My OLPC XO Experience

I got an OLPC XO today. Its not actually for me. Its from someone in America to a nunnery in Bumthang. They wanted me to install Dzongkha computing capabilities on the XO. Having never worked on this device, I do not know whether this would be possible or not. Anyways, I am happy to get this opportunity to use and work on an XO. Over the following days, I would be blogging my daily experience in using the device.

I am using the “write” activity which came pre-installed with the XO to write this down.

Me holding the OLPC XO

Me holding the OLPC XO

7 August, 2008

I have been on leave for couple of days. Joined office today and found a letter in my drawer from Bhutan Post regarding a parcel from America. I went to the post office with Sonam, Sanju and Pema, paid Nu. 13 as the delivery charge (even when its I who went to pick up the parcel, rather than the post office delivering it to me) and brought the package to my office. The opening-of-the-package “ceremony” was attended by Sonam, Sanju, Pema, Chhabi and other friends. We ordered tea and samosa from the office canteen. I still have to clear the bills from canteen (update: Dechen has cleared the bill for me).

We had trouble opening the device until someone pointed out reading the Manual. After opening the device, we were able to find the power button easily and booted the device. Being first timers using an XO (and not reading the manual thoroughly first), we found the XO user interface “difficult”. We were able to start some activities from the activity button, but could not find any “Close” button the close the application. But we were happy to find the terminal application in the activity bar. We also had difficulty getting the XO connected to the office wireless network until Sanju consulted the manual. Using the Neighborhood button, connecting to a network is indeed a child’s play :-). After that, its just using the Browse activity to access the internet.

After sometime, all my friends left and I was left alone to fiddle with the device. I could finally make out the functions or the ideas of “Home”, “Activity”, “Neighborhood” etc. I tried more activities like Paint, Pippy and Record. I then tried the write activity , but I just could not find how to save my work. Later I found out that write auto saves my work and I can access it later through the Journal function. Having been used to clicking the “Save” button while using OpenOffice on my laptop running Debian, the idea of a Journal to save and access my documents is a bit hard to get used to. I later took a picture of myself and recorded a video clip using the webcam. After the office hours are over, I came home and read the Simplified User Guide. Late into the night, I learned how to: mount a usb drive, copy files from the Journal to the usb drive and vice-versa, play ogg audio and video files using Totem. I played a Jack Johnson song and a RMS speech video which I copied from my Debian laptop on my usb pendrive. Both the audio and video played great.

8 August, 2008

Today I took the XO to office hoping to do some updates, install new softwares and download e-books. Unfortunately, I was busy in the office from 9 AM till 5 PM. Before I came home to watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, I downloaded two ebooks in PDF from The Read application reads PDFs but I found reading books on the small screen of the XO a little uncomfortable. Even in the fullscreen mode, the font was too small for comfortable reading and trying to increase the font size by zooming stretches the book beyond the screen size. This means reading every line requires horizontal scrolling.
This is all for today. Now, back to watching the Olympics on TV.

9 August, 2008

Today is a Saturday. I took the XO to office. Upgraded the build from 765 to 708. Updating/upgrading is done using the “olpc-update” command. This also updates the firmware. The details on updating is given on the OLPC wiki site, . After updating to newer build, we need to install the Activities seperately. I used Bert’s script ( to automaticall reinstall the Activities.

Once the updation part is over, I tested installation of fonts and also tested whether Write activity render Dzongkha properly or not. For font installation, I created “dz” directory in “/usr/share/fonts/” , copied Jomolhari font into it and ran “fc-cache”. Once this is done, running “fc-list” shows Jomolhari is Installed. I then created a Dzongkha text in Abiword on my Debian machine, copied the file on a usb drive and transferred it to the XO. Opening the file in Write showed it renders Dzongkha very well (A huge step towards having Dzongkha computing on the XO!!!).

Now, the next step is to get a working input method for Dzongkha on the XO. Thats when I met unmaadindu (sayamindu Dasgupta) on #indlinux. With his help, I learned XO uses XKB (just like on normal GNU/Linux distros) for input method for languages like Dzongkha. They have plans to shift to SCIM in the future. The process of enabling Dzongkha input system in the XO is basically:

  1. Download and install it, “rpm -Uvh xkeyboard-config-1.3-2.olpc.noarch.rpm”
  2. Extend the Dzongkha keyboard layout file “/usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/bt” to add support for extra keys on the XO keyboard. You can find the extended layout file here: or
  3. Edit “/etc/sysconfig/keyboard” to set XKB_LAYOUT=”us,bt” and XKB_VARIANT=”olpc2,olpc” .
  4. “ctrl-alt-erase” to restart X. Once X is up, if everything has gone OK, we can change the layout by using the multiply/divide key – the one located to the right of the up arrow. Running “setxkb -v” should also list “bt”. If things dont work, we can check the Output of X by switching to terminal to see what the error is. “alt-ctrl-fn-1” switches to terminal. Once we get the Dzongkha keyboard layout in the stock OLPC distribution, we may not have to do step 2.
Dzongkha (Text and Interface) in Write

Dzongkha (Text and Interface) in Write

After things worked, I filed a ticket at for the inclusion of Dzongkha keyboard in the stock OLPC distribution.
Some useful links:

My Results:

11 August, 2008

Today, I started translating the OLPC applications UI interface to Dzongkha in OLPC pootle server:
I want to test how Dzongkha UI is rendered

12 August, 2008

Till now, I translated some strings in the olpc-core which consists of basic Activities like Write. The localization facility on has scripts which automatically creates language packs (for different builds) from our translations periodically. Once we have our translations, to install our langpack and have the UI in Dzongkha :

  1. Download and run as root . (This langpack is specifically for build 708)
  2. Edit “/home/olpc/.i18n”. Replace LANG=”en_US.UTF-8″ by LANG=”dz_BT.UTF-8″.
  3. “ctrl-alt-erase” to restart X. If everything goes fine, the interface of the translated activities will be in Dzongkha

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