On the XO Laptop

Archive for December 2007

XO in Venice

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I’m off for a week’s vacation in Venice, Italy, and environs. I am taking my XO with me, and plan to take it to San Marcos Square on Christmas Day.

Earlier that day my cutie-pie (aka my wife, Karin) and I hope to reprise the Christmas Morning dining experience recounted in my post On Ferrara Cafe. Any recommendations on a suitable cafe would be welcomed via a comment to this post.

We’ll also be in Padua Monday morning to see the Giotti Frescoes.

If you’ll be in either vicinity then look for a dark green backpack with a couple of Tuxers — tiny stuffed penguins — peeking out from the mesh pockets on the side. They are always looking for company, especially from Linux folks.

Happy Holiday,


Written by daveshields

December 22, 2007 at 5:59 pm

Posted in xo-laptop

How do you turn off the OLPC XO Laptop wireless feature

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I received my new XO laptop yesterday, and am about to take it with me while I will be on vacation in Europe.

I would like to use it while on the plane but do not yet know how to turn off the wireless.

If you know how to do so, or how to turn off wireless in Linux in general (the XO runs a stripped-down version of Fedora), please post a comment to this blog post.


Written by daveshields

December 22, 2007 at 5:03 pm

Posted in xo-laptop

The Tuxers and Dave welcome the XO-1 to the Shields Family

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The Tuxers and Dave Shields wish to announce the arrival of the newest member of the Shields Family, XO-1.

We took some photos to record the occasion:

XO-Tux, Fedora, and XO-1
XO-Tux, Fedora, and XO-1

XO-1 Box
XO-1 Box

XO-1 in Box
XO-1 in Box

Scout, Dave, and XO-1 Shields
Scout, Dave, and XO-1 Shields

XO-Laptop T-Shirts
XO-Laptop T-Shirts

XO-Laptop T-Shirts
XO-Laptop T-Shirts

Written by daveshields

December 21, 2007 at 8:54 pm

Posted in xo-laptop

AWS-ome Amazon XO Opportunity

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If you know something about the new XO Laptop then go visit this page, aws.amazon.com.

AWS stands for Amazon Web Services. Here are some of the interesting web pages that can be found at the AWS site:

  • Amazon DevPay – Limited Beta: “Amazon DevPay is a simple-to-use billing and account management service that makes it easy for developers to get paid for applications they build on Amazon Web Services.”
  • Amazon SimpleDB™- Limited Beta: “Amazon SimpleDB is a web service for running queries on structured data in real time. This service works in close conjunction with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), collectively providing the ability to store, process and query data sets in the cloud. These services are designed to make web-scale computing easier and more cost-effective for developers.”
  • Ooyala Wins Amazon Web Services Start-Up Challenge, Receives $100,000 in Cash and Services Credits Plus Investment Offer from Amazon.com
  • Create “Pay Now” Widget
  • Why Use Amazon Web Services?
  • AWS Blog
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk (Amazon MTurk) – Beta: “Complete simple tasks that people do better than computers. And, get paid for it.Choose from thousands of tasks, control when you work, and decide how much you earn.”
  • http://www.amazon.com/S3-AWS-home-page-Money/b/ref=sc_fe_l_2?ie=UTF8&node=16427261&no=3435361&me=A36L942TSJ2AJA>Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3): “Amazon S3 is storage for the Internet. It is designed to make web-scale computing easier for developers. Amazon S3 provides a simple web services interface that can be used to store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the web. It gives any developer access to the same highly scalable, reliable, fast, inexpensive data storage infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of web sites. The service aims to maximize benefits of scale and to pass those benefits on to developers.”
  • Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS): “Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) offers a reliable, highly scalable hosted queue for storing messages as they travel between computers. By using Amazon SQS, developers can simply move data between distributed application components performing different tasks, without losing messages or requiring each component to be always available.”
  • Alexa Web Services: “Alexa’s Web Services offer a platform for creating innovative web solutions and services based on Alexa’s vast repository of information about the web. Developers, researchers, web site owners, and merchants can incorporate information about web sites directly into their own web sites or services. Users can access web site traffic data, related links, contact information, as well as a powerful search engine based on the Alexa crawl, and a wide variety of other functionality and data.”
  • Solutions Catalog: “Welcome to the new Amazon Web Services Solutions Catalog. Developers are constantly innovating with Amazon Web Services to build software that empowers a multitude of audiences. The Amazon Web Services Solutions Catalog is a venue where businesses, consumers, Amazon Associates, Sellers, and other developers can find AWS-based solutions that meet their needs.”

Here are some questions:

  • Who will be the first person to organize a team of XO users who will earn one million euros via Mechanical Turk? How long will it take?
  • Who will be the first person to use the XO to create a business based on AWS that earns a million euros. How long will it take?
  • What will be the name of the first company to set up consulting and development services solely to assist XO-based entrepreneurs in making the best use of AWS?
  • Who will be the first to integrate a payments plan suited to their culture and environment with Amazon’s payment system?

If you know about AWS and don’t know about the XO, then you have come to the right place, as this suggests you have already started worrying about the arrival of companies built by XO-based entrepreneurs who will use AWS to take on your company.

If you don’t know about AWS or the XO, or don’t care about either, then go buy a Nintendo Wii. That should be game enough for you. The real fun and games will be found in figuring out how to make best use of the XO and the many opportunities it will provide.

Written by daveshields

December 21, 2007 at 8:07 pm

Posted in xo-laptop

An apology about Apple’s Imac from screwup Dave Shields

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I made mention of the Apple Imac and its operating system in a recent post, On the Apple Imac: It’s a Unix system. I know this!, that ended as follows:

However, I did notice some odd behavior. For example, when the mouse wandered off the terminal window onto another part of the screen I saw some square edges become rounded. I think the mouse had landed on a browser window. Though I expect the folks at Apple see this as a nice value-add I cannot imagine its purpose. Perhaps I am a square guy after all.

I decided not to push on too far as it seemed better for them to get their real education on Unix, Linux and Python on the XO itself. The XO is a true Unix/Linux machine, not a Unix wannabe wrapped in a bunch of Java code and sundry other gimmicks.

I’ll put off visiting them until their XO’s arrive. For the life of me I cannot see why a serious Unix programmer would use an Imac. Why use a commercial version of Unix that is not open-source running on proprietary hardware when you can get full open-source Linux and apps written in Python courtesy of the XO?

Earlier today I received two comments about this post. The first was from Kevin Stevens:

“The XO is a true Unix/Linux machine, not a Unix wannabe wrapped in a bunch of Java code and sundry other gimmicks.”

OS X 10.5 is certified commercial Unix by the largest Unix vendor in the world. It supports Python, Ruby, gcc, and a variety of other programming components, with both Quartz and X support.

If you prefer the XO, that’s fine, but you only damage your own credibility by attacking a different system of proven quality.


The second was from Chris Abbey:

Oi. Dave what’s with the Apple bashing? This is hardly the first time. Mac OS/X 10.5 is a certified UNIX platform. http://www.apple.com/macosx/technology/unix.html Mac OS/X is largely Open Source (far more so than AIX, Solaris, or windows). http://developer.apple.com/opensource/index.html

The description you gave sounds like your friends have installed some non-apple hacks to the system and modified it beyond normal. Two reasons I say this, first of all, Mac OS/X does not have “focus follows mouse” that many of us enjoy from other unix platforms. Secondly, stock OS/X’s gui rendering for which window has focus doesn’t change the geometry, only the colors and shadow.

On reviewing their posts I realize they are right and I was wrong. I made over-the-top statements without a proper technical understanding, and in doing so committed the grievous error of not giving Apple credit where credit is due. If Mac OS/X meets all these standards then is it a good Unix-based platform, and what software is put above it is Apple’s call to make.

I will strike out the cited part of the post and include a link to this one by way of explanation.

I have thus added yet another chapter to the ongoing saga of Dave the screwer upper.

At least three steps are needed to deal with a screwup, though being a self-confessed screwup I may have missed a few:

  1. Recognize the error;
  2. Take the appropriate remedial action;
  3. Review the situation and see what lessons can be learned.

I have done the first two, with the remedial action being a public admission that my post was ill-written and ill-advised, and that I apologize for any offense it may have caused.

That leaves the lessons to be learned.

Though it in no way excuses my comments, I think they came about in part because only a short time before writing the post I had learned of a legal dispute between Apple and an independent blogger, Mr. Nicholas M. Ciarelli. I had not even know of the suit before reading about the settlement, which is described in today’s NY Times in the article Apple Rumor Site to Shut Down in Settlement. The only part relevant to this post as that Mr. Ciarelli, now a senior at Harvard, became involved in not just one, but in a series of legal actions as a result of writing a blog about Apple.

This reminded me of what I called the “nightmare scenario” of the early days running the Jikes project back in early 1999. I was then the project maintainer. We had committed to running the project from a URL ending in “ibm.com,” meaning we were committed to using available IBM IT infrastructure and doing our work from inside the IBM firewall. Though we were able to deal with email by setting up a small mail server in an old box that sat near my desk, we were not able to offer full CVS support. However, even if it had been possible for others to access the CVS tree directly, I would not have allowed them to do so.

I started my days running the Jikes project in the full knowledge that I had no background doing this sort of thing. I also had earlier dealt with a corporate screwup in that some IBM attorneys, for understandable reasons, sent a letter to Rob Malda of Slashdot in early October of 1998 telling him to stop using the IBM logo. I first learned of this when I saw a post Rob wrote about it. Though I could understand why the letter was sent (to protect the IBM logo), I also felt sympathy with Rob. He was then nearing the end of his undergraduate studies, and the last thing he needed to have on his desk was a letter from IBM legal folks suggesting he had done something wrong. I suspected that the attorneys involved didn’t appreciate that Slashdot was not the work of a single individual, as was the case with Mr. Ciarelli, but happened to be the most influential web site on the planet in those days when it came to news and discussion about Linux and open-source. Fortunately, with some prompt assistance from others, I was able to clear up the situation in a few days, as described in the post Me Tube.

My hypothetical nightmare was that some time after the Jikes project got off the ground, I would find myself in a room with an open-source developer and one or more IBM attorneys and executives, so we could discuss the mess the developer was in, and how we could best get him out of it. Though the scenario was highly unlikely, I also knew I was a novice in this area, and thus acted on the assumption it might happen.

Not wanting that to happen, I unilaterally decided that I, and only I, would make all changes to the CVS source tree, so I would be the only person who could be held accountable if something went wrong. I wanted all the blame to be placed on my shoulders so that none might land on someone else’s.

That’s the way things stood until late in 1998, when IBM started developerWorks, and was finally able to provide full hosting capabilities.

Looking back, my error was taking advantage of my being an IBM employee by exerting control because I felt it was justified, since I was acting to protect the “best interests” of the developers. Vadim Zaliva sent in a very good patch to Jikes within hours after it was first posted, so a better solution would have been for me to suggest that Vadim form a team to review all contributions, with the majority of members not being IBM employees. That would have accomplished the same end without requiring IBM exert undue control.

Having several more years of experience dealing with open-source, I now believe that the founder of a project, especially when the founder is a corporation, should exert no control on the project once the code is released under an open-source license other than that earned by the skills and efforts of any employees the corporation provides to work on the project. Let the coders, and the code, speak for themselves, for it then belongs to them, not the founder.

Written by daveshields

December 21, 2007 at 5:34 pm

Posted in xo-laptop

The Great Unanswered Questions about the XO Laptop

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The “Give 1 Get 1” program was announced in early November of this year. I take this as the official “release date” of the XO, for it meant that OLPC was willing to accept orders for the XO as it was ready to build them. This release has proven to be real, as I have already seen several blog posts from folks who have just gotten their XO’s, and I will be writing some of my own as soon as I get mine.

As I noted in a recent note, the XO Laptop is a remarkable achievement. As best as I can tell it was done by a small team of about twenty people, working on a non-profit basis.

The design of the XO speaks for itself, especially in the remarkably low power requirement. And though I haven’t yet gotten my own XO I have enough experience that I can vouch for the quality of the open-source code that is used to power the hardware. Sure, there are some bugs, but they will soon be fixed. I assert this because I know that Jim Gettys has been leading the software team. If you know his reputation — and I do — then you know why I am confident making this assertion.

The XO can now be manufactured at a cost sufficiently under $200 that it can be made available for purchase for $200, and that cost will go down as production volumes go up.

There remain, however, some great unanswered questions about the XO.

I don’t know the answers, though there are two people who do.

Here are the questions:

Dear CEO’s of Intel and Microsoft,

Can you please explain why you didn’t set up a joint effort seveal years ago with the goal of producing a computer comparable to the XO in performance and cost, including both the cost of the hardware and the cost of the software?

Why did it take a small team of twenty people to do what your two corporations couldn’t do with your tens of thousands of employees and your tens of billions of dollars of assets?

Why did the world have to wait until near the end of 2007 for such a device?

Why didn’t you give it to us sooner?

Written by daveshields

December 21, 2007 at 5:44 am

Posted in xo-laptop

On Open-Source and silver bullets

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I just got a note from an IBMer with some interesting questions:

So, in a nutshelll, this is what I was looking to get insight from you on. I wonder, do you have (or does it exist) a set of “general” silver bullets that argue against open source for applications, outside of the Linux OS? For example (and this is off the top of my head)…

  1. Open source is typically limited to a small developer community, limiting functionality, quality, etc.;
  2. Open source solutions typically have higher risk of failure compared to standard software solutions;
  3. Open source solutions lack support, unless paid for (which, when looking at the TCO, often results in no cost savings in going with open source);
  4. Open source solutions pose greater security risks (see #1)
  5. etc.

I am hoping for something we can share when a customer says “we chose Linux, which is open source; why would we not choose open source for our enterprise applications, as well?”

This, by the way, is how I spend much of my working day. I get emails and phone calls posing questions, or giving me tasks, and I have to do my best to answer them. Some are quite routine queries about a process detail. Others are more complicated; for example, I was once asked to write a brief history of operating systems for use by our sales folks.

I usually deal with such general queries by suggesting we set up a phone call so I can dig into the details before attempting an answer. I have often found that underneath such a general query there are just one or two particular questions that need an answer. For example, perhaps one of the client’s executives has asked about security issues in a particular package, and that is really the only issue that need be addressed.

But, mainly as an exercise, let me see what I say in just a few minutes, in a general sense. This will not be a “canned” answer. I will make it up as I write it, though I keep in mind the words relayed to me by one of the attorneys I work with often. He said that one of his best law school professors would often tell the class that:

It Is Not Forbidden To Think.

Re (1)-(3) it is hard to make general statements about open-source. Each situation must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Programming is much like cooking in that the quality of the experience depends more on the chef than on the ingredients. Good chefs can work with bad ingredients, but bad cooks will usually produce bad food no matter how good the ingredients. Similarly, with code it matters more who wrote it than how it is licensed.

Re security, though again it is hard to generalize, on balance Linux probably has the edge. It is based on Unix, which was designed from the start to be multi-user. Microsoft, to its credit, has worked very hard to maintain compatibility ever since the first version of DOS. Their problem is that DOS was designed for a single user, and not as a multi-user system.

However, most of our middleware products are written in Java, which is equally robust on all platforms.

The important thing, as is always the case, is to do what is best for our client. Most solutions these days are neither fully open-source or fully proprietary solutions written by a single vendor, but rather the appropriate “hybrid” mix of components that best meets the client’s needs. We use many open-source components in our own products. Most of them are there because they are recognized as the best implementation of an open standard or are of such quality that they have become the de facto standard. Apache’s http server is a good example of the former, and Apache Log4J is a good example of the latter.

I had lunch with a CEO last Friday. When a similar question came up, I mentioned that several years ago I gave a keynote at a conference in St. Louis that was attended by a number of developers and execs from large enterprises. I learned during a discussion that their developers would often test and prototype applications using open-source, but would then deploy them using commercial-quality code such as WebSphere. He agreed, and said he had seen similar cases in several large financial institutions in which he had worked.

One of the advantages of using IBM products is that the open-source components we include are tested against, and with, all the other components we put into our products. We integrate the open-source stuff with our own code to produce the right hybrid mix. One of our value-adds is all the testing we do to make sure everything works together. In some cases we provide a well-defined migration path; for example, you can start with WAS CE (Websphere Application Server Community Edition in IBM-speak) and then move up to full WAS, and so forth.

I could go on a bit more, but I think you get the idea.

I will send my colleage a link to this blog post, as I’ll be leaving on vacation myself shortly, and so might not be able to talk to them tomorrow. I will also have a follow-up call.

There is one thing I haven’t written here, and that he doesn’t know yet. When I looked him up in our corporate directory, I learned he works mainly with one very large client, and I happen to know of some activities of an open-source nature we have done with that client. There is also a low probability that my colleague would know of this activity, and I will thus be able to provide him some insight into his own client.

That is another fun part of this job. Not only do I get asked some interesting questions, I happen to know a lot of the answers.

Written by daveshields

December 21, 2007 at 5:14 am

Posted in xo-laptop