Saying goodbye to the Classmates

Saying goodbye to the Classmates

Summary: I feel like I should set the screensavers to a scrolling marquee of "Don't ever change" or "You rock," standard yearbook fare for saying goodbye to carbon-based classmates. Tonight, however, I'm packaging up 3 Intel Classmate PCs (CMPC) to ship back to California, and I'm really going to miss these little computers.

I feel like I should set the screensavers to a scrolling marquee of "Don't ever change" or "You rock," standard yearbook fare for saying goodbye to carbon-based classmates. Tonight, however, I'm packaging up 3 Intel Classmate PCs (CMPC) to ship back to California, and I'm really going to miss these little computers. More significantly, so are my kids and my students. They've been handy little tools in class and at home and have shown just how realistic 1:1 computing (or at least drastically increased access to computing for school kids) can be. Before I wrap up the series on the Classmates, though, I'd like to run through some performance numbers. I have lots of seat-of-the pants impressions, but the following table actually details times to complete various tasks on the computers. Since I have three different operating systems available (Mandriva Linux, Metasys Linux, and Windows XP Professional), I've included columns for all three. In the case of the Windows machine, I installed Firefox for comparison to their Linux counterparts; There wasn't enough room on the hard drive to install OpenOffice. I have also included data related to Internet Explorer 6 and Office 2003 (the installed browser and office suite on the Windows CMPC). In all cases, testing was completed with the Classmates on battery power, since they won't be tied to a power strip most of the time. A few final notes: with the exception of the stress test, all applications were launched and run alone; they were shut down before the next test was completed. For the stress test, all applications listed in the table (except Internet Explorer) were launched in succession, without waiting for the next to load; although not utterly scientific, it certainly provides a feeling for how well the OS compensates for the minimal RAM and Celeron processor. All applications were launched for the stress test while the 118MB file was copying from an HP USB Digital Drive (reading a 2GB SD card) to the desktop; the recorded time is for all applications to launch successfully (the file copy was not necessarily complete). Additionally, the Metasys unit was running OpenOffice 2.0, an iteration of not known for its optimization in terms of speed. All times were rounded up to the nearest second. Here are the results:
Operating System (time in seconds)

Windows XP Professional
Mandriva Linux
Metasys Linux
Launch to login
N/A - logins disabled on test system
Login to fully loaded (all services running; ready to use)
Total time to system usable from startup
Launch OpenOffice Writer N/A
Launch OpenOffice Impress N/A
Launch OpenOffice Calc
Launch Firefox (and load standard Firefox/Google homepage)
Launch Internet Explorer (and open default MSN homepage)
Launch Microsoft Word
Launch Microsoft Excel
Launch Microsoft PowerPoint
Copy 118MB file to the hard drive (OpenOffice Install file)
Stress test

So what does all of this mean? It means that OpenOffice, though a fine, free suite, has a long ways to go in terms of application load time to be really competitive. While the operating systems (particularly Mandriva and Windows) are basically comparable, OpenOffice was a real performance drag. 211 seconds for the stress test on the Metasys machine was especially painful. One moderately redeeming note for OpenOffice: once a single application is open, all of the others launch very quickly from within OO. For example, choosing New Spreadsheet from the File menu of the word processing application had a new spreadsheet up within 5 seconds. However, this certainly remains a sticking point. In terms of real usability, some of this comes down to personal preference and customizability. What makes sense to the customers and what role to local groups want to have in localization of the software? How much does licensing matter? And what just feels right? For me and about half of my students, Mandriva was the CMPC of choice. For the remaining half, Windows was the preferred OS. As we've seen over the last few posts, this is a religious issue. The take home message, though? These little guys work and they work really well. Intel, can we please have some here in your "established markets"?

Topics: Windows, Software, Processors, Operating Systems, Open Source, Microsoft, Linux, Hardware, Collaboration, Browser

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Interesting numbers, Chris ...

    Too bad you couldn't get a full set of numbers on all tests. Disabling logins on the Windows XP Pro system crippled it somewhat. I wonder why they did that. What I find most interesting though is how much faster MS Office apps loaded on the XP pro system than the OpenOffice counterparts did on the Linux systems. As I recall, the Linux systems had half the RAM as well. That could also distort the numbers the other way.
    M Wagner
    • Very interesting

      I agree...A little more development work on, anyone? I'm still trying to get OO to install on the Windows machine, but there isn't much room to spare.

      As it turns out, the systems Intel sent to me were all identical down to the RAM, so this is very much an OO issue. No matter what biases I may have towards Linux, MS certainly knows how to fire up an application quickly, don't they?

      • Maybe OpenOffice put too much priority on trying to match features one for

        one with MS Office, and would have been better off trying to make a streamlined office suite that was fast and light.

        Obviously, OLPC could not even consider OpenOffice.
    • Quick update on numbers

      I actually managed to get OO to install on the Windows PC after dumping a few programs (who needs Firefox?) and a lengthy effort from a thumb drive.

      Looks like load times are still much slower than Office, but better than Linux:

      18 seconds for Writer
      10 seconds for Calc
      10 seconds for Impress.

      Don't forget us Linux geeks, OpenOffice, as you're optimizing!


  • Experience matters

    If anything, your table shows that when a company owns 90% of the computing market and has a lot of experience in dealing with millions of customers, then you can expect solid performance and the best apps.

    I agree OO has some way to go. I install it occasionally when a friend or colleague can't afford Office, but make damn sure that it's using the DOC format. Use the native format and you are guaranteed problems with ordinary computer users - who wonder why their friends can't read their documents.

    The stress test is a good indicator, as users these days often have multiple apps running. While my work is within eLearning, I typically have Word, PhotoImpact, an audio editor and my own authoring system running at once and I like to be able to go from power off to working as fast as possible.

    I saw NN blaming Intel last night for having the temerity to build a better computer that's a lot more useful than the OLPC toy. The man's ego is unbelievable.

    In the end, I still think we should be recycling rather than making new computers for the poor - a waste of resources that could be better served by the West donating its "obsolete" computers.
    • Do you have any idea how many poor kids in the world need computers????

      There are not enough used computers to even supply 1% of the poor kids, and if you started trying to buy used laptops on the open market, you would see the prices go way up. Let's not forget the nightmare of trying to refurbish and support 1,000 different kinds of computers.

      The only way to supply the computers is to build them. And, OLPC and the Classmate PC, are both going to be great choices, depending on the environment. I see the Classmate PC being the best choice in the developed countries, or anywhere there is a better environment. The OLPC wins hands down anytime you have really rough conditions and you need mesh networking.

      Also, it is extremely important to have the Linux option to force MS to be competitive and even figure out how to run Windows on low end hardware. If not for OLPC and Linux, MS would ignore any hardware less than 3 GHz and 2GB of memory. And, do not forget that the only reason that Classmate exists is OLPC. Finally, Intel finally realized they were wrong about a number of things and Joined OLPC.

      But, all of these developments, INCLUDING Intel's contributions are positive. The jury is still out on Microsoft.
  • OO Windows: quickstarter in RAM?

    Part of the speed bonus in Windows, could be due to a preloaded quickstarter in the RAM of the Windows machine. Something that's not present in the Linux machines.

    I personally dislike quickstarters very much: they eat a substantial portion of your RAM, even when they are not needed. When I was still a Windows user, I always used to clean out the system tray and the running superfluous services with msconfig. I remember that one of those auto-started services in Windows, was a quickstarter for Office.

    Greetz, Pjotr.
    • OO Quickstarter for Linux

      Mandriva,at least, though I think *buntu, SUSE, Fedora and others all have a quickstarter package for Open Office that speeds up load time considerably.

      As you are, I'm unconvinced of the value of these little tricks. Either that or I'm simply patient. That said the load times for OO do seem a bit on the slow side to me.

      Then again, I'm running Mandriva 2008 x64 using the x64 version of OO so it will be noticably quicker.

      The timings are intersting though, given my experience with Vista is that load times for things like Firefox and Open Office [i]feels[/i] slower than on Linux. Tempting as it is to blame MS DRM for this, I'm more convinced it's all the security hoops in Vista that cause the slowdown. Linux security is a bit more straight forward in the sense that what's root stays root and what's userland stays userland.

      At the end of the day I'm not sure that kids in the third world countries that Classmate and OLPC are aimed at give a hoot about load times.


  • A more thorough test

    Bottom line: It's still hard to beat free v.s. M$$$$$$$. In that regard a can wait a few seconds more.
  • RE: Saying goodbye to the Classmates

    I certainly wish I could get a couple of those for my grandkids. Would make GREAT Christmas presents. But then too, would be nice to be able to pick up decent used laptops at a fair price too. Would be interesting to install Gentoo on something like that. :-D Might take a few days, but then, might be well worth it.

    • Hopefully the Classmates will be available comercially sooner than OLPC.

      Well, OLPC is available for a limited time if you also want to contribute . . . .

      But, Classmate might just b a great compliment to OLPC.
  • Time to open doesn't seem that important

    I found that comparisons interesting, but I felt that strictly focusing on time to open the first time after boot up was kind of an odd criteria for determining which office application is ?best?. The word processors ?Word? and ?Writer? are definitely optimized for different types of documents, but that makes them different, not one better than the other. I have been using Open Office for several months now, on Windows XP, and I prefer it to Microsoft Office. I prefer Open Office because the word processor is very responsive when it opens, navigates, and edits large documents (a couple of chapters or more). In my experience, Microsoft Word has an annoying lag time when editing large documents. Because the lag time is an issue the entire time you are in the edit mode, I find it to be much more of an issue than startup time.

    One of the earlier responses touched on the the issue of quickstarts. I dislike them as well as they are resource hogs that make startup of one application faster at the expense of your entire system's performance. If you do have them enabled, open office starts real fast the second time (and all subsequent) after boot up. This suggests to me they are a little less greedy with the initial resources than some applications. The other point is that even though there isn't a Microsoft Office icon in the quickstart tray, the performance difference suggests that Microsoft emulates the quickstart for office and simply doesn't bring it to the user's attention. This seems more likely than Microsoft having some secret technology for opening files.

    My last comment is about user experience and the quality of an application. When I first started using Open Office, I did not like it as well as Microsoft Office. Open Office seemed to have shortcomings in features I was used to. After a few weeks, my impression reversed itself, and I found myself liking Open Office more. It took a while to get to the point where I was viewing the application on its own merits rather than judging it in terms of how well it emulated Microsoft Office (which I later stopped using altogether). I found that when Open Office dared to be different, and it isn't that often, they usually did better. A legacy can be a real limitation for an application to carry on.
    • agreed.

      time to open an app is nearly meaningless, only conclusion that can be drawn is that it opens faster, not that it's better.

      opening up or saving a file, cut/paste, search/replace, searching etc would tell more about the speed of the app itself.

      If an app takes 3-5 seconds longer to start up, but does everything a few seconds faster, the start to finish times can be much better for the slow to start app.

    • I am still yearning for somthing simpler and less bloated than either Open

      Office or MS Office. In the age of less printing, I find it particularly irritating that the editors keep trying to format for paper while you are just entering content that you might never print.
      • Abiword

        Then I can recommend you Abiword. Lightweight, simple, looks like MS Word 97. Though natively Linux, also available in a Windows edition. Free, of course.

        Greetz, Pjotr.
  • Classmate PCs pilots in "established markets"

    I work for Intel. We are running pilots of classmate PCs in some established markets. We will get back to you when we have more to share from these pilots.
    Nor Badron