable, yet pared down, user interface on these student computers.


Re:PrePackaged PC Fails Miserably! Shamefully! Aga

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 28, 2007 02:21 PM
Thank you for the article. It is informative, if naive, about the suitability for Classmate in third world countries. Obviously Classmate is a joke when compared to OLPC and Intel should be ashamed / boycotted for building such a thing. Boycot Intel.

OLPC is trying to keep their system closed so that they create a community where all parts of interchangeable and mass production creates economies of scale. There are problems with this strategy and I think they will eventually come out with different hardware versions.

I just purchased a 2GB USB Flash for $11 in China, so I think the need for a hard drive in this system is zero. Kids can do what they need to do with their own Flash drives.

I have lived half my life in China and traveled extensively throughout China and southeast Asia. Beijing is like NY, but 50 miles out and it is like being in the 1800s. (BTW Chinese is no longer written right to left in China for the moron above.) Machines like OLPC will have a fantastic impact on Children throughout the world. Those of you who don't think these devices will help the 3rd world have never lived in the 3rd world. Live there, speak the language, understand the culture and shut up about things you know nothing about.

I rarely participate in these kinds of discussions because they are read by so few but the thing that tipped me over the edge was the idiotic suggestion of an "allowance" so "local communities would decide how to best spendfor their needs". You are a complete idiot. You no nothing about the 3rd world. The biggest problem in the 3rd world is graft. If you left this decision to local communities they would pay $200 for something only worth $80 and put $120 in their pockets. Last week I witnessed a guy pay RMB700 for a device worth RMB400 but he got a receipt for RMB1150. The purchaser was buying for his government agency and made a profit of RMB450 while the seller made an extra profit of RMB300. This is so common everywhere outside of the USA that it is part of daily life. To even suggest that something like this could be implemented on a community level shows your utter and complete ignorance.

I think OLPC should be available for sale in the USA and abroad at a low markup. This will help reduce production costs and iron out the bugs in the system and subsidize the cost for poorer countries. And I wish OLPC all the success in the world.


I don't even know what to say

Posted by: Administrator on May 25, 2007 12:08 AM
After five days with three active kids, the Classmate PC still works, and shows relatively few signs of wear [...] We ran through the battery three times, but Classmate was running most of the time we had it; the battery life was pretty good, lasting at least two hours at a time.

Five days with three active kids? The fact that you believe that this utterly minor quantity of abuse is significant displays an utter ignorance of the situation in which the systems will be used. And two hours? After which point it must be plugged in? Kids in many if not most of the locations in which the systems will be used will not have access to an electrical outlet. I know this concept is amazing to someone who has never thought about life beyond the borders of the first world...

The ClassmatePC is utterly unsuited to use anywhere outside the rosy, warm and comfortable existence that we in the first world enjoy. I'm sure it makes a very nice toy for your children, however. Be sure to get back to us regarding its durability after they've drug that gigantic (for children) lug of a machine through the dirt on their miles-long walk to and from school every day, mm?


Five days with the Classmate PC and Mandriva

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 31, 2007 02:11 AM
how do you get a classmate PC?


Mobile Phone Tracking

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Has anyone tried mobile phone tracking on and does it really work?


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