Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

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Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby plym49 » Fri Mar 21, 2008 2:48 pm

Like most of us here, I was happy to hear of the OLPC program.

I eagerly ordered units under the G1G1 program, well before the Christmas holidays in 2007, so I could give the 'get' unit to my 9 year old daughter for Christmas.

The disappointments began with poor communication from OLPC regarding the status of my order. Inquiries were answered, after several day delays, with form letters that provided no specific information. Just generalities. Of course, the unit did not arrive in time for the holidays.

The unit finally arrived in late March; it's very hard for a young child, excited at the prospect of getting her own laptop, to be patient! Of course, OLPC put thru the credit card payment in December, and I got them their matching gift from my company in early January. I don't think it right for them to process a charge when they have no ability to deliver, but since they are a charitable organization, I let that one slide.

Now the unit is here. My daughter's - and my own - excitement quickly turned. The total lack of documentation was one disappointment. 'Go to our website', says OLPC. So, in the mainstream market for this device, described as third-world children, everyone has the ability to use some other PC attached to a printer? Hmmm. The user interface is somewhat arcane; how are children supposed to fathom the ins and outs of this UI? After all, every user is coming in to this UI blind.

The next disappointment was that the unit would not connect to WAP. How can this be? This unit is touted as an instrument of connectivity to help bring kids together. And if this is a failing of the machine, why was OLPC not up front about this serious limitation up front? Should my 9 year old daughter hang out in Starbuck's to use the T-Mobile WiFi? Is WAP not the connectivity modality to be found in 99% of the G1G1 'get' homes? This is a serious limitation.

I began the trek to get the unit to work with WAP. After a lot of forum reading, I went thru the process. And ended up with a laptop that freezes after being booted up.

More forums, more downloads, more interventions. And even though my unit is refreshed with the latest and the greatest, it still freezes. My daughter is devastated. And I am angry.

I am a computer professional, so the issue is not that I somehow ham-handedly destroyed this machine. But even if I were only marginally computer-literate, is this an acceptable situation?

Do third-world children have access to wired internet connections, other PCs and thumb drives to go through the maintenance procedures required to maintain this device? Can they read the English forums? Can they traverse a support organization whose SLA is a several-day turnaround for each query?

Should an exercise in global distribution be supported by volunteers in the first place? (I am grateful to the volunteers who help out, and admire their dedication, but the shame of it is that OLPC is depending on them at all.)

So, now I wait. I wait for someone to guide me in the steps needed to get this almost-a-brick of a laptop to actually be able to start its own bundled software without freezing. I wait for the next shoe to drop when we end up needing Flash or whatever, and this entire maintenance/upgrade/patch loop starts anew. I wait for the day when my little girl, who was so happy and proud to have her own laptop, can actually use it.

So far, OLPC has received the full payment under the G1G1 program, plus the kicker from my company's matching gift program. They have received a enough to equate this to a Give 2, Get 1. I have more than held up my end of the bargain.

In return, OLPC represented that I would receive a laptop designed for and usable by a child. That has certainly not yet happened. It seems that the OLPC business model and laptop are both tragically flawed, and that is a shame, as this was really a good idea. But even the best ideas cannot withstand incompetent execution.

I have read these forums and see that many of you have had positive experiences with OLPC and their laptop. That is great; I'm glad that it has worked for some of us. But I also see the many negative posts, and the many negative stories on the news feeds, and I have NEVER seen an article about a group of children somewhere in the world who are actually using this laptop the way it was intended. It makes me wonder, especially when I consider my own experiences to date.

I'll give OLPC a few more days. After that, I'm afraid that I will have to request a refund, and I will get my child an ASUS Eee PC.
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby mattd » Fri Mar 21, 2008 3:37 pm

If I were you I'd just load another window manager and dump Sugar. Or install a whole new Linux distro. Ubuntu seems popular and there's a step by step howto over on olpcnews.com's forum (this looks like a cleaned up version at the wiki). There might be one for Debian as well.

Howto's on other window managers (Enlightenment, Xfce, Awesome) are also available there.

Then you'll have all the tools that are available with a mainstream distro and window manager. Networking, printing, etc., and won't have to deal with the headache that is Sugar. Not to mention the migrain that would be dealing with OLPC again. HTH
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby plym49 » Fri Mar 21, 2008 4:05 pm

I understand your point, and it is a good technical option, but it would put me in a whole 'nuther arena.

If this was a machine for me to play with, I could see myself doing something like the OS conversion you described.

But this is a laptop for a 9 year old girl. I don't want her to have a science experiment, I want her to have the product that OLPC represented. She needs to be able to use this like any other OLPC user would, and I should have some OLPC support behind me.

I just booted her laptop again. It boots fine, even lets you start an app. But in a minute or so, the box totally freezes. Regardless of what application you start. That seems pretty bad, and I don't understand why a fresh installation of OLPC's latest and greatest code does not fix the problem.

I appreciate your taking the time to reply. Again, yours is a good idea but not the sort of thing that would be best for my child.
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby mattd » Fri Mar 21, 2008 4:39 pm

No problem on the reply. If I'm typing, it looks like I'm working. :-)

The reason I advised the install is you mentioned getting an EeePC. Doing an OS refresh (which I'm about to do - even typing this on the XO/Sugar via Opera) will essentially turn your XO into an Eee. But with a better screen and the added bonus of your daughter still getting to keep/use her cool 'Shrek lappy'.

I'm somewhat of a linux newbie myself so I'll report back (hopefully using Ubuntu/Xfce) when I get done.

From what you've said, it sounds like your problems are completely software. If that is the case then with a new OS/window manager everything will work out nicely; your daughter will have a functional machine that doesn't require the high maintenance costs you have paid so far and - if you do have problems - you'll have a relatively large and helpful group to lean on.

Not to mention, IMHO, Sugar is the pits. Even for kids. And without other XOs around, your daughter can't use the XO like it was meant to be used.
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby mattd » Fri Mar 21, 2008 5:03 pm

Well, that was melodramatic. I don't have a USB drive with me large enough to do the Ubuntu install. See what I get for recommending a process before reading through it. You need a 600MB+ SD/USB drive to do it.

Gonna have to wait until Monday I guess.

Hold tight plym49!
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby plym49 » Fri Mar 21, 2008 5:04 pm

You make some good points.

To date, in round numbers I have spent - directly and through matching gifts - $600 for a $100 computer (that doesn't work).

If I buy an Asus Eee, I will spend $400 for a $400 computer (I've seen one work).

If I bail on OLPC, I get my $400 back and they can keep the $200 matching gift.

With an ASUS, my daughter gets an engineered package (at least, I would hope so). With an OLPC hacked with a new OS, she'd have a one-off.

If it turns out that her friends all get OLPCs, too, then I can see how it would make sense for all of them to be meshing together. That's a reason to keep the OLPC vanilla. But a bigger reason is my fear of a maintenance nightmare - worse than I have now - if I upgrade as you outlined. I can foresee all sorts of issues: ActiveX, video camera, network, and the like.

Maybe these fears are overstated. And, I could always go back to the OLPC config. So, keep me posted on your progress. If it works and the upgrade process is not too painful I will consider it.
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby plym49 » Fri Mar 21, 2008 5:06 pm

LOL OK hang in there Matt. Let me know how it turns out.
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby mattd » Sat Mar 22, 2008 2:24 am

Well, damn. In leu of a full OS install I just installed Xfce (essentialy replacing Sugar) using the directions here.

The new window manager worked like a champ, but I still have network issues forcing me to use the 5 line explanation found here to get the (unsecured) network running.

I can't, in good faith, recommend you keep the XO for your little girl. i hate to say that - and this - but I participated in G1G1 to get a cool little laptop. As much as I believe in the OLPC cause, I would not have donated had they not offered the G1G1 program.

That being said, I admire your persistence and effort in trying to get the XO into a usable state. I hope your daughter enjoys the Eee.

P.S. Too bad you're not selling the XO for $200. I'd paypal you within minutes. :-)

(anybody else feel free to join in and convince plym49 to keep hacking at her XO)
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby plym49 » Sat Mar 22, 2008 9:28 am

Thanks for your efforts, Mattd.

I will wait at least until OLPC support gets back to me with a fix, or if in the mean time one is suggested at this forum.

If no fixes are forthcoming then I probably will have no choice but to return the unit to OLPC.

I am sorry that I cannot accept your kind offer to buy it off my hands. I do not think it right to write off the other portion of my payment. But at this rate you will probably have your pick of thousands of units -- as more get distributed, more will be found unsuitable; plenty will on eBay for a song.
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby doug » Sat Mar 22, 2008 3:25 pm

I'm not saying you don't have problems but just posting my experience with a new XO just received yesterday.

The simple instructions showed how to open it( antennas up first ) and though nothing said how to install the battery, I figured it out. Plugged it in and powered up. It took a while and I just left it there while I did other things but it eventually booted to Sugar.

I first clicked on the browser since it looked like a globe and I associated that with the web. Got the Page Not Found message so I pushed some buttons to get to the network view and saw all the WiFI access points( you called them WAP ). I found that by putting my house over them I can see the SSID/name and I found mine and clicked on it. A window popped up asking for a password and I entered my encryption key. I went back to the browser and tried the search and the network was working. It has been working since. I found that you can start typing in the little window at the top of the network page and it's like a search field. Start entering your SSID and others will dim while yours will stay deeply colored.

My wife played with some of the sound applications and later on I explored some also along with the camera application( record ). Everything is looking fine and pretty much what I expected.

But, since I did not plan on giving this to a child, I've spent little time investigating how it would be used for learning or how a child would us it besides exploring and playing. But I understand how it could be used in a classroom situation with specific classwork "activities" and the like. The Journal seems to play right into how class work would be created, updated, and even turned in( copy ). Using it for just goofing off or free-form computing might be tougher though.

Actually, I'm quite impressed by the quality and software already available and I'm looking forward to exploring the device with other owners in the area. I will also be testing its ruggedness this year by taking it down into Mexico for weeks of off-road usage and will be looking for ways to keep it charged too.

I have no idea why your access point was not found as I found a dozen or so in the neighborhood and easily connected to mine( a Fonera(fon.com) device ). I've seen no lockups or any software issues other than trying to install xmms from the wiki and it didn't load or run. A couple of other applications installed just fine though.

Since you stated you received your XO in late March and it is only March 22 today, I'm figuring you just received your XO less than a week before I did and therefore, it should be the same software as mine. If you posted specific details of your problems in another forum, please list them so we might be able to help you. What you posted in this forum has nothing anybody can help you with because there are no details besides generic complains of problems.
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby plym49 » Sat Mar 22, 2008 4:09 pm

Hi - thanks for the condescending reply.

Believe it or not, I was able to get the unit out of the box and opened up and battery installed and charged and powered up, just like you. Good golly guess I must be a real smart 'puter person like you!

Seriously, the issues I described speak to something else, so read my post again if you must. This is a Windows/Mac world, and every child who has been exposed to a computer to date has seen that type of UI. To provide something else, that is ostensibly intended for a child, without any sort of a help guide is surprisingly naive, or perhaps arrogant. You figured it out - so did I - hooray for adults. That is not the point.

Your laptop may have the same software on it mine arrived with. Mine does not work, and I am not an idiot.

My posting was not about the technical help I need to get this thing working. It was my questioning of the intentions and/or delivery capabilities of OLPC. Read through the postings on this forum; many, many people are having problems with these units. Count your good fortunes that yours works, and I hope for your sake that it does not decide to fail, because you can be sure that if I see a post from you asking for help that I will jump all over you, too. (Actually, not, I am not that mean.)

For the record, I DID post separate forum questions in the appropriate forum areas with the gory technical details of the issues I am facing and the remediations attempted to date. No one has replied at all. The only replies I have received are to the above post. One person recommended that I bail on OLPC, and the other (you) imply that I am mistaken.

Oh yes, I also requested help from OLPC, and two days later I have not received a reply. I suppose that I should not expect more from a volunteer force -- wait a minute, this GLOBAL enterprise relies on a volunteer force for execution? Gee, I never read about that in the press releases.

Give me a sign, any sign.
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Not Disappointed at all

Postby doug » Sat Mar 22, 2008 5:36 pm

I mistook your post as one looking for help, not just another "it's not Windows" rant. It does seem like there are quite a few who knew little about the device, its design, its purpose, and the org attempting to meet those goals. It is not Windows, it is an application and device to be used as a educational tool.

Do yourself a favor and sell the device on eBay and find a cheap used Microsoft Windows based laptop. You'll feel much much more comfortable with that and since you seem to think that learning the Windows UI is what learning to use a computer is all about, you'll be right at home.

Good luck.
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby plym49 » Sat Mar 22, 2008 5:56 pm

Wow, Doug, you still don't get it.

This is not about 'not Windows'.

And I certainly have no intention of dumping this on eBay. If anything, it will go back to OLPC.

Thank you again for a condescending, arrogant email. I am sure that your stuff doesn't stink.

Amanda
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby tsdguy » Sat Mar 22, 2008 9:37 pm

I'm with Doug - sell the thing and get a Mac for your kid. The XO is not meant to be "dumped" in front of anyone. No deployment so far is a dump.. OLPC doesn't fly over Peru and throw the laptops out of the plane and hope the kids pick them up. They go in with a volunteer team and the cooperation and support of the local educational establishment.

The XO is not a training wheel computer - something to train kids to use big boy computers with Windows or OS X interfaces. It's for kids in developing countries so that computer resources can be deployed cheaply and massively. It's interface is designed so that kids can pick it up quickly and do the basics - no one cares or expects any kid in Mongolia to go on to become a Windows developer. We'll be happy if we can get a couple of text books translated in to "Mongolia language" (sorry, I'm embarrassed I don't their language name).

Of course, the G1G1 program can't do that but they expect the parents to work out the rough edges before any kids get the products. If there are rough edges that are not worked out, then folks need to be patient. If something's not working, then be persistent - if may take a couple of days for the volunteers on the help email to respond. If you think that too long then volunteer yourself - after all you are a computer professional.

I can advise you on your troubles - wireless is an issue that is being worked on very diligently. Release 656 is working better with WEP, OK with WPA. The original 650 is OK with WEP, no support with WPA. The new release candidate 691 is very good on WEP, much better on WPA. Don't remember what release you're using but I would upgrade to at least 656 for WEP. Unless you can't avoid it, I still recommend folks don't use WPA until the next release comes out.

As for your freezing problem, if you've reloaded the OS and it still is freezing, then this is a hardware problem that needs immediate attention. Please resend a note to help@laptop.org and use this subject: XO freezes after multiple software updates.

We are tracking several similar cases. I hope that your XO is still under warranty as we would want to replace it.

If you want me to find out what happened to your original email to help@laptop.org, please PM me with your email address and I will look it up. It's probably there just waiting as we have lots of questions waiting and only a few volunteers...
Foes: kentsin, InterNetZoo
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Re: Disappointments Abound - Is the Writing on the Wall?

Postby jfbrown42 » Sun Mar 30, 2008 8:44 pm

plym49 wrote:The next disappointment was that the unit would not connect to WAP. How can this be? This unit is touted as an instrument of connectivity to help bring kids together. And if this is a failing of the machine, why was OLPC not up front about this serious limitation up front? Should my 9 year old daughter hang out in Starbuck's to use the T-Mobile WiFi? Is WAP not the connectivity modality to be found in 99% of the G1G1 'get' homes? This is a serious limitation.

I began the trek to get the unit to work with WAP. After a lot of forum reading, I went thru the process. And ended up with a laptop that freezes after being booted up.

Hi plym49 -

I'm not part of any support organization, just another G1G1 donor. I was having problems with connecting to the "secure" WEP at my house and reading about the linux hacking needing to get it to work (and the warnings about trying WPA at this point), I just went down to Staples and bought a Belkin 54g access point and am running it totally unsecure (no encryption, broadcasting SSID, etc.) until the version of the OS comes out with good support for WPA. It works for me, and I can use the XO at conference centers that support WiFi, so I'm happy with it.

I can understand that WPA support hasn't been the highest priority to date. Keep in mind that in the deployments in 3rd world countries that are the market for this laptop aren't running WPA.

Yes, the Sugar UI is different, but who cares once the Browser is running? The web is the web and it works good enough for the price paid in my opinion.
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