As you may have heard, I recently acquired an OLPC laptop. At some point I am going to write up my experiences with the OLPC/Sugar software so far (in the meantime, to uphold a promise I made, here are some useful tips for using and setting up software on the OLPC). For now, here are my thoughts on browsing the Web from the OLPC Browse activity.
The killer bit of the Firefox browser, IMHO, was the ability to open multiple Web pages in separate tabs within the same browser window. Of course, internet Explorer now does multiple tabs (in a rainbow of shades) but back in my Windows (pre-IE7) days, I frequently did parallel browsing of websites by simply opening each webpage in a new window. The advantage of multiple tabs is that you don’t end up with a clutter of browser windows all over your taskbar.
I suspect that multiple tabs in browser windows, and (in Firefox at least) being able to bookmark all the tabs at once, has slightly altered how people browse.
Opening in a new window set me off down the path of parallel browsing but multiple tabs ensured I got there. Especially as websites got more interactive and state-sensitive (meaning that you can’t switch to another website then click ‘Back’ to return to your internet banking session). And I got less patient waiting for pages to load (ironic seeing as connection speeds have increased).
So now I’ve started using my OLPC to browse the web occasional when my other laptop is unavailable. This is an interesting, and slightly frustrating, experience.
The Sugar interface on the OLPC basically does away with the idea of windowing environments. That is, you don’t have a desktop on which to drag around and switch between windows. instead, each application (known as an ‘activity’) runs moreorless full-screen, like this:
This means a return to linear browsing. in some ways it’s a liberating experience in that I read what I want to read of the current website or page before moving on the the next. And when reading blogs and the like, I can always click ‘Back’ later. In many ways, though (and i’m a great believer in computers supporting user-behaviour, and not the other way round), it’s just frustrating.
For example, in writing this blog-post, I couldn’t easily open my blog or Andy’s OLPC tips page to check that I used the correct URL in my links. Nor could I quickly check my usage of a word in dictionary.com. I can, and sometimes do, open other instances of the Browse activity – essentially opening in a new window but with a little more effort – but more than three instances, I’ve found, tends to crash the whole lot.
Now, the OLPC and its software isn’t designed for me; it’s an education tool for children in developing countries. On the other hand, how soon before the older or more tech-savvy children start to want to browse in parallel – especially when internet access gets more ubiquitous?
I have resisted putting Firefox on my OLPC but tonight I’m sorely tempted…