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.

13 phases for getting sugar: My odyssey to the OLPC XO

What a journey! It took four and a half month for me to get my OLPC XO. If you are interested in the journey, read on. I just need to tell it somebody 😉

Phase 1: Being an alien

I ordered the OLPC XO quite early through the Give 1 Get 1 program as I thought the idea is fine to support and I was really interested in the device. Not only in the hard- but also in the software and the complete package. So in mid November 2007 I tried to order, but… I live in Berlin/Germany and in the beginning there was no way for me to order. The web form was only able to handle requests from the States (and Canada I think?). Though I already made contact to a friend who was willing to be my delivery address in the U.S. the payment with European credit cards was impossible. But just a couple of days after the start of G1G1 I noticed you could order the laptop via phone.

Phase 2: Being a hero

So after calculating the time zone difference I called the G1G1 support and ordered the laptop by phone. Sounds easy but try to image waiting on a phone for half an hour, ordering in a different language than your native language while having to spell names, addresses and your credit card number. But hey: I was sure to get the device right before Christmas so I could show off with it at the 24C3 CCC hacker convention.

Phase 3: Being a loser

Of course really nothing happened. All I got was an annoying mail at some day telling me about my bad luck and having to wait for an actually unspecific amount of time and and offer of a postcard for youngsters explaining why the laptop will be delayed. So I had to join the hacker congress without gadget while having to see at least ten or more of XOs flying around there. Bad luck, really bad luck.

Phase 4: Being a cheater

In early 2008 a friend showed up who ordered two EEE pcs by chance and asked me if I want to have one of them. As I really yearned for a small device I decided to break my own rule and bought the EEE while feeling political incorrect.

Phase 5: Being a clown

After weeks a hidden link to a form showed up somewhere in the web where you could track the status of your shipment. Something seemed to be wrong with my order. So I took the time of hanging one and a half hour on hold. Afterwards an even worse than me speaking Indian callcenter agent told me that the delivery address was incorrect and we needed half an hour to correct it. No joke.

Phase 6: Being a monk

At least in early March I had given up my hope and tried to think that maybe someone somewhere is happy with one or two laptops funded with my credit card. Really – I started telling people that I did not expect the XO to be delivered and I really did not. I triend to get happy with my EEE, installing Ubuntu Gutsy and Hardy on it.

Phase 7: Being a zombie-child

Then it came. The very mail: My XO has been delivered. FedEx tracking number. I jumped like a child. But hey: Where the heck has it been delivered? My friend did not receive it. The signature from FedEx showed a name like „Jon Doe“ and I started getting angry. FedEx should stated they are out of business when somebody subscribed the package. Maybe I did not get the meaning of the combination of name and delivery address…

Phase 8: Being a child again

A couple of days later the package was found (picked up by a friendly neighbor). It had a totally false name on it, but hey, it has been found!

Pase 9: Being a scientist

Now it was time to manage a shipment from Los Angeles to Berlin while trying to get it fast. Ever tried to order a shipment by yourself? At the very first try you have to be a scientist. Tax rates, duane, weight, shipment type… But I got really nice support from my friend. Delivery price: over 100 USD. Ouch.

Phase 10: Being a driver

While FedEx managed to bring the package within three days (Friday to Monday) they also managed to inform me as late as possible on Monday that I wasn’t at home though I already called them in the morning. Bad luck again. But hey, I called their office in the afternoon and managed to get an address where it was possible to pick up packages manually until 8 p.m. So shortly about 8 p.m. I finally got my package.

Phase 11: Being an opener

So finally: Yesterday evening I’s able to unpack my own white-green-froggy-style thingie and plugging it into…

Phase 12: Being an idiot

… nothing because I could have been smart enough to think of American style power supplies. Guys, you really have crappy power outlets. This looks rather like a hobbie thingie than a serious voltage carrier. But in my bad luck at least the batterie had some power left so I’s able to hack around for at a couple of hours.

Phase 13: Being normal again

Tuesday, the device is still there yearning to be hacked. I picked up a converter for the power supply and that’s end of the story. Being on sugar now.

To give you some totals of this odyssey: I had to wait four and a half month for the XO and spent at least 550 USD for it (400 for the G1G1, 40 for the delivery to the US, 100 for the delivery to Germany and 10 for a converter). That hurts again and again but thats the price for being a first mover if you can say so when waiting that long.

p.s.: This post is not a rant about the delivery process though it really got on my nerves. I appreciate the effort for the project but also I have to state that these guys really need some managing hints. When thinking worldwide you have to make sure you are able to deliver within a reasonable amount of time. Lesson learned, I hope.

Ubuntu on OLPC XO anonye?

While waiting for the delivery of my One Laptop per Child OLPC XO, ordered through the great Give one Get One program (you can order until 31. of December and yes, you can do it from outside U.S. e.g. Europe too, as the FAQ shows you), I’s nearly unhappy to see a lot of guys walking around with an OLPC XO at the annualy ccc hacker convention 24C3 while being nearly jealous :) Despite of dozens of OLPCs around here, at this time, nobody could answer my question whether there already had been serious efforts to bring Ubuntu to the little green thingy with the official bunny ears.

As far as Google knows, there exists an Ubuntu launchpad blueprint entitled „Ubuntu for the One Lap Top Per Child Project„, that brings up some hope but to be honest, there are dozens of interesting blueprints. So is anybody of you right now dealing with an installation of Ubuntu on the XO or knows someone around who does so?

(And yes, I know, that the Eeepc is a nice tool, too. But it just has no bunny ears, you know.)