I have ordered a Quanta XO-1 (One Laptop Per Child) on the Give One, Get One deal, where you pay $400 plus shipping and you get an XO and donate one to the project ($200 tax deduction). This is just so cool that I have to have one. And I need a lightweight box that can do email and browsing that I can carry around easily. There are other good options but the XO is so novel and interesting! It’s just 3+ lb and runs on 2-3 watts with an amazing lithium ferro-phosphate battery, and physically extremely durable, waterproof, and dirtproof, and a great (but small, 7.5 inch) screen. No disk nor CD/DVD, but you can add them externally. And if the OLPC project is a big success, this may be the platform of the next generation of hackers. They are aiming to bring the price down to $100.
After watching a talk given at Google by Ivan Krstic, I got more and more excited hearing about the hardware and the software. A lot (14, apparently) of hackers, at least some of whom are famous superhackers (e.g. Jim Gettys), were involved in putting together the software. They have thought of and taken care of a huge number of issues. Perhaps I’ll end up contributing open source code to the project someday, although at the moment I’m too busy for that to be feasible.
The Give One Get One deal is only available for another 7 days. It may be hard to get them after that since they are going to be sold only to schools and other educational institutions and governments and in the third world. So if you want one, don’t hesitate:
The only thing I’m worried about is that David Pogue in the New York Times says that the XO’s keyboard is too small for an adult to touchtype on. I asked around, and Luke Gorrie (of SLIME fame) says that it’s frustrating at first but then he learned to touchtype on it at high speed. (I was going to walk over to the Media Lab and try one but I have no time in the next seven days and I’m just too convinced now.) And so many people seem to get along fine on much smaller keyboards, such as those on the Blackberry or smart phones (not touchtyping, obviously, but good enough for email when I’m on the road). So I’ll chance it. Other drawbacks: 2 minutes to boot (hey, Lisp machines booted slowly), and switching between apps is “poky”. (But the apps are fast.)
In a previous post, I mentioned capability architectures. The XO’s “Bitfrost” is not a capability system, but it does deal with the issue of mutually-suspicious protection domains. Given how many XO-1′s there will be, if the project succeeds, it will be an obvious target for malware, and I think Bitfrost will be a big help there. Bitfrost works by dividing up protection domains at a coarse level, whereas I’m more interested in very-fine-level schemes. See:
Main web site, but it seems to be down at the moment:
David Pogue’s review in The New York Times, both written and video. Pogue does lots of product reviews and I have a lot of confidence in his evaluations (and I love his books).
There’s plenty more if you Google for “OLPC”.
The XO does everything in Python. You can see all the code, with a single keystroke (that shows the code of what’s running) and even modify the code. In the video, the speaker (Ivan Krstic’) is asked “Why not just use Lisp or Smalltalk?”, and the questioner cites Lisp machines! See, our influence is still there! He replies that doing everything in Python “comes close to the general Lisp machine idea” (of course he, too, knows what a Lisp machine is!). Answer: he protests that it’s a lot like a Lisp machine except that the language doesn’t go all the way down to the metal (it’s based on Linux). Hey are also shipping Squeak (a modern Smalltalk). They used Python because of the “size and momentum” of the community, and because he feels that Lisp has a steeper learning curve than Python does for kids. I won’t object to those reasons.
Hey, Python, Lisp, what’s the difference? So, strange as it is to say, maybe this is the new Lisp machine!