Sunday, December 9, 2007

One laptop per child 'Develop' feature - the best thing that ever happened since the Apple ][ and Linux

You have probably heard of the OLPC - one laptop per child - initiative by now. Their XO laptop is so well thought it could reconcile children and teenagers with technology. First let's review a few popular devices and what people know about their construction.
  1. Radio, 1960s. I remember the one my dad used in the 1960's. He opened it up a few times and showed me the self and magnet used to look up different frequencies - different radio stations. My dad replaced buttons and condensers when they broke down / smoked up. There was a local electrician store down the street where you could find everything you needed.
  2. TV Set, 1970s. I opened up my black and white TV set when toward the end of its life time the electron beam would randomly flicker as the TV heated up. The beam required precise adjustment to return to the correct path on the screen. Don't do that yourself, it's stupid and very dangerous.
  3. VCR, 1980s. The VCRs frequently ate your VHS tape and refused to eject it back. Everyone I know once opened up their VCR to physically extract the tape - half of the time ruining the VCR altogether.
  4. PC's, 1990s. Installing a second hard drive, more memory and extra cards was everyone favourite past-time back then.
  5. iPods, 2000s. You throw them when the battery or anything else stops working. Why bother? By then a newer and cooler model has arrived anyway. All right, I am pushing it. There is now a black market of specialized shops that will do wonders to repair your latest gadget - but don't even try by yourself.
The XO laptop amazes me with its Develop feature. Press the View Source key and you can jump into the program code that you are currently running. You can edit and then run your modified version as simply as possible. Compare this with the steps you need to follow to install and edit Java programs on your PC. The XO sounds so great, may it inspire Microsoft to return to the simplicity of the Apple ][ and its Basic from the 80s - Microsoft should hire Steve Wosniak. I'm tempted to give up Java I used for the book Fun Science With Your Computer - and switch to the scripted language Python chosen by XO instead. But Java is so popular and so well tested on many types of computers I just wished it were easier to install by complete beginners.

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