Rory Cellan-Jones

Intel Classmate - the Rufus review

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 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.

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"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.

rufusclassmate203.jpgSo 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?


  • Comment number 1.

    It's sad the Intel decided to go it alone with this. I am sure M$ are happy though.

    I guess the kids who get the intel machine will have parents who can afford $$$s for more M$ products.

    The XO parents may not have that luxury.


  • Comment number 2.

    This really reminds me of Apple's early iBook and eMac, which were aim at children and educational market. A cut cost computer with full functionality.

    Indeed, computer still costs parents £££$$$ and it'll probably stay at school as a school property.

  • Comment number 3.

    It may be instructive to get his opinion of the Asus eee 701, which is effectively a commercial version of the Classmate, especially if you can get both the Linux and Windows XP variants (the white one and the black one?).

    Before anyone comments, otherwise, the eee was marketed as a child's PC before it got such an adult following and still is 8+ in one ToyStore.

  • Comment number 4.

    Quick point..

    The child mostly reviewed windows.

  • Comment number 5.

    Some people are still missing the point. Rufus isn't reviewing Windows vrs. Linux vrs. OSX, he's reviewing a piece of technology that offers choices of how it is to be used. The OS is completely superfluous as long as you can easily do what you want to do. He found the some things easier on the green box than on the blue box, not on the Linux or Windows computer. I have an XP computer at work, and an SP, iMac and XO computer at home. All of them do some things better or worse - but they all do basically the same - and I've crashed them all.

  • Comment number 6.

    The sad part is that Intel only developed this to destroy the XO and dominate the market. They are currently selling the device for less than cost. It is corporate greed at its worst.

  • Comment number 7.

    Brilliant! What a vindication of Linux, "From the mouths of babes". I'm typing this on a release candidate of the brilliant new version of Ubuntu; I run Mac OS X, Windows XP, Ubuntu and Yellow Dog Linux at home; Mac OS X is the perfect marriage of Open Source and a commercial interface, but Ubuntu is a very close second. I only boot XP to use my printer and play the odd game... When my Mac laptop dies, I'll probably switch to Ubuntu or another Linux permanently.

  • Comment number 8.

    Intresting about Ubuntu

    As per the sun bug database

    Ubuntu isn't in our Java 6 support matrix.

    So this unix based operating system, which seems to be catching media attention lately is not so main stream actually

  • Comment number 9.

    A couple of points:

    Firstly, Ubuntu and Linux in general are not 'unix-based', they are 'unix-like'. This is an important distinction.

    Secondly, as a Java developer,I can tell you that Java 6 support from Sun is pathetic at best. There are plenty of bugs on all systems. Java 6 isn't even available on Mac OS X, a 'mainstream' operating system if there ever was one, although that's Apple's fault. Of course Sun aren't going to taylor Java to every single distribution of Linux; they don't need to because they're all based on the same components. It should behave in the same manner as on Debian (the distro Ubuntu is based upon) and other Linux distros. Note how another user experienced the bug on Red Hat.

    Incidentally, Sun realised that Java was going to be killed by .Net/Mono and released most of its Java as Open Source last year. This recognises the simple fact that Community Support is the only way to improve the unmanageable and shoddy codebase that is Sun's Java Virtual Machine.

  • Comment number 10.

    With regards to someone pointing out that some people are missing the point..

    I originally pointed out that he was mainly reviewing windows. I still stand by that point, regardless to what he was supposed to be reviewing he ended up with describing the web cam software (not the webcam quality) and spent more time talking about minesweeper!

    I was simply pointing out, that perhaps a more structured review (as him to point out how he things the keyboard is, or how the screen it to look at, or how heavy he thinks it is. Things from a childs perspective).

    Realistically i could probably show him my own laptop, and he'd probably come up with allmost the same review.

  • Comment number 11.

    You need to get an Asus Eee - smaller than both the devices you talk about, cheaper and runs Linux. I'm writing this on one and I think it's great!!! W00T!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Just so folks know: Sun released all of Java a few hours ago; and the e-toys are available for free for most platforms, and are available from:-
    The e-toys and the Squeak language are a wonderful introduction to computing for children of all ages.

  • Comment number 13.

    If Rufus were to have a youtube account, he should actually find it quite easy to record and publish a video on the internet using the blue laptop. If he doesn't, perhaps you could use your own youtube account to do the same.

    from the youtube page, click "videos", then "upload", enter the details and then click "use quick capture"

    It would be interesting to see if this works on the green one too - that will depend on that having a recent enough version of flash, and the linux system supporting webcam usage in flash - might work great, might not.


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