OLPC Australia XO-AU OS 12 beta 1

The OLPC Australia XO-AU OS 12 has reached beta 1. This is based on OLPC OS 11.3.1 and Dextrose 3.

We’d really appreciate some testing. Please direct your feedback to the OLPC Australia mailing list.

Here is the notice I sent out to teachers:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Sridhar Dhanapalan
Date: 24 December 2011
Subject: Taking part in improving new XO software


The 2012 OLPC Australia operating system, XO-AU OS 12, has reached a
beta stage of development. It has many improvements, and we looking
for feedback on how it works to help us create the final product. This
beta is suitable for testing, documentation and developing lesson

In early February, we will have a near-final release candidate,
suitable for trialling in classrooms. We are looking for clever
teachers to provide us with real-world feedback on how the software
works with their classes.

This is an opportunity for you to take part in XO development and
ensure that the device suits the needs of your classroom. We would be
especially interested to know how the connectivity and collaboration
works on your school’s networks.

To get started, visit our release notes page:

This page outlines the main changes in the new operating system. Go to
the “Beta 1” part of the Installation section. Installing the beta is
no different from installing the XO-AU USB 3 stable release: extract
the zip file to a USB stick and you’re ready to go.

To provide feedback, join our technical mailing list:

Following this, you can send your comments or ask questions at
olpc-au at lists dot laptop dot org

The OLPC Australia Engineering team are active participants on this
list, and we will reply. Remember, the better you can help us with
quality information, the better we can make the product for you 🙂


Are you sick of highly paid teachers???

This has been making the rounds lately and is an absolute gem:

Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do — babysit! We can get that for minimum wage. That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min off for lunch and planning that equals 6 1/2 hours). Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day… maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day.

However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any holidays. LET’S SEE…. That’s $585 X 180 = $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries.) What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees or higher duties? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour (but we shouldn’t get carried away). That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year. Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student — a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

Make a teacher smile; re-post this to show appreciation for all educators.

I don’t think the dollar values are for Australia — our minimum wage is higher than $3.00. The point should be obvious nonetheless: we seriously undervalue the people who are responsible for educating our children.

Speaking at OSDC 2011 on OLPC Australia

I am speaking next Thursday at the Open Source Developers’ Conference 2011 in Canberra. The title is Australia’s Toughest Linux Deployment. Yes it’s a play on the ruggedness and flexibility of the XO’s design to meet the needs of remote communities.

Here’s the talk abstract:

A 300,000 seat Linux deployment is nothing to sneeze at. What if those seats were actually children’s laps? By providing a flexible learning platform, OLPC Australia aims to create a sustainable and comprehensive programme to enhance opportunities for every child in remote Australia. What’s more, we plan to achieve this by 2014.

In focusing on the most remote areas of the continent, the mission is by no means easy. These areas are typically not economically viable for a business to service, hence the need for a not-for-profit in the space. Expertise for hardware and software is virtually non-existent. Settlements are small and spread very far apart. Environmental conditions, cultures and lifestyles vary wildly. They are very different worlds from the coastal cities where the bureaucracies are based.

Even within communities, differences abound. Schools often stand in stark contrast to their surrounds. Government and business interests have also made their marks.

This talk will outline how OLPC Australia has developed a solution to suit Australian scenarios. Comparisons and contrasts will be made with other “computers in schools” programmes, OLPC deployments around the world and corporate IT projects.

For example, standard sysadmin practice typically mandates tight, centralised control over all systems and infrastructure. The OLPC Australia approach is the exact opposite. By promoting flexibility and ease of use, the programme can achieve sustainability by enabling management at the grass-roots level. The XO laptops themselves are built especially for education. They are extraordinarily rugged as well as being inexpensive. They are also totally repairable in the field, with minimal skill required. Training is conducted online, and an online community allows participants nationwide to share resources.

Key to the ongoing success of the programme is active engagement with all stakeholders, and a recognition of the total cost of ownership over a five-year life cycle.


XO-AU OS 10.1.3-au3 and XO-AU USB 3 released

I’m pleased to announce two important software releases from OLPC Australia.

XO-AU OS 10.1.3-au3 is the latest iteration of our operating system for XO-1.5 hardware. It continues our process of refinement on top of OLPC OS 10.1.3, to better suit Australian educational environments. Details are available in the release notes.

I’ve also put together a summary of the improvements we have made to our operating systems in the past year.

XO-AU USB is a software ‘Swiss Army knife’ for XOs. It provides a boot menu to make important XO operations easily accessible, without the need to type any commands. It is our official means of installing our operating systems. Version 3 contains XO-AU OS 10.1.3-au3.

Cannes Lions award for OLPC Australia

OLPC Australia have been awarded a Bronze Lion at this year’s Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the advertising counterpart of the Cannes Film Festival.

I think this is fantastic recognition for a Free Software project, especially one that is focused on assisting children in some of the most remote parts of the world. I feel honoured to have been part of this success.

We’re happy for people to get involved to help us in our mission. If you’d like to participate, especially (for me) in the technical field, please get in touch with me or contact OLPC Australia through our Web site.

HTML5 in Sugar

In my last blog post, I made the suggestion that Sugar integrate HTML5 more closely to allow for the creation of activities in standard Web technologies. The Karma Project has since been pointed out to me, and the demos look impressive. Unfortunately, its progress looks to have stalled. There is now consideration happening in the community about moving Browse to a WebKit-based alternative, possibly Surf.

It seems like now is the time to revisit the notion of integrating HTML5 into Sugar itself. I feel that this can achieve a far more powerful outcome than just swapping Browse with Surf. The primary weaknesses of HTML5, its immaturity and dearth of good development tools, are being addressed. Microsoft and Adobe are continue to move towards HTML5, which can only be a good thing.

We have the chance to tap into the current rush of developers creating Web applications. We don’t need to (and can’t afford to) go to the extreme always-online level of Chrome OS, but I think the developments in that space are really showing what HTML5 can do in terms of applications development. Take the Chrome version of Angry Birds, for example. Written (almost) entirely in HTML5/JS (I think the “almost” part could have been implemented in HTML5 as well), it’s a fantastic example of what can be achieved. More than a mindless game, the physics engine is realistic enough to become a fun educational tool. It’s so much fun that most kids won’t even realise that they’re learning.

Documentary about OLPC Designer Yves Behar

SBS television recently screened a documentary about Yves Behar, the person behind the distinctive industrial design of the OLPC XO laptop. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind and influences behind one of the most influential designers around. The documentary was originally aired in November 2008, so it is a little dated. For example, Yves talks about the “XOXO” XO-2, which has since been replaced with the XO-3. Nevertheless, it is well worth watching.

You can view the full version at the SBS Web site. The section on OLPC starts at 14:48.

UPDATE: if you are having trouble viewing the video, try this one instead. The attention to detail and quality is astounding. Yves rightly points out that products seen in lesser economically developed countries are normally second hand or second rate. The design is rugged and functional. It provides scope for personalisation. What was most interesting to me is Yves’ commentary on the keyboard. Its one-piece design means that the letters can be printed in one silkscreening process. This makes it feasible to translate into languages that would be uneconomical with a standard keyboard design.