Thoughts on OLPC/XO Laptop User Experience?

29 May 2007 - 11:15am
7 years ago
2 replies
938 reads
Bob Goodman
2007

I'm curious whether members of this list have been following
developments with Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC (One Laptop Per Child)
project and its effort to put its XO Laptop, and open-source Sugar
operating system/environment into children's hands in developing
countries. The project seems potentially important to interaction design
at a number of levels in terms of both in terms of its innovative
hardware and the unique user experience.

Negroponte has also made the following interesting and provocative
comments in an AP interview: "In fact, one of the saddest but most
common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in
the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word,
Excel and PowerPoint. I consider that criminal, because children should
be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office
automation tools."

I understand that Dr. Alan Kay is the co-designer of the XO Laptop and
it seems to incorporate ideas dating back to his Dynabook thesis as well
as his work at Xerox PARC and his independent Squeak project. One of his
persistent themes and goals has been the idea that tools should strive
to augment, rather than replace, learning and creativity. The XO breaks
out of the desktop metaphor (which Dr. Kay helped create), and moves
towards the idea of activities, rather than applications, with the
individual user/children visualized at the center. See this YouTube
video for a glimpse of the UX in action:

*http://tinyurl.com/34qo9x*

In the meantime, as reported in 60 minutes, the project faces a tough
road ahead to generate the scale of orders needed to bring the XO to
"market" in developing countries. In part, this is due to competition
from Intel, which is competitively pushing its Classmate PC as a
classroom teaching aid. An earlier possible relationship between OLPC
and Intel did not come to fruition and the XO uses AMD chips. The blue
Classmate PC and the XO green machine do bear surface similarities:
target user base, price point, form factor, etc. In other words, they
are both low-priced laptops for children.

Beneath the surface, though, they are radically different. The Classmate
appears to be a more traditional approach towards computer-enhanced
classroom learning, including a focus on teacher presentations. XO is
focused on self-directed, self-paced, and peer-to-peer learning and
creative activities in and out of the classroom. Personally, I hope the
XO finds its way to market in spite of these obstacles. I would be
interested to hear any thoughts from members of this list.

--
bobgoodman.net, inc.
user experience consulting
http://www.bobgoodman.net
(617) 620-1641

blog: http://www.uxculture.com

Comments

29 May 2007 - 11:21am
Trip O'Dell
2007

I was a teacher for five years ( including a 2 year stint as a
volunteer in the poorest county in the US where I taught media
design), so I've been following OLPC for awhile now. I have to agree
Negroponte on the state of "computer" education even in the first
world. I also taught at an elite prep school in Boston where the only
required computer course of any kind was a semester of MS office. The
focus in education tends to be skill/application based as opposed to
any form of technology agnostic media literacy.

I think the issue can partially be contributed to the classical
culture of education where a single scholar specializes in a
particular area and jealously guards their work. The idea of open
collaboration and social tools like blogs, wikis, photo pools, and
even open source software seems like cheating to many educators (a
good portion of whom tend to be luddites to begin with).

What will be really interesting is seeing low cost, open computing
like the OLPC are combined with projects like the RepRap (http://
www.reprap.org)- an open source prototype printer that will
eventually be able to self-replicate. In combination I think these
technologies have the potential of being as culturally disruptive as
Gutenberg's printing press. How will the "usability" and ergonomics
of the internet and everyday objects change when the other 5/6ths of
the world come online and bring decidedly non-western aesthetics and
cultural biases to experience design?

Trip

------------------------------
"Specialization is for insects..."
-Robert A. Heinlein

31 May 2007 - 12:12pm
Gil Barros
2006

Hi Bob,

There was a thread a while back about the OLPC and the Suggar UI.

http://beta.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=14982

(_nice_ feature!!)

Yes, XO and Classmate are radically different in purpose. XO is an open
environment for experimentation and discovery in groups, Classmate is a small
laptop.

As far as I know, the XO is currently on the $150 price range, while the
Classmate is more like $400, so there's quite a difference there too.

Gil.

Bob Goodman escreveu (29.05.07 14:45):
> I'm curious whether members of this list have been following
> developments with Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC (One Laptop Per Child)
> project and its effort to put its XO Laptop, and open-source Sugar
> operating system/environment into children's hands in developing
> countries.
...
> XO finds its way to market in spite of these obstacles. I would be
> interested to hear any thoughts from members of this list.

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