Never laid eyes on a Classmate PC in my life outside of the provided demos on the Intel website. This said, I have done fairly extensive testing on the Sugar OS used for OLPC computers. Based on what I have seen, there is no contest – the Classmate stomps the OLPC pc into dust with regard to value for the dollar.

Now this is not a Windows vs Linux argument, as the Classmate also offers Mandriva as an option instead of Windows XP should it be deemed needed. And the Mandriva option provides the same software options (for the most part) as seen on XP in this instance. No, the Sugar OS and Mandriva may both be Linux at their core. But Sugar OS is the single most confusing and least valuable thing I have ever seen.

The classic argument for the archaic nature of the Sugar OS is that it was designed for people who have never even seen a computer before, much less a desktop OS as we know it. Be this as it may, the fact is that their is really nothing compelling or worthwhile offered on the OLPC computers themselves that provide the same level of funcionality as the Classmate running XP or Mandriva.

Where the Classmate has clean, understandable demos illistrating how the various features work, we have a touchy-feel-good speech about how in tune the OLPC is and how it is going to change the world. Nowhere on their website does it clearly indicate to anyone where the actual learning is coming from or what software is to be used to enable kids of the third world to succeed.

This said, there is some basic software offered on the OLPC: Oo Write, an RSS reader, among a number of other applications. Unfortunately, the Classmate PC has a clear advantage as it is able to demonstrate how students will use their computers in lieu of this “Mesh-feel” nonsense with no clear examples given with the OLPC and Sugar OS. Sadly, there was more time “exploring each other’s feelings” than actually creating solutions that are going to allow kids to take what they learn on these machines and use some of it in real life.

At the end of the day, the OLPC is the biggest joke I have ever had to witness. Once thrilled about the idea, today I cannot believe that these things provide anything from a teacher-student standpoint outside of a “trippy” looking user interface. Seriously, no issues with the hardware, but the developers desperately need to rethink the UI. Never used a PC or not, becoming comfortable in something so off-the-wall serves no one as using a typical desktop could one day lead to something like a job in front of a real computer. This is where the Classmate differentiates itself from the OLPC in my opinion.