Allow me a non-olpc related diversion – the Asus Eee PC. It isn’t entirely unrelated; after-all these are both extremely cheap, portable, linux-based laptops targeting the education market. Like Intel’s Classmate, the Asus Eee PC is a $350 micro-laptop – and I will admit, is very impressive out of the box. I won’t compare the machine to the OLPC (at least in this post); but I will say my initial reaction was “this could be the middle-school / high school machine to accompany the OLPC in elementary.”
The Eee PC runs linux and the KDE desktop – which feels very much like a windows or a mac-like desktop. Open-office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint-like programs) are pre-installed as well as the Firefox web browser, google applications, some learning applications and a handful of other interesting programs. PLUS, since it is KDE, you can install and run more advanced programs – mind-mapping / photo editing / web-design like applications that are out there in the open-source community. Most impressive however, was the simplicity and familiar tools for browsing files and connecting to wireless networks! The wireless network application had any and every protocol for dealing with the fussiest of wireless configurations.
The hardware was also impressive (for $350) – an easy to use keyboard, mouse, video camera, nice speakers. The device comes with 3 USB ports, an ethernet adapter, and a VGA out (for hooking into a projector). My machine has 512 MB of RAM and a 4GB hard-drive. A couple draw-backs were the very low screen resolution (800 x 400 pixels) and, even though the keyboard was easy to use, the keys could (and will) be popped off by students! The design looks and feels like a grown-up device – which is why I am inclined to think middle and high school students would be drawn to the Eee PC.
$350 is an interesting price-point. It is definitely cheap enough that a school can consider a 1:1 configuration with their students. BUT, it isn’t so cheap that you would be inclined to just toss the device out and get a new one when support is needed. All in all though, it is an impressive device and could be a very nice solution for schools.