The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project is in the final steps to finally ship the first laptops to poor children living in poor countries.
XO, as the laptops are officially named, use a Fedora Core 7 based operating system with a user interface dubbed Sugar that provides a simple desktop environment to access the bundled applications including: a Gecko-based web browser, an Abiword based word processor, a web feed aggregator, a Tetris clone, a paint application, a Logo implementation, a video/photo capture application to use with the included web cam, a simple music composition tool and a calculator.
I gave XO a try using a recent nightly image on QEMU, the open source emulation software. It worked pretty well except for a problem with getting online which I quickly solved thanks to the OLPC Wiki.
The Gecko-based browser is as simple as it gets and then a little bit simpler. As you can see from the screenshot below it provides back, forward and stop/reload buttons and a location bar that also acts as a progress bar while content is loading and a title bar that shows the actual web address when you move the mouse cursor over it. That’s it.
What is absent is a much longer list: tabs, add-ons, auto-complete, history, context menus, password storage, anti-phishing and spell checking are all missing. Web feeds is provided as a separate application which I’m not sure is Mozilla-based or not.
I know this is designed to be a simple interface, for kids and aimed to giving them an opportunity to express themselves and share with others their findings and creations but features like spell checking and tabs wouldn’t hurt and neither would some more color. It’s just to gray. This is not a final version however and features and colors may drop in.
It’s worth mentioning the share and keep buttons that are common to all applications. In the case of the web browser it means you can share a web address with other nearby computers thanks to its mesh networking capabilities that allow it to establish peer to peer networks automatically. As for keep I guess it should be the equivalent to bookmarks but I saw no way to access them once created.
In summary, it was interesting to try the XO OS, particularly the web browser. I am following the OLPC project development as close as possible, particularly in Peru, my native country, where it seems to have as many supporters as opponents, both with valid reasons.
More details on XO’s web browser.
Interested in the OLPC project development? OLPC News is a good place to start.