Windows on the OLPC XO

Why, from a technical standpoint, Windows XP is a really bad choice for the OLPC. Or, “This fails. :-(”

Drive SizeThe XO-1 laptop
Wired has a good summery of why drive space could be an issue; Windows XP and Office take up way more space than the XO has room for. They’ve got at least part of it running off an SD card. This likely means that one will be unable to store any data on SD cards while running Windows. Joy. Also, what is with this dual booting thing? Users will have even less space to store data in an already limited environment.

Battery Life
The OX has been designed so that it can hibernate and resume in a tiny fraction of a second. This means that as long as the user isn’t doing something that requires the processor to be running (multimedia, keyboard/mouse interrupts, etc) the processor is turned off. The machine has a buffer which allows it to display the last frame rendered even when the machine is in hibernation.
In addition, I imagine that most of the Linux software has gone through optimization using tools like Powertop (many desktop Linux apps have, anyway) which allow them to be more efficient when demanding processor cycles.

Unless they put a lot more work into the XO version of Windows than I think they are, it’s not going to have nearly as good battery life as it would running Linux.

Mesh Networking
Almost every tool currently on the XO allows one to hook into the automatically generated mesh network. It’s not like some special mode which individual application implements differently, it’s a system-wide API that everything uses. As a result, one can turn on a bunch of XO laptops and see on a little map what everyone else is doing and collaborate in real time. It’s a very social system and great for educational purposes. Microsoft doesn’t have anything that compares to it, period. A few apps in Office might have collaborative editing capability, but it’s not automatic, intuitive, or integrated with the system. The mesh networking is also used to pass onwifi signals to machines which are out of range of the access point. It would be a shame if the XO lost useful automatic mesh networking in software and got stuck with access-point dependant 2 km wifi.

The reason OLPC switched to Windows is because of competition. Though the XO has superior software, it’s hardware is less powerful than Intel’s Classmate and it runs unfamiliar specialized software. By running XP, the only difference between the two is hardware, and quite frankly the XO looses badly in this department right now. Without the specialized Linux operating system, the long battery life or the out-of-the-box automatic mesh networking, the only reason one would purchase this thing is because of the dual mode screen. Great.

I still wish OLPC luck with their project, but from a technical standpoint, things have gotten considerably less exciting with this decision.


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