Championed by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte as a way to seed educational computing opportunities among poorer children around the world, the low-cost XO is manufactured by Quanta of Taiwan. Initially Linux-only when it shipped at the end of last year, the XO features an AMD Geode LX-700 processor clocked at 433MHz, an integrated graphics controller driving a 7.5-inch, 1200 x 900 screen, 256MB of RAM, and 1GB of flash storage. The devices also offer WiFi-based mesh networking.
Although the XO will be offered in the U.S. next month by Amazon, the netbook is primarily sold at a discounted rate to the educational ministries of developing nations, which must agree to distribute it for free to K-12 students.
Over the last year, the XO's price rose to twice the initially touted $100, leading some governments to back off of plans to make high-volume purchases. Despite its troubles, including a rift with Intel and a defection by its team of educational software developers to form a separate Sugar Labs, OLPC's XO continues to be purchased around the world, and recently received a promise from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to help distribute the notebooks. What's more, the XO is largely credited for having started the recent boom in small-scale netbooks, which has not only boosted the fortunes of Linux, but contributed to the rebirth of Windows XP.
In May, OLPC announced a Windows XP version, which has only recently arrived to market. A dual-boot option is promised for the future, but in the meantime, customers must choose between the Linux and Windows versions.
An August review of the Windows version by Laptop magazine found it wanting. CNET's Ina Fried, however, appears to be more ambivalent when weighing the two versions side by side.
According to Fried, the decision faced by governments choosing between the versions is between the greater library of software available for Windows vs. the Linux version's potential for nurturing independent open source software development. The Sugar desktop environment used in the Linux version of the XO is now maintained by Sugar Labs, a group that spun out of OLPC, and is committed to developing open source GNU/Linux-based educational software.