OLPC deployments – a global approach

Cross-posted from OLPC Friends.

I’ve been involved with a couple of OLPC XO deployments now, and the experiences have been extremely fun and satisfying. One of the issues I have faced was simply trying to connect with other deployments to share with and learn from for peer support. Late last year I suggested to some of the OLPC Boston community people that a weekly online get together of people doing deployments would be very useful. In typical community fashion it was suggested I start running the meetings πŸ™‚

So, we’ve been running a weekly deployment meetup for the last 4 weeks, with excellent results! We’ve had people from deployments all around the world, from Peru, Oceania, Austria, Birmingham, Nepal, Boston, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Paraguay, Colombia, India and more! We also have people from Sugar Labs, OLPC Boston, Fedora, Ubuntu and other projects coming along. Every meeting thus far has had about 30-50 people, and we have tweaked the agenda such that each meeting will now feature a short “talk” by someone on their project or experiences. Then we do a general catch up on everyone’s projects before getting into general Q&A. All the IRC logs are publicly available, and we are trying to ensure we summarise and move information from the logs into the documentation below to make it helpful to others.

I think this format is perfect for community development around XO deployments, but I also think there are three four outcomes that will result from these meetings.

  1. Documentation improvements to the Deployment Guide and the establishment of a Deployment FAQ where we can make it easier for deployers to find information and plan successful projects. Currently we also have a Deployment Resources page, however that will likely be folded into the Deployment Guide.
  2. The creation of a Deployment Wishlist of features and projects that would really help us with actually putting XO’s in the field. Hopefully this wishlist will help inform the developer community about what we actually need in practise πŸ™‚
  3. Knowledge sharing leading to the establishment of best practices and peer support. Perhaps even the establishment of a normal practice of participating in and leveraging the Support Gang infrastructure and knowledge-base for deployment support.
  4. The beginnings of a self-directed project-centric community coming together independent of but in collaboration with the various organisations (Sugar Labs, OLPC Boston, etc, etc).

Ultimately I see this as the beginning of an independent community-run project that will coordinate with all the organisations involved, including Sugar Labs, OLPC Boston, and the many smaller organisations popping up around the world. More information on that soon! πŸ™‚

I’m a firm believer that getting educators involved in the vision is vital, however the deployment meetings are primarily for the people actually coordinating and supporting rollouts, and we discuss everything related to the implementation of an XO deployment including imaging, repairs, XO customisation (timezones, Activities, etc), the schoolserver (XS), logistics, networking, activation strategies, training, etc.

I think teachers and educators interested in pedagogy and such should be encouraged to participate in Sugar Labs, where their input will directly influence and improve Sugar, which is at the heart of the educational outcomes for children.

The weekly meetings are on every Tuesday at 1500 Boston time (Tuesday 2000 UTC time), on #olpc-deployment on Freenode (IRC). If you aren’t a regular IRC user, there are full instructions available for how to join the meeting through any normal web browser. I will try to blog/email a basic summary of each meeting for everyone’s interest. Please ensure you either follow the OLPC Friends blog or that you are subscribed to the OLPC Grassroots mailing list.

We will also be running a monthly FAQ-hack to get items from the minutes into the FAQ and Deployment Guide. This will be for a couple of hours after the first meeting in every month. Again, details are on the deployment meetup page.

So come along, share your experiences, spread the word to other deployments and we can create a strong deployment community so we can all better get opportunities for education out to children all over the world!

Quick thanks

A quick thank you to Michael Stone, a fantastic OLPC community guy and experienced consultant who has helped me push this forward and who has largely done the minutes and summaries to date. Thanks Michael! A big thankyou also to:

  • Chris Ball (cjb) for his hard work in slowly moving the XO release management into a more community-based model. The deployment community owes him for the 8.2.1 release, which totally rocks
  • Mel Chua (mchua) whose enthusiasm and drive has been awesome
  • Adam Holt (CanoeBerry) who has done such a great job establishing the amazing Support Gang, and whose knowledge and experience will really help with deployment community development
  • Samuel Klein (sj) who is doing great work trying to drive OLPC community development and better communications, and who has been a great sounding board
  • Walter Bender (walterbender) who is doing such amazing work with Sugar Labs, and is a constant voice of wisdom when it comes to actually getting things done, and in a community way
  • Seth Woodworth (isforinsects) – he has been constantly optimistic and collaborative, and has been a great participant in discussions. He’s also been a great sounding board
  • Ian Thomson and David Leeming – who are working so hard on Oceania XO deployments, and who are the inspiration to me suggesting a regular deployment meeting. Hopefully this will help more people like themΒ  (and me) who are at the frontline trying to implement the vision of OLPC
  • James Cameron, John Ferlito, Stephen Thorne and of course Jeff – for all providing me with the support I’ve need in the trials I’ve worked in myself πŸ™‚
  • All the people who have participated in the meetings to date, especially mstone, cjb, cjl, walterbender,Β  yamaplos, marcopg, NealS, dsd, aa, kevix, icarito, nubae, CanoeBerry, wadeb, hpachas-PE, anna-bham, tonya37 and everyone!

Anyway, I could thank people all day when it comes to amazing OLPC/Sugar related stuff, but these people have specifically helped with input to and assistance in deployments and in setting up the deployment meetings. Thanks all!

First test of OLPC XOs in remote Australian Indigenous community

Sokar Phillpot and Horatio Davis took several XO laptops into a remote Indigenous community called Pormpuraaw (Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia) to see how the children would respond. They had some great results and the local community there are very excited about doing an actual trial. Check out their website below for the videos, photos and responses from the children. Great work Sokar and Horatio!

XO workshop at Pormpuraaw

OLPC BOF – community meetup, discussion and paths for the region

On Friday afternoon is an OLPC BOF at linux.conf.au in Hobart, Tasmania. It’s an open public discussion, and will involve folks from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, as well as from OLPC and Sugar Labs. The idea behind the meetup is to explore strategies for community development and paths forward for OLPC and Sugar in the region, so come along! Add your name to the BOF wiki and we’ll see you there!

OLPC deployment meetups

As a person running some OLPC trials, I have been struck by the lack of communication and technical peer support of deployments. I thought it would be useful to kick off weekly meetups between people doing deployments to share knowledge, ask and answer questions, and to generally touch base with others doing similar projects πŸ™‚ Anyone is welcome, and I expect we’ll also see people from developer and other communities come along, but the focus will be on deployers’ needs, people doing the work of rolling out computers

Considering deployments are happening all around the world in all different time zones, I’ve committed to running two meetings a week. One at 3pm Tuesday Boston time, and one at 3am Wednesday Boston time and are expected to last about an hour (which ends up being at 7pm and 7am Sydney time). This way no matter what time zone you are in, you can meet up with others. If one meeting ends up being far more popular than the other, then we’ll just do just one meetup, and I’ve tried to choose a pair of times that balance different regions I know are doing deployments today.

Because I’ll be facilitating both meetings, I hope to ensure we don’t lose information transfer between the different groups.

Appropriate info gathered will be documented publicly and hopefully the deployment guide continually updated for others out of this process. Feedback from deployers will also be fed back to developer groups and hopefully this will help facilitate developers better understanding the needs of deployments.

Meetups will be via IRC (which will make it a little easier to script into other languages and to record) and there are instructions for how to connect to the meeting if you aren’t used to IRC as well as a basic agenda maintained on the wiki here:


Meetings to commence January 20th, and all details are on the link above.

Looking forward to meeting more deployment gurus out there and hearing about the awesome successes we are all having around the world!

Please forward on to any lists or people you think will be interested. Thank you

Evaluating an EBox 4863 for OLPC XS server

I’m in the process of evaluating a really awesome little machine called the EBox 4863.They are small, have no fans or moving parts (apart from when you put a laptop hard disk in), and will likely suit both urban and remote implementations as well as humid Pacific conditions.

I’m still testing so I don’t have a final verdict (will post soon) but so far I really love these little boxes πŸ™‚ They do seem a little warm, but they are designed to be basically just one big heat sink πŸ™‚ If you get one, make sure you get the 4863S as it comes without an OS (and in Australia, the only OS you can get is Windows).

EBox 4863 - back
EBox 4863 - back
EBox 4863 alongside my IBM T42
EBox 4863 alongside my IBM T42


  • VIA Esther 1.2GHz
  • 1GB DDR2
  • MPEG4/WMV9 decoding accelerator
  • Dual LAN
  • Compact Flash slot
  • Mini PCI socket
  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • Support 2.5″ HDD
  • PXE diskless boot
  • Wireless LAN (option)


Approximately $550-$600 (AUD).

Installing the hard disk

Requirements: small Phillips screwdriver, IDE laptop hard disk (3 1/2 inch). Some time πŸ™‚

Firstly you need to use the Allen key that comes with the box to open the bottom of the EBox, that is the side that doesn’t have the VGA and power. Then undo the two screws on the back (where the devices plug in) and loosen the back cover so it doesn’t inhibit the top motherboard being removed.

Once open you need to undo the four screws in the top section of the motherboard and you need to lift the top board straight up as below. Note that there are two sets of pins, one on each side underneath the top board, so you need to lift straight up to get it off:

Remove the top board

Lift off the top motherboard
Lift off the top motherboard, straight up off the two sets of pins.

Turn the top board over and you’ll see the pins. Take the very short IDE cable. Join the IDE cable to the top board, and to your IDE hard disk. Then you’ll have to align the HDD with the holes in the board which ends up squishing the HDD up close to where the IDE cable plugs in.

Add the IDE cable to the top board
Add the IDE cable to the top board
Secure the HDD to the top board.
Secure the HDD to the top board.

Now carefully put the board back in place ensuring you line up the pins correctly on the underside of the board. Then screw the backplate on like below.

Screw the backplate back on.
Screw the backplate back on.

Final step – replace the cover and ensure you put the correct screws into the correct side. The side without the board gets the long screws πŸ™‚

Ensure you put the long screws into the correct side.
Ensure you put the long screws into the correct side.

And there you have it, below is a picture of the EBox with a great little 9.2″ monitor alongside my rather large looking IBM T42 laptop and an XO. Welcome to my workbench today πŸ™‚

The EBox, XO, screen and my laptop
The EBox, XO, screen and my laptop

Installing the XS software

Requirements: Internet access, USB key (at least 700MB)

Firstly,you need to make it bootable from the USB key. Delete will get you into the BIOS, and you have to have to USB plugged in when you turn it on to choose USB as a boot option and to move it to the top of the boot options.

Then you have to make the bootable USB key with the XO image. At this stage I’m still on XS 0.4 for deployments and testing 0.5, but the process is generic. You can following the directions for 0.4 here, or the most recent image here.

I’ve tested XO 0.4 and am testing 0.5. All looks pretty good! Only problem so far is that on 0.5 the graphic card didn’t seem to show the Fedora boot screen, so I just pressed enter to a blank screen which worked fine (as I knew the question would be whether to install).

Update: 0.5 doesn’t appear to work on it, and neither does Ubuntu Hardy. Am trying to come up with work arounds. Input welcome! Error on XS 0.5 (Fedora 9) installation is GrubbyPartitionName. It finishes copying the packages and then fails.

Update II: To make 0.5 work I had to a) ensure it was referencing the correct location for the ks.cfg file, and b) comment out/delete an option in the ks.cfg which for some reason causes it to crash. I’ve updated the 0.5 install page and now have successfully installed 0.5 on the eebox! Yay!

Awesome interview about OLPC in the Pacific

A fantastic two part interview with Ian Thomson (works for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and is in charge of the OLPC deployments in the Pacific) and Michael Hutak (OLPC Director, Oceania). OLPC Friends supports all the awesome work happening in the Pacific and hopes to be able to assist with knowledge, volunteers, support and more.

They talk about what is happening in the various countries, and the challenges of meeting the needs of the Pacific, specifically PNG where the country has committed to every child receiving an OLPC. Awesome work Michael and Ian!

And another Sydney-based champion is Pia Waugh, an expert on open source who has just launched a local organisation called OLPC Friends which is focussing on community development in the region and building a community of practice for tech developers, users, and teachers

I think this describes OLPC Friends quite nicely. Thanks Ian and Michael!