Saturday, March 01, 2008

The £100 laptop - a reason for visiting the Education Show?

The (now contentious) $100 laptop / OLPC project was never completely focused on a specific education "market" as such - but the realisation that a laptop could be had for around £50 must have caused excitement / panic depending on whether you were a user or manufacturer. More recently, devices like the Asus Eee PC, the original OLPC or Intel's Classmate (complete with Intel's controversial approach to marketing) have shown that the level of "entry level" technology gets lower with each month.
Into this steps what (in the UK) will be the £100 laptop - the Elonex ONE. Not sure why it's in capitals, maybe the RM One held the copyright on the capitalised version of that word. Anyway, after traipsing around the Education Show before Friday's Becta Learning Platforms symposium, I went to the Elonex stand to see what's what and filmed a quick demo whihc you can view below. It turned out to be one of the only things which captured my attention in halls 10 and 11 of the NEC, other than Classical Comics.

The obvious comparison is between the ONE and the Eee PC (which is also marketed as an RM badged machine). I got to use both the Linux and Windows versions of the RM Asus Minibook at the BETT Teachmeet and, while the Windows environment would be reassuring to those who feel scared of the prospect of colouring outside the lines, the Linux version of the Asus feels (to me) more natural - Windows is crammed onto a small machine like this and you can't help but feel that it doesn't sit comfortably there. The Linux operating system for the Asus genuinely feels like something new and appropriate for the device, whereas with the Windows version it feels akin to trying to drive a new Mini into which someone's tried to fit the seats from a Ford Mondeo.
The Elonex ONE also uses a Linux OS, but this is Linos rather than the Asus's Xandros. The interface looks less slick than the Asus, and uses a disparate collection of tools rather than the Asus's more unified OpenOffice option - AbiWord, a spreadsheet and a number of other tools. It does wireless networking as well and for another £20 you can get bluetooth and increased memory.
When looking at devices like this I'm less concerned about the "bundled" applications than I am about how well the device can access web-based tools - things like the excellent Splashup or Picnik, Google Documents, Gmail, etc. I was shown the email client on the ONE - but do people really want a mail client like Outlook? Maybe. Elonex said that the ONE has Flash 7 capability, while the Asus does (I believe) Flash 9, which opens up the possibility of using the richer applications. As more and more applications move onto the internet (see Jooce and similar) - and also have their roots on the desktop using something like Air - the ability to get the most out of these is critical for any device which claims to offer easy web access. With something like the ONE I'd be interested in seeing how it can cope with our Moodle sites and Connect videoconferencing - plus how could it access a rich media portfolio application?
Sample Elonex USB wristbandSo what of the ONE? Well, it's due pre-June, and Elonex are taking £10 deposits to secure one of 20,000 units. I was speaking with someone yesterday who'd invested in Asus machines thinking they were as cheap as it would get, then this comes along. Doug Dickinson thinks it's a dutch auction and it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months.

The storage on the machine is not much compared to something like the Asus so Elonex are co-marketing a series of "charity USB wristbands" with up to 16GB of storage - the aim being that pupils' data will live on the wristbands rather than the device. Problem is, by the time "pre-June" comes, will your £10 have reserved you the best value tool on the market? At this price, are these tools becoming (in the words of Douglas Coupland) semi-disposable?

3 comments:

  1. Video was great thanks, wish I could have gone to the show to see it for myself. It looked a little sluggish and the mouse looked less than ergonomic. I've been using an asus eeepc for a few weeks now and I am impressed. I'd love to buy one per child but my biggest worry is they'd just spend all their time on games. A nice feature of the eeepc is the almost instant restore function, does the elonex have a similar feature? Also I am not convinced about flash drives as the sole means of storage, I am paranoid about backups and flash drives seem to fail very frequently.

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  2. Between the Asus and the Elonex, if users requirements was mobility, reliable quick connectivity, using online applications (OpenOffice, Flickr ..) and Learning Platform environments; vle and portal services.
    What would you invest in for classroom use?

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  3. Hi Donna,
    I'd say that whoever was deciding this needed to use them for a little while (30 minutes should be enough although 30 seconds is often enough to see if I can get to grips with something). For me, the test would be between the browser capabilities of the two, in particular accessing the newer "cloud computing" sites. Add to that that the Asus has a webcam and a (potentially) better feature set.
    It's been entertaining here at the Naace conference - lots of people "of a certain age" with Asuses (Asii?), squinting and fumbling for their glasses while they peer at the tiny screens.
    I'd also double check the browsers for access to VLEs etc. - for example anything that's Internet Explorer based and might use an ActiveX control might not work as these (obviously) aren't IE-based browsers. Mind you, if a system was that specific to a browser then I for one wouldn't invest in it.

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