We were lucky enough to get a chance to take a look at a couple of early models of the $100 laptop project from Nicholas Negraponte & co. Matthew Garrett brought them in to show us. He’s been helping the project out with his high skills in battery efficiency, something they have quite some need for at the moment.
I was a little disappointed with the OLPC, in some respects. The design by Yves Behar and his gang at FuseProject (who I admire greatly) looks great on their website, but feels much more plasticky and cheap in the hands. The small antenas that stick up like ears, particlarly, feel quite fragile, but need to stay attached since they provide the mechanism for locking the unit when closed. The keyboard, which is designed to keep water and dust out, feels spongy. And almost exact replica of the typing experience on the Sinclair Spectrum.
it’s clear, too, that on the hardware side there is still a ton of work to do. The mesh networking is not in place yet. The speed of the machine is pretty bad. Battery life is still pretty bad at about 2 hours. And there are still some very geeky rough edges when the Linux command line experience shows through. So I’m a bit sceptical about their ability to hit their end of year deadline.
Still, the project is laudible. The Spectrum, which had many of the same rough and ready qualities as the OLPC, created technology enthusiasts out of thousands of kids and launched a world class gaming industry. Kids can be so unconscious of the unfinished qualities of a product if they can use it and abuse it in ways that are compelling. And with the added social qualities of this device, with its people centric OS model, along with simple but flexible programming tools, could make it a winner.