Laptop Magazine’s Joanna Stern got to spend a couple hours playing with one of those newfangled XO Laptops preloaded with Windows XP the other day. Microsoft is offering Windows XP Starter Edition licenses for just $3 to customers in developing nations. On the one hand, this helps Microsoft fend off any challenges from Linux or other operating system in a largely untapped market. On the other hand, it also gives new computer users in developing nations access to the most widely used operating system in the world. And if the goal is to bridge the digital divide and encourage computer literacy, that matters.
The XO Laptop has just 1GB of flash memory onboard, which isn’t nearly enough to run Windows XP, so the operating system runs off of a removeable 4GB SD card. Eventually the OLPC developers will include a dual boot screen that lets users decide which operating system to boot into, but for now if the card is plugged in, you boot into Windows. If it’s pulled out, you but into the Linux-based Sugar OS.
Stern has posted a bunch of pictures of the XO running various Windows applications, as well as a few hands-on videos. In a nutshell, it sounds like the XO does a decent, if not steller job with Windows. It takes nearly 90 seconds to boot, slows down significantly if you have more than one window open, and online video playback is choppy. But if you launch just one or two programs at a time, it seems to work fairly well. In other words, the XO runs Windows XP about as well as a computer from 2000 would run it. While a faster processor would certainly help performance, the biggest bottleneck is probably the 256MB of RAM. Double or quadruple that and I’m sure the XO could do a better job of multitasking.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to pick up an XO running XP in developed nations in Europe or North America anytime soon. But when you think about it, without the OLPC we probably wouldn’t have had the Asus Eee PC, and without that this web site and all the topics I cover probably wouldn’t exist. So it’s worth keeping an eye on those crazy folks over at the OLPC Foundation because the stuff they’re working on today tends to be the stuff we all take for granted tomorrow.