Unpacking an XO laptop

Edit: Unfortunately, the images originally included in this post are gone, because of hosting problems in late 2009. My apologies.

Okay, so on Friday my XO laptop showed up at my door, and being the resourceful person that I am, I had the foresight to have my camera charged and ready when the blessed event occurred. It seems to be en vogue to show snapshots as the box is opened, so here’s a step-by-step addition to my family.

(56K users and people using older machines should be forewarned that these pictures are very high resolution — some as big as 3Mb or more. Additionally, I have about 40 thumbnails after the “more” tag, so even the abbreviated version may load slowly.)

Here’s the box, on first opening. The box itself was rather small — about as big as a shoe box for a pair of basketball sneakers. No foam packing or anything, just the cardboard braces and plastic wrap. Considering it traveled this far without any damage, I think it’s fair to say that those were sufficient packing materials.

The laptop, battery and charger, plus the two pamphlets were the entire contents.

I’m sure you’re wondering at this point, “Where’s the hand crank?” There is no hand crank. If you want to know about the hand crank, I’m going to point you at the OLPC wiki, since I was also confused by the hand crank issue.

Next, the instructions. Most of these should be clear enough photos that you can actually read the text, if you like.

I have some comments about the instructions, but just to keep things separate and organized, I’m saving my impressions and initial critiques for another post.

Here’s the backside with the battery inserted.

I actually really like the double-latch used to snap the battery in place. It’s been a long time since I bought a newer computer, so it’s possible that this is the way it’s done any more, but I still thought it clever. One latch is spring-loaded, and the other isn’t. Both latches have to be open before the other comes out. So you unlatch the first one, then hold the second one open while you lift the battery out. Little touches like that are nice.

Here’s the top, with the XO logo.

The surface is an unpolished plastic with about the same feel as a heavy-grade toolbox or impact-resistant molding. (It’s a little difficult to describe.) The bumper edges are molded tight to the covers, with no gaps anywhere (in fact if you look close at the battery picture again, you’ll see the battery snaps very tight into the case).

It also gets points from me for tactility, since the raised dot-pattern is quite fun to touch. (Kids like that stuff — adults usually don’t notice. πŸ˜€ ) Note that the handle is similarly molded, so it gets a kind of no-slip-grip effect. And the handle is a single piece that continues along the backside, so there’s very little risk that it will detach from the body somehow.

Close up of the indicator lamps.

There are four on the front and on the back (okay, technically more if you count the modesty lights) — power, drive access, wireless access, and battery level. The battery level light shifts from green to orange to red, as you might imagine. From what I’ve seen, all the rest are green-only. You can see if the laptop is on when it’s closed, and when the screen is dimmed.

The antennae double as latches for the case, and have to be lifted before the clamshell will open. Like this:

They also cover the microphone jack, earphone plug and one USB port on the left, and two more USB ports on the right. An SD card reader is under the right edge of the screen, beneath the power button.

There are snapping buttons that form the peg of the locks, which means you can keep the antennae down and still close the lid without snapping off the locking part. So you don’t accidentally ruin the locks if you close it with the antennae down, in case you were wondering. Again, it’s a nice touch.

And here’s what it looks like, when first opened.

Sorry about the flash there. It was a little tricky balancing the light, the camera and my enthusiasm. πŸ™‚

Size- and weight-wise, it’s about the same size as a thick, oversized book. I remember an American toy called an Etch-a-Sketch; it’s about the size of one of those, but perhaps a little thicker than the one I saw.

The neck joint is very strong on this. You can see the hinge and even a bit of the metal pinnings beneath the screen, if you look close. There are preset stops for the screen angle — like a reading angle, and perpendicular to the base, and so on — but you can also adjust it to between angles too.

Here’s the battery indicator, showing that my battery came precharged. That was polite. πŸ™‚

Here’s the first boot, in sequence. The splash screen is very clever, using the XO logo as a progress indicator. The powerup sound is very nice — nothing Ubuntu-ish, just a soft series of tones.

With the last encircled image, the UI starts to load. Since this is the first boot, I have to assign a user name to the machine. Mine was rather obvious. πŸ˜‰

It’s curious to me that the screen name you enter is not the user account name. If you open a terminal, the username at the PS1 prompt is “olpc” followed by a hex code as the host. I’ll look into that more later; it’s not a bad thing at all, just struck me as an unusual way to set it up. I’m sure there’s a rationale behind it. I’ll look for it later.

After a screen name, you pick the colors for your icon. I stuck with the whole green effect, and used green-on-green again. It is possible to change those colors later, if you decide purple and orange don’t truly reflect your personality. πŸ™„

And here’s the “desktop,” as it were.

The center icon serves as a shutdown/restart button too. Reboot and shutdown are shown on mouseover. I haven’t tried the “Register” option yet; I’ll let you know what it does.

The button bar at the button has nice, high-visibility icons for each “Activity” (think: application), and the bar has left and right direction arrows, so you can scroll through the installed programs. A tooltip gives you a hint, if you can’t remember what they are.

At the top left are some system navigation icons. Left to right, area network, group and them home (the “desktop”), and a resume icon. If you look closely you’ll see that most of those icons are mirrored on the top of the keyboard. (And actually, they’re the F-series keys — F1, F2, F3, etc.)

To me networking is the toughest part of any system, and so that makes the XO’s networking system very impressive. Here’s the “network manager,” if you want to call it something you can identify with.

That’s it. Click on an icon once (there are almost no double-clicks anywhere in Sugar — or at least not many that I can remember) and the system will try to access it.

If it works, the icon eventually is ringed in white. If not, it doesn’t. Signal strength is shown by the color and level of the dot. Encrypted systems are shown with a lock, and clicking those prompts for a password. It couldn’t be any more simple than that.

Going back to the home screen (again, the “desktop,” not a browser home page), I clicked the browser icon and now the globe icon is added to the center ring. It pulses while it loads.

Firefox is what you’re actually using here, and that’s probably obvious after you run Browser for a few minutes. Here’s the default home page for the OLPC — the onboard help pages.

I have some misgivings about using Google as the default search engine here, but I will editorialize about that elsewhere.

This is probably the best place to find out how to use your XO; there’s more than enough information about the software and guts in the help pages. After that, if you can get online either with the XO or another machine, you’re going to find lots of tips on how to run it.

Going back to the tour, here’s a Paint program that’s installed by default. It’s your typical draw-and-stamp application. Pixel artists might like to give it a whirl, but I can’t help but wonder if the screen resolution will be any kind of impediment to devoted artists.

What’s cuter than an XO laptop? An XO laptop telling you it loves you! Aww. …

There’s a terminal, for those of us who simply refuse to live without a command line. Here’s a screenshot, with the core series for reference. The right photo is a top profile.

But everybody has a terminal, even if they’re afraid to use it. So that’s boring. Here’s something unique — a music editing Activity called TamTamEdit.

There are lots of other little Activities on here. You can get a full rundown on the OLPC wiki, as well as lots of other links to Activities — including SimCity (which is actually available on the system, just not installed) and Doom. Doom on an XO? Who’d’ve thought it possible. … 😯

For my own part, this laptop will probably supplant the ugly laptop I “borrowed” from work, and serve as a backup emergency net access machine. Surfing is fun on this; I don’t know why. It amuses me for some reason.

I always feel obligated to show a picture of my e-mail account, just to prove it’s actually online and working. Basic HTML, like I’ve found for a lot of underpowered machines like this, is much faster. I need to find a way to set that to the default behavior, instead of waiting each time to switch.

Last but not least, cruising the Ubuntu forums.

And in the right photo you can see that the battery has run down, and the light has turned orange. That was after about three hours of use, which is phenomenal performance to me. I don’t know how long it would take to hand-crank it back to full power, but recharging takes around 30 minutes for me.

I think that’s about it. I still have a lot of exploring to do with it, although I’ve taken the time to make sure I can install things, even standard programs like the Gimp, and to perform a complete system reinstallation (easy to do, by the way).

But that’s about it for now. If you have questions, fire away. I’m doing what I can to learn about it and I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll give replies to the best of my ability. πŸ˜‰

P.S.: I apologize for the picture quality; I wanted to make sure the screen was visible and not use a flash where it wasn’t necessary. So some of these look a little grainy and dark. Oh well.


7 thoughts on “Unpacking an XO laptop

  1. xabbott

    There is no hand crank, for anyone, ever. That was like a proposed concept shown a long time ago which I believe even the project lead realized was silly. Somehow it has become iconic and nearly synonymous with the XO laptop.

    You if you wanted to though, get a 3rd party hand crank which is completely unrelated to this laptop but would work with it.

  2. K.Mandla Post author

    That’s funny. I double-checked that in the wiki, too. 😳 I must’ve gotten an old page that talked about hand cranks going elsewhere. I’ll correct it. Thanks xabbott. πŸ™‚

  3. UbLnoy

    Very nice presentation! I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to figure out that
    you had to open the rabbit ears in order to open it πŸ™‚ I also hadn’t noticed the
    card slot under the display. The OS beta that I played around with last year had
    the option of switching to a straight gnome desktop, but if it’s still there, I haven’t
    been able to find it.

  4. K.Mandla Post author

    Thanks UbLnoy. If that switch-to-Gnome feature is somewhere, I haven’t found it yet. πŸ™‚ I saw the wiki page about installing XFCE; I plan on trying that in a little bit.

  5. Pingback: So long, you crazy kid « Motho ke motho ka botho

  6. Pingback: Not particularly worried « Motho ke motho ka botho

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