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Turning the OLPC Into a Hacker’s Toolkit - Give One, Get Owned, Part 1

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The OLPC's XO is a rugged-ized computer designed with children's education as its goal. While we aren't doubting the learning qualities of the device, we do have to wonder what exactly is being taught. In Part 1 of this series, Seth Fogie takes an exploratory look at the XO to see what’s inside. He provides a few pointers for preparing it for "enhancement," showing how to punch up that learning environment with games, music, movies, and more.

The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) is a project designed to create a means by which all children around the world can connect with one another, create new and imaginative solutions, and challenge their intellect, using a computer that is attractive, rugged, and cheap to build and use. The end result is not quite affordable for most third world countries, but the initial device, known as the XO, has made significant steps toward achieving the goal.

Ironically, the OLPC program has not just produced a laptop that delivers on its promise to "provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment, and express themselves." The program might also have taken the first step to building a world full of hackers. Now, we aren't saying OLPC is a subtle communistic take-over-the-world doomsday program. However, don't let the XO's green and white kid-friendly exterior fool you—this machine has all it needs to become a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. As the rest of this article demonstrates, it only takes a little time, knowledge, and Google to turn the playful XO into a hacker's toolbox.

What is the XO, really? Before delving into the details of how the innocent XO can be converted into a hacker's toolkit, let's take a moment and examine the details of this system.

XO Hardware

Following are the specs of the first version of this laptop:

  • 433 MHx AMD Geode LX-700. OK; enough to handle the basics.
  • 1200×900 7.5" LCD. Though high enough in resolution, it is quite small in reality.
  • 256 MB DDR266. Eh—enough to run most command-line tools.
  • 1024K ROM. The hard drive; basically a 1GB memory card.
  • SD card slot. Very useful; you can extend memory far beyond the 1GB main drive space.
  • 802.11b/g/s-ready (802.11s is for mesh networks). Impressive, but incomplete; 802.11s is not quite prime time for OLPC mainly because of networking issues and other anomalies that have been discovered.
  • 3 USB + keypad, touchpad, audio jack, and speakers. Excellent for such a small device; USB support is mostly plug and play.
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