A hundred dollar laptop must be a piece of shit, right? Actually, there’s some impressive technology in the One Laptop per Child machine being hawked by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte. He discussed it last night on 60 Minutes.

For one thing, it’s the first laptop with a screen you can use outdoors in full sunlight. It’s also built to withstand harsh weather (“You can pour water on the keyboard…You can dip the base into a bathtub. You can carry it the rain. It’s more robust than your normal laptop. It doesn’t even have holes in the side of it. If you look at it: dirt, sand, I mean, there’s no place for it to go into the machine.”)

Other features: A built-in camera that takes stills and video, a stylus area, ear-like radio antennas that give the computer 2-3 times better Wi-Fi range than a regular laptop, the battery lasts 10-12 hours with heavy use, and you can charge it up with a crank or a salad spinner (a minute or two of spinning gets you get 10-20 minutes of reading).


The OLPC site discusses the machine’s benefits and how it avoids bloat:

You learn through doing. This suggests that if you want more learning, you want more doing. Thus OLPC puts an emphasis on software tools for exploring and expressing, rather than instruction. Love is a better master than duty…

As a matter of practicality and given the necessity to enhance performance and reliability while containing costs, XO is not burdened by the bloat of excess code, the “featureitis” that is responsible for much of the clumsiness, unreliability, and expense of many modern laptops. XO will start up in an instant and move briskly through its operations. We accomplish this by focusing on only those features that children need for learning.

The UI (screenshots) is also specially designed to put collaboration at the core of the user experience.

So, working together with teams from Pentagram and Red Hat, we created SUGAR, a “zoom” interface that graphically captures their world of fellow learners and teachers as collaborators, emphasizing the connections within the community, among people, and their activities.


More on the UI:
Pentagram description
Video demo