Why I won’t install Ubuntu on my OLPC XO (for now)

As you might have noticed, a couple of days ago I finally received my OLPC XO. Of course installing an Ubuntu flavor was one of my major tasks for the first time, but…

… after booting the XO for the first time there is something like a cultural shock: The XO gui „Sugar“ is totally different from what you might have used before. After recovering from that clash you start getting a clue what the small white-green device with the „bunny ears“ called wifi antennas is about. It is about local communities, learning collaboration and creativity. So there is a huge difference between using an EEE Pc and using a XO. The EEE PC came with a Linux gui (Xandros flavor) that was just not what I wanted and as the EEE is actually nothing more than a small and cheap version of a common notebook, installing Ubuntu (yes, even the normal Hardy desktop version) seemed rational and indeed works like a charm.

The XO is different from that: It’s ability to share most applications, the strange network and neighborhood views, the display (that is definitely worse than EEE’s when using color mode but unbeatable when using the greyscale mode in sunlight), the strong wifi antennas invite you to play around with a different approach to work. There are even limitations that enforce not switching back to „normal“: The quite limited ram (256Mb) and Sugar’s limit for only running a specific number of applications invite you to concentrate and focus. Of course you suffer a bit from being forced to use „yum“ on the console when installing applications that are actually not meant to be installed or don’t integrate into Sugar. They are not „Activities“ as Sugar-applications are called. (Besides: „Activity“ is a nice naming convention in my eyes.)

So what about Ubuntu? It’s not only about running it on the XO. You prolly know projects like „It runs doom“ (yes, the OLPC runs doom but somehow you feel wrong about it) trying to run specific software on as many devices as possible. We know Ubuntu will run and it already does. But the task is to take the challenge of providing something different, something focused. There is a blueprint already that gives hints on what is to do: Ubuntu for the One Laptop Per Child Project. It outlines the necessity of providing collaboration software, mesh network support and more of those things you don’t think about in the first when reaching for your notebook. At the end of the day this gives you the possibility to reach an audience you’d never dare to dream of before. So keep on hacking the XO and don’t stop after launching *buntu on it. We can do more.

EEE updated to hardy

Well, it got „boring“: After Gutsy worked smoothly for weeks on my Asus EEE Pc with desktop effects, some tweaks for hotkeys, overclocking and stuff I tried to run an update to the latest Hardy Heron Ubuntu version.

After having followed my own small Howto as preparation for the upgrade I noticed that I really got low on disk space. As I just installed the normal Ubuntu Desktop and few additional apps I had only about 28 percent of the four gigabyte which would be just not enough for an version upgrade. So as a work around I used a sd card and mounted it as /var/cache/apt/archives so that the hundreds of packages could be stored there during upgrade.

The upgrade (via „update-manager -d“) went without any disturbances but took about two hours including the complete download process. After reboot I noticed two major issues: Wired and wireless network were down (an uncomfortable combination 😉 ).

Wired network: The fix for the wired network network is the most silly thing I had ever done and after having found the hint for it on a web page I first thought that this *must* be a fools day joke but it was not: You have to plug off power and remove the battery for some seconds. Afterwards wired network is up and running. Yes, trust me.

Wireless network: The fix for the wireless network was nearly as easy (but not as funny) – just a wget/untar/make/make install of a patched driver copy of madwifi:

sudo apt-get install build-essential 
wget http://snapshots.madwifi.org/special/madwifi-nr-r3366+ar5007.tar.gz
tar xzf madwifi-nr-r3366+ar5007.tar.gz
cd madwifi-nr-r3366+ar5007
make clean && make
sudo make install
sudo reboot

So if you thought about upgrading your EEE: Do it. It’s time to find and report bugs for the thingie – in your own interest and as a nice way of contributing to the open source community. Just wondering where to file a bug about needing to remove the battery :)