party 012I’m very fortunate to be in LA right now – the last few days I’ve been in San Francisco. Bragging aside, today I’ve had a chance to play with one of the final units of the One Laptop Per Child scheme over lunch here at the TTI Vanguard Nextgen Technologies conference.

The interesting thing is the conversation around the lunch table as we played with it – apart from a major downer on the Apple iPhone (seriously guys what’s your problem?) – there was a general feeling that the project would fail because no-one would know how to use the thing – and look at it, ‘it’s so damn ugly – who’s going to use that?’

BBC News has quite a nice audio slideshow talking through what happens when it actually turns up in an African village.

From my point of view I found it incredibly difficult to use… it didn’t want to connect to the wi-fi and I couldn’t work out how to access the settings to change things. Then there’s no really easy menu to use, then the keyboard is really strange – nothing is where it should be – and finally there are those silly ‘ears’ that are meant to extend it’s wi-fi range.

But actually… this laptop isn’t meant for me… why would a kid in Africa want to access the wi-fi settings, mess around with the IP address or get under bonnet? They wouldn’t – this is the ultimate ‘just works’ device. Once I gave up trying to ‘work out how to get it working’ and ‘just used it’ – everything came together and for the first time since I picked up a mac I’d found something that is going to have a major impact on the world.

How long before Microsoft, Apple and the various mainstream ‘nix distros have to take a look at the user interaction methods of this device and shift their own systems to match?