The original OLPC XO Laptop sparked the netbook revolution by showing that laptops could be tiny, cheap, and still pretty useful. But the laptop also broke the mold in a few other ways, by using a spill and dust resistant membrane keyboard, a durable plastic frame, and an innovative user interface called Sugar OS. While Sugar was designed to make the laptop easy for students in developing nations who have never touched a computer before to use… it’s not exactly what most people see when they turn on a computer. So if you want to teach a kid to use spreadsheet apps or other office or productivity software used in most of the world, then it might not be the best way to go.
Now it looks like the folks at OLPC have gotten the message, because they’re shipping the XO 1.5 laptop with the option to switch between the Sugar OS and a full GNOME Desktop, which provides a user interface closer to what you’d see on a Linux distribution like Ubuntu, or on Windows or OS X, for that matter. It has taskbars, and a start menu, even if that’s not what they’re called.
Students already using the original XO laptop will also be able to use the new software.
OLPC also says that a new XO-HS laptop with a more traditional keyboard will be available later this year.