- 17 Apr 08, 15:19 GMT
I'm writing this post on one of Intel's new generation of laptops designed for the developing world - the Classmate PC - and it's quite a task, mainly because my fat fingers are too large for the keyboard.
This is the machine that arguably ended Intel's relationship with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), makers of the XO laptop. According to Intel, OLPC wanted the firm to stop making the Classmate. Intel refused and pulled out of their deal.
Whatever the truth - the Classmate is definitely a rival to the XO's ambitions in the developing world generally and in education in particular
I've been playing with the Classmate for a few days and my first impression is that the two laptops herald from polar opposite philosophies about how to end the digital divide.
We've written lots about the XO and the first Classmate, so I won't repeat myself.
Certainly, the Classmate 2 is exactly the sort of machine you would expect a commercially driven firm to make for the developing world.
It's a cut-price, cut-down laptop that runs XP moderately well, and connects to the net without a hitch. In fact, it accomplishes most tasks thrown at it without a hitch and its underpowered processor only really struggles when it is attempting to multi-task.
It has been designed with education and the developing world in mind, says Intel, and yes, there are a small number of unique features. It has mesh networking - so that laptops can piggyback their wireless and create ad hoc networks.
But this feels like a feature pilfered from the XO and added only because it was such a glaring oversight in the first machine.
When you first connect to a wireless network it searches for other teachers' laptops on the network. It also comes with a nifty handle velcro-ed on to the machine for carrying and has a "water resistant" keyboard.
But that's about it, to be honest. It's small, well-made, quite rugged, with a decent keyboard and decent screen, albeit in only 800x400 resolution.
The key difference between the Classmate and XO is the different approach to software and operating system.
The XO comes with a variation of Linux installed - a user interface designed specifically for education, and applications built to support the educational environment.
The Classmate machine I'm using comes with XP loaded as standard - but there are options to have Linux.
And while there are plans afoot to port XP to the XO machine, it remains by and large a Linux machine.
There is educational software pre-loaded onto the Classmate machine and a teacher can monitor the work of children from a host machine.
The use of Windows gives the Classmate a recognition and sense of security to governments and educators looking to buy laptops for schools.
After all, Windows is the world's most dominant operating system.
So what else has changed with the second generation Classmate laptop?
Not much: the second gen laptop now has two models (7 inch and 9 inch screen) and has a built-in webcam.
It's clear the re-design of the Classmate is more about making the machine more design friendly to consumers and educators in the developed world than improving the internals of the machine.
Last year nine-year-old Rufus Cellan-Jones gave his impressions of the XO laptop. We've given him a 7-inch model and expect his comments some time next week.
The machines go on sale for between $300 and $500, which is a lot more expensive than an XO, more expensive than an Asus EEE PC and probably a lot more than many educators can afford to pay.
Nicholas Negroponte's dream of one laptop per child - whether an XO or a Classmate, is still some way off.
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