Way back just after the turn of the century, a laptop cost around three grand. The cheapest laptop was at least a grand, and no body said things like turn of the century to mean after the year 2000 rather than after the year 1900. Then there came along the OLPC, and the concept of one laptop per child. Really, it was an organizational philosophy regarding education, but practically it was all about a piece of hardware called the XO. The OLPC XO was essentially a netbook, the first netbook, and one arranged around the requirements of use by children in the developing world.
This meant cheap, rugged, long-lived, and simple. Simple here meaning both to use and repair. It delivered on all fronts, although it never got to the $100.00 price tag they were shooting for. Right of the bat it took a big hit by deciding to run Linux rather than something more industry standard like Windows. Today, such a project would almost certainly bow to convention and run Windows or at least Android. Geeks everywhere didn’t mind that it ran Linux though, and blindly counted that a point in it’s favor (it’s more of an asset now than it was then). Still it’s got some features that most people might wish to have on their laptops today.
First, the WiFi is to die for. It has two built-in external antennae and gets around three times the range of a conventional laptop. My work laptop picks up five hot-spots from my basement; the OLPC XO picks up thirteen. It’s also set up for mesh networking out of the box even when it’s off. Meaning it can behave as a pass-through node and share any WiFi access point it’s in range with with another mesh networking enabled machine that’s out of range of the hot-spot. That’s some fairly fancy networking and it does it with next to no effort. In practice this meant only the teacher’s XO had to have the WiFi password, and they could control student access to the network easily.
The biggest draw through, at least for me is the display. It’s dual mode, backlit like a standard monitor and high resolution grayscale that is fully readable (like e-ink in sunlight). Between that and the fact that it’s neigh unbreakable, and water resistant and it’s my go to. I mean, sure it’s heavier than a tablet and the battery only last half as long but I can practically pick up the libraries WiFi from home if you count the front yard as home. Oh, and it runs the audio processing software that I need (sox) so I don’t have to use clunky awful ad-riddled Android nonsenses just to concatenate wav files and convert them to ogg.