[OLPC XO] Many Programming Education Applications [Part 3]

Jan 21, 2008
Nikkei Electronics Teardown Squad
Browser. Browser and Firefox use a common rendering engine.
Browser. Browser and Firefox use a common rendering engine.
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"Write" word processing software. It can handle images as well.
"Write" word processing software. It can handle images as well.
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TurtleArt. It visualizes Turtle graphics.
TurtleArt. It visualizes Turtle graphics.
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eToys. In addition to programming study, it can be used to make "animated picture books."
eToys. In addition to programming study, it can be used to make "animated picture books."
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The Activities incorporated in the XO as standard were quite satisfactory. Of course, as the XO is not geared for business use, the Activity lineup was slightly unusual. We introduce the lineup by application area below.

Communication-related Activities drew most attention first. Chat and Browser icons were located at the bottom left end of the Activity list. The icon of a speech balloon represents Chat software, which apparently allows both sending and receiving of not only text but also graphics.

Unfortunately, however, not being able to connect to a network and only having one XO, we could not find out what the Chat Activity does.

Browser Activity uses Firefox's "Gecko" HTML rendering engine. According to OLPC's Website, however, the XO's Brower is "quite different" from Firefox. We would like to test if Google Inc's "Google Docs & Spreadsheet" and other similar services that provide office software via a network are available for the XO once we connect to a network.

In terms of communication, the XO also offers "NewsReader" for RSS delivery reception.

Next to the Browser icon was the icon of a document. This is the word processing Activity dubbed "Write." Write is "AbiWord," open source word processing software optimized for the XO. I have thought of AbiWord as excellent software since being part of an experiment to use Linux as a desktop OS around 2000.

Although its functionality wasn't very high, it allowed users to specify fonts and insert images. I remember, however, putting the software aside before long, because it did not support Japanese back then.

When it comes to Linux-based office software, "OpenOffice.org," which is open source, is famous. I suppose OLPC employed AbiWord instead of OpenOffice.org probably because AbiWord is smaller in volume and, therefore, easier to package as an Activity. In addition, OpenOffice.org is not a small application at all and requires a Java Virtual Machine for operation, which might have been too much for the XO's resources.

The XO also comes up with calculator (Calculator Activity) and paint software (Paint Activity) often equipped with standard PCs. These Activities were similar to Windows XP's embedded accessory software.

Many programming tools with a view to educational applications

One of the XO's remarkable distinctions is the wide range of its built-in programming tools.

"TurtleArt" for turtle graphics programming is an easy to understand tool. Turtle graphics, a major function of "Logo" programming language for education, expresses the position in a graphics page with a "turtle" and draws graphics with the turtle's move.

TurtleArt is designed to let users learn the concepts of repeating commands and variables. For example, it allows users to put program elements in tile form to realize turtle graphics.

"eToys" also allows users to make programs by placing tiles. Using eToys, users can arrange tiles and command actions for pictures drawn in advance, for example. With a Smalltalk execution environment called "Squeak" running in the background, users can also carry out full-scale programming based-on the Smalltalk language.

The XO included another Activity called "Pippy." This is an environment for the execution of Python programs. The XO uses Python to run its "Sugar" user interface, for example.

Partly because the XO targets children, its built-in software included multimedia Activities as well. Featuring "TamTamJam," "TamTamEdit," "TamTamSynthLab" and "TamTamMini," the XO is rich in musical software in particular. You can input images to music files using the "Record" Activity. The "Measure" Activity seems to measure sound.

In addition to these Activities, the XO featured the "Memorize" intellectual training game, the "Acoustic Tape Measure," which seemed to measure distance using radio strength, etc, and the "Terminal," "Log Viewer" and "Analyze Activity" system management tools.