Microsoft Upbeat about Windows on the OLPC's XO

The company is conducting field trials to ensure the OS can work well with the low-priced PC.

Microsoft is conducting field trials to ensure that a modified version of Windows XP SP2 will be able to run well on the One Laptop Per Child's XO machine and that it will be able to support customers with a good experience on that hardware.

"We are encouraged by what we have seen of Windows on the XO machine so far, and field trials started at the end of January involving about 200 XO machines running a customized version of Windows XP SP2 with a reduced footprint image," Orlando Ayala, senior vice president of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential Group, told eWEEK.

The Unlimited Potential team is tasked with getting Windows XP to work well on the OLPC, and is the same group responsible for the FlexGo pay-as-you-go Windows and Office Trials and the Windows Starter Edition.

The field trials have been broken into two phases: the first is intended to technically challenge the new BIOS and drivers, while the second will reach out to students and teachers in emerging market countries and in real-world school scenarios.

Phase 1 is already underway in Seattle and is expected to run through this month. The planning for the second phase is still under development.

"But we can't ensure Windows support for the XO until these field trials are completed and they yield a rock-solid customer experience," Ayala said.

That explains why enthusiasm out of Microsoft for the project has been more muted than that of OLPC founder, MIT whiz Nicholas Negroponte, who recently indicated that Windows on these machines was a done deal and ready to go.

Asked about Negroponte's comments, all Ayala would say is, "I presume the reason Negroponte was excited about Windows at CES was that I don't think they expected to see an implementation of Windows running so well on that machine by the time our team met them in Boston a few weeks ago."

However, there are still a couple of "non-trivial technical issues that are unique to the XO" that remain to be ironed out. The XO has no hard drive and only 1GB of built-in memory, but at least 2GB of memory is required for Windows and Office, he said.

A SD slot has been included in the laptop's specification so that a Windows-Office bundle that fits on a 2GB SD can be added to the laptop, which is powered by the Linux-based Sugar operating system.

Microsoft also had to write the right BIOS software so that Windows can boot directly from an SD card, as well as a number of hardware drivers to support things such as the XO's mesh networking, camera, screen and other unique features, Ayala said.

While he declined to say when an XO with Windows XP could be a reality if the field trials go well, that will likely happen sometime later this year.

The software maker also plans to publish formal design guidelines to help flash-based device manufacturers design machines capable of a high-quality Windows experience.

But the road to the XO has not been smooth. Intel recently said it was leaving the OLPC board, which the non-profit organization implied was no big loss, saying the chip giant had contributed little to help the project during its six months with the group.