Hands-on OLPC

Today I was woken up by a courier who brought me a very interesting box. The box had an OLPC and some CDs inside.
The package was kindly sent to me by Mr. Karounos in order to present it in our local LUG event on the 9th of June in Ioannina. (Visit the website for more information).

First thought when I took it out of the bag…”it’s very small but it’s kinda pretty in a way too”. I put it on my desk and tried to open it. Well, it took me more than 1 minute to find out how to open it. I plugged it to the current and pushed the power button. I was greeted by Openboot bios and after 3 seconds it started to boot. It takes more than 1 minute from the time you press the power button until the sugar interface comes up.

When the interface had finished starting up I was a bit puzzled. I didn’t know what exactly to do. If you have used any kind of computer before, sugar will certainly stun you, for good or for bad. I started checking out the applications it comes with. The “Paint” application is really nice kids and so is “BlockParty” which is a tetris clone. Next was the “Camera”, I really liked the camera’s resolution, I didn’t expect it to be that good. “Calculator”..is another calculator with scientific functions as well, if you enable them. “Write” is an abiword clone, it’s very easy to use and you can import pictures taken with the camera and put them inside the document you are writing. What I didn’t like though was that the default “save as” format was “Microsoft Word .doc”. Why ? Anyway, continuing with the applications, next came the “News Reader” which looks like a minimal version of liferea but since I didn’t have any networking yet I could not test it any more. “Web” is a web browser that when you open it it takes you directly to your local Library of e-books. Very very usefull. At that time I couldn’t do any more testing of web sites due to lack of network connectivity. “Read” is a stripped down version of evince for reading various documents. Absolutely necessary for the kind of job this laptop must do. “TamTam” is a music creation tool for kids. And finally Etoys. Etoys is something that needs a lot of studying. It’s a creativity suite for kids. I won’t go into this any deeper for now.

Then was the time to connect OLPC to my access point at home. I tried various stuff from the interface but nothing made the “Web” connect to any sites. I couldn’t resist any more…I had to find access to the linux console somehow. I tried ctrl+alt+ various keys until one got me to the console. There are no F-keys on the OLPC keyboard so it wasn’t so straightforward as one might think. I was very lucky because when you give the root login no password is asked. You are immediately given a shell. I tried the usual iwlist, iwconfig, dhclient commands and …tada! they worked! ifconfig showed that I was given an IP by the Access Point. Back to the sugar interface with another ctrl+alt+another key and the “Web” was finally working. The browsing experience was quite good I can say. Four buttons (up, down,left,right) next to the OLPC’s monitor make the browsing a bit easier because OLPC keys on the keyboard are small. NO, they are not just smaller than a normal keyboard…they are so small that only a five year old kid can press them with ease.

I have been playing for more than 7 hours today with OLPC and did various interesting (at least for me) stuff on it. Even this post is written through OLPC’s “Web” browser (and believe me it’s very very difficult to type, but hey…this laptop is not for me, it’s for kids 🙂 )but I feel that I need to spend a lot more to fully understand the “sugar interface”. I will try to write more about stuff I’ll be doing on the OLPC in the next few days.

Feelings ? Mixed, both good and bad. There were some things I liked a lot, for example the monitor, and some things that I didn’t, for example in sugar’s network manager there’s no “interaction” when you choose/click between mess networking and normal access point (more on how, where, etc on a another post), so there were times that I couldn’t really figure out what was going on, whether it’s trying to connect to my access point or not.

That’s all for today. I hope I can write a bit more about OLPC in the next few days but I have to finish my presantation for ILUG’s event on time too.

I have some pictures from the OLPC on my flickr.

Thanks again to Mr. Karounos for being so helpfull.

P.S. If someone wants to type with greek characters you need to edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf and add these 2 lines inside Section “InputDevice” where Identifier is “ATKbd”:

Option "XkbLayout" "us,el"
Option "XkbOptions" "grp:alt_shift_toggle"

then you can change to greek with alt+shift. e.g. “Ένα Λάπτοπ για Κάθε παιδί”

apt-get install sucks so much sometimes

I was given an old debian machine to do some stuff. I had some networking problems so I thought I could install tcpdump to see what’s happening. Take a _good_ look at the result…

# apt-get update
Get:1 http://security.debian.org stable/updates/main Packages [62.2kB]
Get:2 ftp://ftp.ntua.gr stable/main Packages [5638kB]
Get:3 http://security.debian.org stable/updates/main Release [97B]
Get:4 ftp://ftp.ntua.gr stable/main Release [95B]
Get:5 ftp://ftp.ntua.gr stable/main Sources [1653kB]
Get:6 ftp://ftp.ntua.gr stable/main Release [97B]
Fetched 7353kB in 38s (191kB/s)
Reading Package Lists... Done
# apt-get install tcpdump
Reading Package Lists... Done
Building Dependency Tree... Done
The following extra packages will be installed:
libc6 libc6-dev libpcap0.8 libssl0.9.8 locales tzdata
Suggested packages:
The following packages will be REMOVED:
base-config initrd-tools kernel-image-2.4.27-2-386
The following NEW packages will be installed:
libpcap0.8 libssl0.9.8 tcpdump tzdata
The following packages will be upgraded:
libc6 libc6-dev locales
3 upgraded, 4 newly installed, 3 to remove and 266 not upgraded.
Need to get 14.9MB of archives.
After unpacking 21.5MB disk space will be freed.
Do you want to continue? [Y/n] n

# uname -a
Linux XXXXXX 2.4.27-2-386 #1 Wed Aug 17 09:33:35 UTC 2005 i686 GNU/Linux

Does it want to remove the kernel I am using??? Why ?


Yet another ati-drivers+xorg problem

The ati-drivers saga will never ever end 🙁

The gentoo fellas updated the stable xorg server to version 7.2, so I decided to give it a shot. The process was smooth, no errors.
Upon reboot though, the problems started. No 3D acceleration! I re-emerged the drivers, I used eselect opengl set ati, no result. Damn! I am still using kernel version 2.6.18 and my ati drivers were version 8.32.5.
My first thought was to update ati drivers to the latest available, 8.35.5. The 50Mb download took more than 30minutes on my 1mbit super-duper-extra fast adsl!

<Yet Another Rant>
During the last couple of weeks I can’t even get more than 50kb/sec during the night. During the morning there are times that I can hardly browse through websites with reasonable speed. Real-time streaming videos from youtube is out of the question of course.
</Yet Another Rant>

The drivers compiled fine but I lost my 1280×1024 mode! Out of sync errors and no image displayed on my tft. I couln’t even make it work with a Modeline…The highest mode that worked was 1024×768. I’ve even tried removing the ddc module out of xorg modules directory without any luck though. I am not willing to go back to 1024×768 so I had to download some other, older, ati-drivers version.
This time I chose version 8.33.6. Another 50Mb of download and another 30minutes of wait. The emerge was smooth, no errors. X windows started…but my fonts were trully messed up! Something had made them very very small on menus and input boxes. ARGHHHHHHHHH!! Grepping through the Xorg.0.log I found out that DPI was set to 75×75. Another easy way to check on that is through the
% xdpyinfo | grep resolution

command. Something had went wrong. Then I remembered that I had removed the ddc module, I put it back in and I got:
% xdpyinfo | grep resolution
resolution: 81x86 dots per inch

A bit better but certainly not very good. I had to change the DPI somehow…but how ?

I googled and googled …and I found out that I could put something like this:
Option "DPI" "96 x 96
inside my xorg.conf in the Screen section. But that didn’t to the trick. That used to work on Xorg 7.1 but not on 7.2. Tough luck.

I kept googling until I found out that I could start another X server like this:
% startx -- :1 -dpi 96

get the screen dimensions like this:
% xdpyinfo | grep dimensions
dimensions: 1280x1024 pixels (XXXxYYY millimeters)

and then paste the output of the previous command inside the Monitor section of the xorg.conf file like this:
DisplaySize XXX YYY

That did the trick. I can now enjoy 96×96 DPI fonts.

During the googling I found out that I can also have something like this inside the .Xdefaults file:
Xft.dpi: 96

Now, after more than 2 hours of messing around with ati-drivers and xorg.conf I am able to enjoy my beautiful desktop…pfffff.

Reminder to myself: Dont’ ever ever ever ever buy an ati card again.

P.S. I really hope that the 8.35.5 drivers are somehow fixed in the future so that I can use 1280×1024 if I ever need to update to that version.

99€ for Magenta’s DesktopOS ?

Just go to Magenta‘s DesktopOS e-shop and take a look at the price. 99€ for a greek linux distro ?

I know that there is proprietary software included in that distro, but I still find the price outrageous for what’s included. Here’s the pricelist of what’s not open source/free and is included on the distro according to Magenta’s Pricelist:

a) GOLDEN VERSION 2006 English-Greek & Greek-English electronic TRANSLATION dictionary for computers running Linux OS.
Price: 35€

b) Unicode Fonts No 1,2,3,4,5.
Price: 5x 34.63€ = 173.15€

c) Font Pack of “Greek Font Society“.
All fonts come with an openfont license. Price: 0€

d) Font pack of “Cannibal Fonts
Unspecified number/names of fonts…Unspecified Price. There are fontpacks on that site costing more than 1000€.

I can’t find any word on the website about “support”, helpdesk, etc. If I buy it…who provides support ? Magenta or the Ubuntu Community ? This is something crucial for potential buyers and it should have been clearly noted on the site. If there’s no official support by Magenta, included in the pricetag of 99€, then all the money a buyer pays goes for Magenta’s proprietary software and fonts included in the distro. If someone excludes the 35€ that the dictionary costs, then there’s another 64€ for fonts only!

I have never ever used Magenta’s or Cannibal’s fonts on any of the distros I use. I find that the free fonts that exist are already more than enough for me. So, if I ever bought Magenta’s DesktopOS, it would only be for the dictionary included, and that just costs 35€. For someone who does not need Magenta’s or Cannibal’s fonts, the extra 64€ these seem to cost is outrageous (at least to me).

If you are like me and have never used Magenta’s fonts nor do you need them, I wouldn’t recommend buying that distro. Maybe a version without those fonts and with better(?) support for a price of 20-40€ would be more appealing.

P.S. Not even a single screenshot ? why ?

P.S.2. I really hope that the 99€ pricetag is an “error” of some kind. Even RHEL Desktop is cheaper, and I am sure that Redhat’s support is far more valuable than any dictionary or font included in Magenta’s DestktopOS.

P.S.3 I loved the greek spelling of “e-shop” on their site -> “η-Κατάστημα”…hillarious