- 21 Apr 08, 22:49 GMT
The great thing about children is the fresh eye they bring to, well, just about everything.
Take computers, for instance. Most adults are now likely to have quite strong feelings about different operating systems and if you present a Mac fan with a Windows machine - or vice versa - they will be prepared to hate it even before they've booted up.
But when I returned from Nigeria last year with the XO laptop presented to me by the One Laptop Per Child team in Abuja, my nine-year-old son Rufus did not say "Dad, it's a Linux machine you idiot, I can't be doing with that open-source nonsense."
Instead he took it away and went on a voyage of discovery. Without any prompting from me - all I did was enter the household wireless key so he could get online - he quickly discovered all kinds of ways of communicating and creating with the XO.
So, having cut his teeth on one laptop aimed at the children of the developing world, we asked him to try out its rival, the Intel Classmate. And once again, he had no preconceptions.
"Oooh it's blue," was his only comment, when I handed over the laptop, and from then on the Classmate was "the blue one", the XO "the green one". He got straight to work. The Classmate runs Windows XP, which was familiar from school.
"It acts just like a normal Windows computer," he said. "Of course you can use 'Paint' and 'Write' - and everyone knows Internet Explorer." Actually, Rufus is more used to Apple's Safari browser, and thinks Google is how you search, but he was not disconcerted to find himself on the MSN home page once he had launched Explorer.
Asked to enter a search term, he immediately chose "games", which was a bit of a clue to his main field of electronic interest. And what really grabbed his attention on the Classmate was the opportunity to play.
"There are some very exciting games. Minesweeper, and 3D Pinball - which is a bit noisy - and a whole lot of internet games which you play with other people. There's also Solitaire and Hearts and a game called Freecell which I'm not quite sure how to work."
When I pointed out to him that he was really just using the laptop as a games machine he insisted he had also found out how to study. There is some educational material on the Classmate, including the Maths Toolkit, but, after leaving it with Rufus for a couple of days, I saw no evidence that it had been much used.
Intel says the laptop has been "optimised for the classroom", so perhaps it needs the input of a teacher to get a young user like Rufus more engaged.
So how did the Classmate compare with the XO - which in the accompanying video is being used by Rufus's best friend Tyler Woodstock? They both have built-in cameras, but Rufus noticed some differences: "On the camera on the green one you can actually record videos and take pictures, but on the blue one you can only see your face."
I was convinced that Rufus must have missed out on an image capture button on the Classmate, but neither of us could find it, so even if it is there, it lacks the usability of the XO camera.
The mesh networking that magically delivered conversations on the XO with Peruvian children is apparently also a feature of the Classmate too but Rufus failed to find any means of communicating - either email, or instant messaging. Nor did he get immersed in anything like the animation programme Etoys which he loved on the XO.
But the Classmate did feel chunkier and more robust than the XO, with a keyboard Rufus seemed to find more comfortable for typing, and he also liked the bright screen.
So what is his advice to prospective buyers? "People who like games might find the blue laptop more interesting, while people who want to learn and do peaceful things would like the green laptop."
Hmm, those "peaceful things" sound good to me. But if he had to choose between the two laptops which one gets his vote? "Both of them are good at different things. And I like both these things." Ah, ever the impartial reporter, refusing to give an outright endorsement to one product - either that or chronically indecisive. Now where does he get that from?
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