OLPC Publications

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542-stopicon.png This page has a more up-to-date location: Manuals

We know that OLPC is going to have to publish manuals, but there isn't any public plan for what they might be. In the meantime, it's up to the rest of us to think about it.

The most urgent documents appear to be

  • Architecture Manual for developers
  • User Manual
  • Teacher Training
  • Hardware Maintenance and Repair

We need these for marketing purposes, as well as practical reality. Governments have been asking questions about training and support. We can't just say that the children will do it themselves, no matter how much some of us may believe that. Even if that were 100% true, the governments don't know it. And it isn't 100% true.

Architecture Manual

  • Overall architecture
  • The interaction between Sugar and Activities, especially collaboration
  • DBus protocols
  • etc.

User Manual

Simplified user guide exists, and is being translated into some of the needed languages. We need Spanish ASAP.

Repair Manual

See Roy Doty's Wordless Workshop for the right way to do this, so it doesn't need translating.

  • XO design requirements and test data
    • Drop tests
    • Heat tests
    • Liquids
    • Dust and sand
    • Electrical
    • Safety
  • Open Firmware diagnostics
  • Disassembly and reassembly
  • Frankenputers
  • Battery life

The school server will require a rather different guide. What else is there? The gang charger and what?

Hardware Manuals

In progress.

Inside the OLPC XO: Hardware

In the manner of the original Peter Norton book on the IBM PC

Inside the OLPC School Server

OLPC XO Hardware Developers Guide

Current and future

Software Manuals

In progress.

Inside the OLPC XO: Software

(Also in Norton manner)

Packaging/Downloading Guide

Testing Guide

  • how to write test plans
  • who tests, how to help test
  • how to read the results of automated / human tests

Build/Release Guide

Programming for Children: The OLPC XO Software Developers Guide

Programming with Children: Tutorials and Explorations

Simple HTML Style Guide

  • Useful for empowering local modification/creation of content.

OLPC System Administration

Let's say you work in a school system in the back of beyond, and have never seen a computer. You find out one day that you are going to be in charge of a school computer system with XOs and a school server. What do you need to know ASAP, and where do you get help?


You don't have to wait until XOs are announced for your country to start localizing Linux, Sugar, and Activities into your languages. Remember you can create a Live CD in your language to run on any x86 computer, including Macs.

Languages of announced target Countries

Give One Get One


OLPC software localization is done on Pootle.

Translation of manuals and textbooks has yet to be organized.


Preparation for localization includes moving all text strings to a separate file, and removing or parameterizing all national, linguistic, ethnic, cultural, and locale references and assumptions.

Localization Process

  • Pootle
  • Software
  • Content
  • Documentation



In progress.

Teacher Training

What is Constructionism?

For each topic

  • What is to be taught?
  • How?
  • At what age?
  • How do we integrate content with computing?
  • We have to start with existing paper textbooks.
  • We have to proceed by creating electronic versions of these existing textbooks.

Then we have to think.

  • Textbooks were designed before the age of printing. Lectures were created so that students could write out their own copies of the textbook. The divisions of subjects that we use today come from the accidents of their creation, not from what we know about what children are capable of absorbing at a particular age.
  • How do we make effective use of the power of computing in creating new textbooks?
  • Most school systems in the world today were created by imperial powers for their colonies. They were designed to produce a compliant bureaucracy and military to keep the population in order while their territories were pillaged. Such systems are not suitable to free peoples. What is? Where can we have this discussion with parents, children, teachers, and the rest of society?
  • We have to have teach them what the internet is and how to use it. See Wikipedia's Internet Page

How to Learn

  • If you teach children to fish, and to make high-tech fishing gear, they will catch all the fish and destroy the fishery.
  • If you show children how to find out how the world works, they will maintain it.

See also Learned Helplessness. Those who have not learned to be helpless can learn anything. Those who have learned to be helpless can barely learn what they are taught.


The mathematical know-how taught in schools, including arithmetic, plane geometry, and solving equations, is necessary, but is a small part of mathematics. Mathematics as practiced by mathematicians is a process of open-ended discovery and rigorous verification of patterns, where there is never only one right answer. Understanding is the goal, but wonder is the heart of the enterprise. "Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare."--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Mathematics has an ethical imperative: proof overrides our preferences.

In mathematics whatever is once proved stays proved, until it is shown to be a special case of a much more general version of mathematics. The most notable such cases are the extensions of numbers to the negative and complex realms; the transition from Euclidean to much more general geometry; and from Peano's proof that there is only one structure fulfilling the axioms of the natural numbers to the non-standard arithmetics of Abraham Robinson and John Horton Conway. Some of the extensions of the numbers are within the realm of elementary-school math. Complex numbers, non-Euclidean geometry, and higher-dimensional geometry can be introduced in high school. Non-standard arithmetics have been moving from the graduate to the undergraduate curriculum over several decades, and will continue to work their way downward, since they make it much easier to teach calculus.


Science is not about knowing how to get the "right" answers to problems. It is about the process of discovery of the most wondrous part of the wonders of nature: how they work. It is at its best when experiments get the wrong answers according to current theory: the Ultraviolet Catastrophe, the photoelectric effect, the Michelson-Morley experiments, the perihelion of Mercury. That is when new branches of science are created. In the cases cited, these are Quantum Mechanics (both emission and absorption of photons), Special Relativity, and General Relativity. Einstein contributed greatly to the advance of Quantum Mechanics because he couldn't believe it. He came up with a multitude of experiments designed to refute Quantum Mechanics, and each one confirmed it instead. Einstein had a lot of trouble in school, in part because he understood more than his teachers.

Science has ethical imperatives: Evidence in favor of effective theories overrides our preferences. Evidence against current theory requires us to revise current theory or find a better one. Speak up when government or society misuses knowledge or tries to suppress the truth.


A biological imperative.


A biological imperative.


Health is an ethical imperative in itself.


True history, not the self-aggrandizement of nations.

New histories of every country that gets the laptops, researched and written by the children.


Isn't it funny how the Global Village includes everybody but the villagers?


  • The correct English word for a person who speaks several languages is "polyglot".
  • The correct English word for a person who speaks only one language is "American".

Languages are an imperative.

  • Have children research and write Wikipedia articles in their own languages.
  • Have children translate Wikipedia articles from and to their native languages.

Project: Our language - Children create webpages to teach their own local language to others, using pictures for basic concrete vocabulary with text (and self-recorded audio) of each word.


Getting involved is an imperative.

  • "Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty."--Thomas Jefferson
  • "Fiat iustitia, ruat caelum." (Let Justice be done, though the Heavens fall.)--Roman legal maxim

The Economics of the XO

Free Trade is an imperative. Free for corporations and not for people doesn't count. The XO can bring several billion people into markets that are currently inaccessible, and it doesn't stop there.

Schoolchildren in Business

It is traditional for high school students to have after-school jobs, and for all schoolchildren in farm families to have chores that contribute to family production. What should we do for countries that have no burgers to flip, nor anything else? How about teaching students around the world to go into business together, and tap into markets that have lots more money? What do they need to know? Whom do they need to make contact with? How do they get financed?

Jobs are an imperative. If governments don't do it, the kids will have to themselves.

Phys Ed

On a computer??! Well, that's one of the ways Olympic athletes do it these days.


Everybody should know what other religions say, and what their adherents do.

The essential texts of the world religions are available online in the original languages and numerous translations.

There are supposed to be a lot of religious imperatives, but there is not much agreement on them. It may be that religious questions are more useful. For example, are we all one people in the sight of (insert preferred deity, if any)? Or do we divide into Us (real people) and Them (beasts? subhuman monsters? infidels? what?).

OLPC Extras (samples)



  • The Cartoon History of the Universe I: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great, by Larry Gonick
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe II: From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome (and India, too!), by Larry Gonick
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance, by Larry Gonick
  • The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 1: From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution, by Larry Gonick
  • Cartoon History of the United States, by Larry Gonick
  • The Cartoon Guide to U.S. History: 1865-Now (Cartoon Guide to U. S. History), by Larry Gonick


  • Mathematics and the Imagination, by Edward Kasner and James Newman (source of the word "googol")
  • One, Two, Three...Infinity, by George Gamow
  • Flatland, by Edwin Abbott
  • The Planiverse, by A. K. Dudeney
  • Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays, by Elwyn R. Berlekamp, John Horton Conway, and Richard K. Guy
  • Non-standard Analysis by Abraham Robinson
  • Non-Euclidean Geometry by H. S. M. Coxeter
  • A Course in the Geometry of n Dimensions by M. G. Kendall
  • Cartoon Guide to Statistics, by Larry Gonick


A large number of books by Isaac Asimov, including

  • The World of Carbon
  • The World of Nitrogen
  • Only a Trillion
  • The Intelligent Person's Guide to Science

and others

  • Kitchen Chemistry, by Ted Lister and Heston Blumenthal
  • Physics by Inquiry, by Lillian C. McDermott and Univ. of Washington
  • The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry, by Larry Gonick and Craig Criddle
  • The Cartoon Guide to Physics, by Larry Gonick and Art Huffman
  • The Cartoon Guide to Genetics (Updated Edition), by Larry Gonick and Mark Wheelis
  • Cartoon Guide to the Environment, by Larry Gonick and Alice Outwater


  • The Cartoon Guide to Sex, by Larry Gonick

Information and Communications

  • The Cartoon Guide to the Computer by Larry Gonick and Mark Wheelis
  • The Cartoon Guide to (Non) Communication : The Use and Misuse of Information in the Modern World, by Larry Gonick