NO EXECUTE!

(c) 2007 by Darek Mihocka, founder, Emulators.com.

December 24 2007


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"One Laptop Per Child" XO Laptop Arrives

The XO Laptop, which went on sale online at http://www.xogiving.com/ on November 12th is really here. In fact, the 5 week delivery time of my unit has beat past wait times from Dell, who've been known to regularly keep me waiting 6 weeks or longer for their computers and monitors (and why in 2006 I gave up and switched to just buying comparable Macs at the local Apple Store).

I have been waiting anxiously to receive this machine since I believe this to be a new milestone for personal computing - the advent of the sub-$200 laptop. Aside from the obvious educational purpose for being distributed throughout the third world, the XO could be a disruptive technology for the likes of Dell, HP, and other PC vendors who have grown fat milking the cash cow of corporate America with their usual $2000+ business laptop offerings. The XO is no Dell XPS or Apple Macbook Pro, but from what I can tell, this little computer stands to crack open a new price point for many consumers and information workers.

Featuring a very energy-efficient AMD Geode microprocessor which I have already confirmed can run for several hours on one battery charge, an LCD screen readable in direct sunlight as well as in room light, a webcam and microphone, one gigabyte of flash memory serving as the hard drive, a pair of powerful WiFi antennas, and an up-to-date Linux operating system with web browser, this laptop represents a very low cost entry point for many other possible uses:

  • a sort of "video walkie-talkie" to take camping or to school,
  • an instant-on outdoor web browser and email device,
  • an "e-book" reader to compete with Amazon's recent offering,
  • a programmable wireless security camera,
  • a wireless file server (just add extra USB flash drives),
  • a hanging computer terminal in every room of the house as imagined in Star Trek,
  • a coffee shop chat and web browsing computer that won't break your bank if you happen to lose it.

My dream of having low-cost rentable computer laptop is made possible with the XO. Why drag a $2000 Dell notebook to your vacation when you could rent an XO for dollars a day? And as far as my vision of having one machine that runs decades of legacy software, this machine appears to have more juice than is needed to run emulation software. Imagine a $200 laptop that can run virtually any piece of software. It is not so far fetched a concept when you consider what people were doing with a top-of-the-line Macintosh or PC in 1999, and then consider that the hardware inside the XO is comparable to and even exceeds most aspects of a 1998 or 1999 era computer. At the time that Microsoft launched Windows 98 and Apple launched Mac OS 8 (yes, think back a mere 9 or 10 years), you and I were paying upwards of $2000 for a desktop PC, and even more for a laptop or notebook that was lucky to have a gigabyte hard drive and more than 64 megabytes of RAM. The XO is even more powerful than the original iMac released in 1998, a device that found millions of uses in homes, artist studios, and even businesses.

That the XO is more powerful than a 1998 iMac can be said of a lot of computing devices today - the Apple iPhone, the Sony VAIO U-series and OQO pocket computers, the Playstation 3 to name a few. But what they don't match is the price. Those devices cost anywhere from $400 to over $2000 today. How many more people would own them if they cost under $200? Imagine how much more popular the iMac would have been if it had come with a $200 price tag!


A New Era For Personal Computing?

Right now, the XO is only available to the public via a "give one get one" offer. For $399 USD, you receive one XO laptop while the OLPC organization then donates a second laptop to a child in a country such as Cambodia, Afghanistan, or Rwanda. For the purposes of using it for general purpose computing, the XO laptop is therefore not truly a $200 notebook yet, nor does it meet the hypothetical price point of the "$100 laptop" that the OLPC project original set out to develop. And even the availability of the XO is only guaranteed through next week, December 31. What will happen after next week is anybody's guess.

Is the XO destined to just be a fad of Christmas 2007, or is it truly the start of the next revolution of the personal computer? I'm hoping for the latter. Much like the original (and ridiculous by today's standards) Compaq "lunchpail" portable computer or the failed Apple Newton PDA, the XO is an experiment. And I for one hope it succeeds because the XO represents a staggering reduction in cost and size in just 10 years. In 1998 personal computing was affordable to hobbyists, businesses, and affluent consumers. In 2008, it truly is possible to economically put a computer in the hands of hundreds of millions of more people around the world who have never used a computer in their lives.

T-Mobile (http://t-mobile.com/, the wireless provider at Starbucks coffee shops) is sweetening the deal tremendously by offering free T-Mobile wi-fi service for 12 months. For someone like myself who already does use the T-Mobile wi-fi, the laptop will pay for itself over the next year in what it will save me in T-Mobile bills. Starbucks should sell the XO.

Certainly the rumor that Microsoft may release a version of Windows XP to the XO is appealing, because that would all but kill the overpriced $2000 notebook cash cow market and force companies like Dell to stop profiting from the "Megahertz Myth".

In any case, I doubt it will be long before Gnome and KDE shells are up and running on the XO, as well as mainstream distributions of Linux. With that will come the ability to run Open Office, as well as Macintosh emulators such as vMac and PC emulators such as Bochs. It is only a matter of time before people start posting screen shots of Windows XP and Mac OS running on the XO. Anyone up for some late night hacking?
 


XO: A First Look

I have been all over Seattle trying out my XO these past few days while on holiday break from the consulting project. Here are my thoughts and photos of using the machine. Click the thumbnails below to see larger photos.

XO Laptop, backlight on XO laptop at maximum backlight brightness.

XO laptop with backlight off, room lighting.

XO's operating system is a November 21 2007 build of Linux 2.6, running on a 433 MHz AMD Geode microprocessor.

XO's keyboard may be a little small for some adults, but it has no problems connecting to standard mice and keyboards from Apple and Microsoft.

  XO's built-in video camera taking a picture of me taking a picture of it.

XO booting up. When the child's hand swings around, it is finished.

  XO's main screen showing battery status, wireless connection status, and running programs. Think of this as combination Windows Task Bar and Mac OS X dock.

  XO has a swiveling LCD display, allowing it to be used as a regular laptop, or in a tablet-like mode for watching videos or chatting.

  XO's use as a possible low cost "pet-cam". A thousand bucks could cover every room in the house.

  XO next to modern wireless computing counterparts - the Apple iPhone and the Sony VAIO U750 (running Windows Vista!)

  XO next to older groundbreaking computers costing many times more than XO did at their launch - the Atari 800, the Sony VAIO T-series, and the multi-core Apple Macbook.

  XO and my Apple Macbook sharing a coffee at a Starbucks in Bellevue, WA.

  Since Apple sites are freely accessible at Starbucks, it just screams for the need of a built-in iTunes client for the XO.

  This is very clever - the XO graphically displays a 2-D map of wi-fi hotspots and other laptop computers and their signal strengths!

  The only hang I experienced with the XO: it has trouble connecting to Apple Airport Extreme 802.11n wireless router. D'oh!

The XO arrives in a box with only a single sheet of documentation. This is to save on costs of course, but also it makes sense. The kind of needy children that will be receiving the XO don't exactly read English or peruse computer manuals. The XO's user interface is therefore very pithy on actual text output, opting instead for icons where it can. But not to worry, the Linux command line terminal is one of the icons available, and a hacker can quickly get down into the bare system.

After poking around the system trying to reverse engineer the exact hardware and software being used in the XO, I stupidly realized that the OLPC folks make that information publically available, since the source code to the XO's software is freely available. Duh. Rather than me rehashing it, here is the information they provide directly:

Getting Started page: http://www.laptop.org/en/laptop/start/

Hardware spec page: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Hardware_specification

A better diagram of the "Neighborhood View" (all computers should have this feature!): http://www.laptop.org/en/laptop/start/neighborhoodview.shtml

SUPPORT THE XO, BUY ONE NOW: http://laptopgiving.org/en/index.php


Santa Delivers Bochs 2.3.6!

Bochs 2.3.6 is almost hatched... wait... as I am typing this... breaking news... Bochs 2.3.6 has been released! Download the Bochs 2.3.6 source code and Windows executables here: http://bochs.sourceforge.net/

Stanislav has been making terrific progress on the performance front, integrating even more of my performance tweaks in preparation for the Bochs 2.3.6 release. The goal of booting Windows XP in 100 seconds is near - the two minute barrier is already broken on my Mac Pro. Remember, it was just 3 months ago that Bochs 2.3.5 was taking almost 3 1/2 minutes to do the same. Using many of the techniques I've discussed in this blog, it has been possible to almost double the speed of Bochs for many usage scenarios. Code optimization is not a black art; it is actually quite straightforward.

But even I wasn't anticipating the awesome release of Bochs 2.3.6 so quickly, so I'm not quite prepared with full benchmark results today. Join me here next week on New Year's Day 2008 for a complete performance summary of the latest Bochs 2.3.6 release as I take it for a spin on my Mac Pro and other computers.


As always, keep those comments and ideas coming by emailing me at darekm@emulators.com. A lot of people have been finding this blog for the first time recently and voting from the earlier postings, so I am bringing back the voting links. Please click on one of the two links below to let me know how you really feel:
 

Darek, keep writing, this is better than Bearnaise sauce on a thick cut of steak!
 
Darek, shut up and go back to playing on your Atari 800!

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