OLPC to add multitouch screen to future XO-1.75 laptop

OLPC is also modifying Linux software to take advantage of the multitouch screens

Nonprofit organization One Laptop Per Child on Thursday said it is adding a multitouch screen to the upcoming XO-1.75 laptop and is modifying software to take advantage of the new hardware.

The XO-1.75 with a touch-sensitive 8.9-inch screen will start shipping next year. The laptop will run on an Arm processor and is the successor to the current XO-1.5 laptop, which runs on a Via x86 processor. OLPC will also add a multitouch screen on the next-generation XO-3 tablet, which is due to ship in 2012.

Customers could be interested in buying XO-1.75 laptops as low-power replacements to existing XO-1 machines, which don't have touch capabilities, said Chris Ball, lead software engineer for OLPC, in an e-mail.

However, OLPC will also sell less-expensive XO-1.75 machines without touchscreens, he said.

OLPC wants to use the XO-1.75 laptops as a platform to test and develop appropriate touch interfaces for the next-generation XO-3 tablets, he said.

The XO laptops are designed for kids in primary schools, and touch capabilities could reduce the need to use a mouse to move or manipulate images or to scroll through documents. The XO-1.75 will include a physical keyboard, but the XO-3 tablet design will include only an on-screen keyboard.

XO laptops run the Linux OS, and the nonprofit has also started modifying Linux software to take advantage of multitouch screens. OLPC is modifying the Sugar software package, which provides an education-specific user interface to the laptops. OLPC works on Sugar with Sugar Labs, a nonprofit organization that manages the development of the software.

Ball said that Fedora will continue to be the base Linux distribution for XO-1.75 as the laptop changes from the x86 to Arm architecture. The nonprofit will contribute to ported versions of Fedora to Arm so it can be used on future XO laptops and devices.

While previous Fedora versions have been successfully ported to Arm, work had yet to be done on Arm versions for the current Fedora 13 or the developer release that will become Fedora 14.

"That's what OLPC's most interested in helping the rest of the Fedora Arm team with," Ball said.

Plenty of work will go into the port, but OLPC is not interested in moving to another Linux distribution as it would disrupt current software customized for the laptop, he said.

"We need to rebuild each of the thousands of Fedora packages for Arm from their Fedora 13 versions, so that includes everything from the kernel and drivers up through all of the other packages, including Sugar," Ball said.

OLPC in May ruled out the use of versions of the Windows OS on its upcoming devices.

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