OLPC plans solar charging, satellite Internet for XO-3

OLPC's rubber cover may include a solar panel and satellite receiver

One Laptop Per Child is developing new functionality and protection features for its upcoming XO-3 tablet with the hope to attract more interest in the device.

OLPC is designing rubber covers intended to protect the tablet but that could also integrate solar charging, satellite Internet or external keyboard capabilities, said Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of One Laptop Per Child.

The tablet was originally announced in late 2009 with a projected price of under US$100. The XO-3 will become available early next year or perhaps sooner, and price is still being determined, but it will still be under $100, Negroponte said.

The tablet will also include a camera on top of the screen, placed inside the bezel surrounding the display. A microphone will be placed in the bezel under the screen, and USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack will be on the sides.

Decisions are still being made about the display, which is holding up development of the device, Negroponte said. OLPC wants a transflective screen, much like the current XO, but with improved richness in e-ink and transmissive modes. OLPC plans to use spin-off Pixel Qi's hybrid screen, which can function in e-ink mode and like a normal LCD (liquid crystal display) to display full-motion video. The display can absorb ambient light to brighten screens and reduce power consumption.

The XO-3 tablet is being designed with hardware and software features that OLPC hopes will appeal to kids in primary schools in developing countries.

On software for the tablet, Negroponte said OLPC has lost interest in providing Microsoft's Windows 8 as an option. The organization is going forward with other operating systems including Google's Android and Chrome OS, which are based on Linux. Google has already released a version of Android for tablets, while Chrome OS is targeted at low-power laptops.

OLPC offered Windows and Linux operating systems in the first few XO laptop builds, which were based on x86 chips from Advanced Micro Devices and then Via Technologies. However subsequent XO laptops, starting with version 1.75, were based on ARM processors, which at the time did not support a full Windows OS.

In March 2009, OLPC pushed Microsoft to develop a version of the full Windows OS that could work on ARM chips, which are considered more power-efficient than x86 chips.

At the time, Microsoft said it wouldn't do it, but the software maker said earlier this year that Windows 8 will work with x86 and ARM architectures.

"Microsoft had to make that move. I told Craig Mundie he would have to do it in two years," Negroponte said. "He said 'absolutely no, never.' It was two years to the week."

OLPC has lost interest in Windows for XO-3 now, Negroponte said, adding that it "will have almost no meaning."

Microsoft declined to comment on its past work with OLPC and its future plans for XO products.

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