DebXO 0.4 stable enough to travel with

John Gilmore gnu at
Sun Jan 4 09:00:04 EST 2009

I perhaps foolishly brought an XO running debXO-0.4 as my sole laptop
during a multiweek European trip.  Midway thru that trip, I am pleased
to report that it is stable enough for reasonable use, at least in my
application (ssh, web, and random downloads of pdf's, mp3's, ogg
videos, etc).  See .

Ordinary programs can just be added with "apt-get install", and they
run like on a slow x86 box, i.e. not snappy, but not bad.  Skip Sugar,
it's more like molasses.

It is dramatically improved by adding a gig of swap space on a
partition of an SD card.  This turns freezes into slight slowdowns --
the OLPC kernel needs to nudge its slacker oom-killer.  Tho firefox,
pardon me, "Iceweasel", is better than it was, it still never
*shrinks* even when you delete tabs and windows.  (Emacs used to have
this problem, but RMS fixed it.)  But you can blow it away with the
close-box and it will save your tabs, then you can restart it and get
the same view with less of a pig memory footprint.  Think of it -- a
web browser with tabs, cookie control, and NoScript.  Revolutionary.

The biggest problem is that DebXO doesn't suspend reliably, even with
the lid closed.  It refuses to lid-close suspend when plugged into AC
power (despite the improved battery charge time) and it often pops out
of suspend for no reason, and then chews down its battery uselessly.
Best to *shut down* if you're heading for the airport and really need
that battery life.  It also unhelpfully changes the screen brightness
to 50% or 100% whenever you plug it in or unplug it, regardless of 
what you had yourself set.

There's no way debXO could improve the keyboard, unfortunately; it
misses a lot of keystrokes despite my being very used to typing on it.
It's just a cheap flakey keyboard -- and I made sure to bring one of
the better units I had available.

Hotplug has some trouble with the SD card at startup -- you have to
pop it out and back in before it'll mount -- and it doesn't
automatically mount swap partitions (it should!).  Totem had no
trouble playing an Ogg video in full screen from the SD card without
hiccups, while I was simultaneously downloading another 300mb video
onto that 16GB card (at 1 Mbyte/sec from  It installs
ugly codecs trivially.  Playing youtube flash videos is terrible, tho;
both the video and the audio skip a lot under gnash-0.8.4 (the
default).  (Unlike the XO distro, where youtube doesn't play at all.)

Ekiga couldn't understand the XO camera's pixel format, but everything
else just pretty much worked.  The Gnome network manager applet is
fast and nice; it sits in the top bar and instantly pops up an
alphabetical list of available access points (without having to
"change screens" like Sugar, nor mouse around to random locations
looking for the name you want).  I use a USB ethernet adapter and it
works flawlessly.  The mouse cursor is a little small, because the X
server lies about the 200 dpi screen (saying it's 96 dpi); some tuning
will eventually be required to report 200 dpi and have Gnome still use
small fonts.  I have four virtual screens available, but usually just
overlap my windows on one screen, and bring them to the top by
clicking the bottom bar on the screen.

This experience bodes well for the F10 distro on XO as well.

It's like having a computer instead of a toy.


PS: Don't forget, you'll have to jailbreak your toy before you can
reflash it into a computer.  See 
and .

More information about the Devel mailing list