XOXO to children everywhere.

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

There are buses that go from downtown Oaxaca out to Xoxocatlán, which is, I guess you’d say, a suburb of the capital city of Oaxaca state, perched on the south side of the huge hill the archaeological site Monte Alban sits on. It’s pronounced “hoho-caht-LAN”…and folks know the bus is going there because a simple ‘XOXO’ has been scribbled high up on the windshield. A bus with hugs and kisses.

I think of that town, for some reason, when I look at the OLPC XO that Sammy and I bought as part of their “Give one, Get one” program. It is a cute, tough machine whose logo is a merger of an X and O into a human shape (some have said the Cingular guy got work after he was laid off), and Xs and Os permeate the clever user interface.

It arrived Saturday in the rain, and the UPS person tucked it up against the front door, where we first spotted it Sunday morning (we’re glad neighborhood thieves were out partying elsewhere Saturday night.) Out of the slightly damp box came a cleverly-designed computer, the work of a devoted team of people who are trying to put these in the hands of as many of the world’s children in as functional a way for as cheap a price as they can.

As part of that mission, for a bunch of obvious political reasons, they want to make it 100% open source, resilient, and accessible. It is a minimalist machine by many folks standards—only 1 GB of Flash memory instead of a hard disk, and 256 MB of RAM, and a single-core processor. And yet, because of the hard work of a determined team that cannot be said to be in it for any reason other than to help, it is what it is, a fine machine for a child to use to work with, to learn, to paint, draw, write, communicate, and oh yeah, play. There are a lot of smarts inside and behind this machine, and plenty of Python-y juiciness to play with (what other machine lets you examine the source code of running applications with the touch of one button?)

One of the people who saw it at James and Rebecca’s holiday open house on Sunday paid it the ultimate compliment: “What kind of Mac is it?” Several said they could see using it as a small coffeehouse writing and surfing machine. (This speaks, by the way, to a general worldwide desire for a powerful, light subnotebook, that I hope will be satiated by a new kind of MacBook in January.) Many liked the idea that you could buy one while simultaneously buying one for a kid somewhere for whom the XO might open all kinds of rich doors.

I’m certainly a Mac guy, an admirer of clever design, and yet I have no trouble extending that admiration to the work of the folks who made the OLPC XO. There are some really smart choices and decisions made here (and a few dubious ones, but hey, it’s version 1.0.) Thanks for doing something.