Thursday, April 02, 2009

Peeking under the hood

The past few days I've been in the midst of a technical challenge, and I have been at a loss about how to solve it. I have to admit, I do enjoy working out computer challenges. Emerging from a morass of missteps and frustrations, today I had a moment where I solved the technical problems, it all made sense, and I had a chance to glimpse into the future.

XO Solar 2I have 5 XO laptops in my third grade classroom. Two of them are solar powered. I read the latest from the OLPC News and I follow Forum discussions closely. Now, we all know the XO started a revolution in mini laptops, and powering them via solar panels is also pretty cool. But these developments pale in comparison to what I am looking at right now.

Lately there has been a flurry about Sugar on a Stick - Sugar being the OS for the XO laptop. Long story short, I figured out how to load an entire operating system, along with application data from individual uses of programs, to micro media - flash drives and SD cards.

How many XO's?There are five computers in this picture, complete with operating systems, applications, history, documents, etc. The contents of an entire computer can be loaded on a bootable flash drive or SD card. Put it in your pocket, and boot it in another computer - and you have your computer again. It can run on a Windows computer or a Mac. To me, this is incredible.

What does this mean in my third grade classroom? First off, it means a time of exploration and problem solving. And fun. We all know "Lincoln" has a red X and O, but what if we put in a flash drive we call Jude2? That computer now is running a different OS, has different applications, and has different documents stored on it. It also appears unique to other computers sharing the same Jabber server on the Internet.

The implications are mind boggling, if you really go with it. For a couple of years I've had a classroom collection of flash drives kids could check out to carry data back and forth to school. But I've never had a whole computer on a stick. I can now carry 5 XO laptops on my keyring. But why stop there?

In theory (and it would not be hard), each student could have his/her own computer, which they could load whenever they used an XO (could also be loaded on other computers - but that will be another step...). Students could carry their own favorite applications, and their documents would be there as well. All on a 2GB flash drive. Really.

This is not the future, it's here now.

I feel like I'm only peeking under the hood of what's coming...

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Solution Grove said...

Thanks for the great post! If you want to try it out with your class let us know and we'll do our best to help.

Caroline at Sugar Labs

Mark Ahlness said...

Caroline, thanks! I'll keep an eye on the images for the XO. Right now I'm only successful with soas1 versions... and my kids really would miss some activities not quite integrated yet...

Would absolutely love a classroom of XO images on sticks, though - what a thrill to think about! Do you suppose the image would also boot on Windows machines? Now THAT would be something else! - Mark

Solution Grove said...

Yes! Booting your windows machines is definitely our goal! How many do you have? How old?

Try plugging in the stick and rebooting the machine.

If that doesn't work see if you can change the BIOS boot order so it looks for the USB before the hard drive. Not every machine can do this but most recent ones can.

If that doesn't work try creating a Boot-Helper CD.

Contact me if you need help! If you do this you'll be one of the very first and we are still figuring out how to get things to work and how to communicate about how to get things to work.

Mark Ahlness said...

Can you drop me an email at Want to continue the conversation! - thanks - Mark