OLPC software update packs WebKit, text-to-speech

OLPC XO-1.75

The One Laptop Per Child project might be focusing on its next-generation laptop/tablet combination dubbed the X0-4 Touch (due in early 2013), but that doesn’t mean the organization is leaving its existing hardware to twist in the wind. OLPC has announced a significant update to its OLPC OS that incorporates significant new features and capabilities—and supports ever OLPC machine going back to the original XO-1.

The OLPC operating system is based on Fedora Linux, so the new version picks up a number of improvements from the Fedora 17 (“Beefy Miracle”) release. That shift also enables the OS to upgrade to GNOME 3.4 and GTK+3.x, which are essentially the underpinnings of OLPC’s Sugar graphical interface. Although Sugar doesn’t implement everything in GNOME 3.4—there are no accelerated 3D graphics, for example, and everything is using an older UI mode—the upgrades fix many issues that had cropped up with sticking with GTK+ 2.x, and users should see overall stability and performance improvements, as well as improved software, since apps can access a broader range of current system libraries.

Perhaps most notably, OLPC OS 12.1.0 has shifted away from the Mozilla Web rendering engine to WebKit, since Mozilla has imposed new restrictions that prevent their engine from being embedded in other applications like OLPC’s Browse. The Browse, Wikipedia, and Help apps are all based on WebKit, and OLPC says that should mean faster startups and smoother browsing overall.

OLPC OS 12.1.0 also incorporates text-to-speech support, enabling users to hear any selected text spoken out loud—a potential boon for educators working on basic literacy and language skills. Users can also write to their Journal anytime without having to come up with a name and description for their work before they start. The update also supports SiS-based DisplayLink adapters: just connect the DisplayLink screen before starting up the OLPC, and the system will load the interface on the external display.

OS updates aside, OLPC’s next big project is the OLPC XO-4 Touch, a combination laptop/tablet that will feature a multitouch, sunlight-usable 1,200 by 900-pixel display, HDMI output, an accelerometer, USB, and Wi-Fi, all based around a Marvell ARMADA 2128 processor. Pricing and exact specs haven’t been detailed, but OLPC expects to release the XO-4 Touch in the first quarter of 2013.

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