Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The iBook and the XO-1

3.5 years ago, my daughter and I assembled from parts an iBook. The donor computers for the new Franken-iBook came from eBay, and we had purchased them at the time to get our original 500Mhz dual USB white iBook going again. It had stopped charging its battery.

The original iBook was the camels nose under the tent wall: It was purchased used from someone at the office, and was mostly an experiment to see what the new Apple world with OS.X was all about. I was deeply curious about OS.X because I had used previous MacOS version and did not like them. OS.X, with its BSD underpinnings seemed to me to be the first OS from Apple I could get into.. and it was. That was then. Now we have an all Linux and Mac household, with MS Windows only around for historical reference and research.

That original (to us) iBook unit failed when something called the "DC-in" failed. Looks like this:

... but I did not know anything about Mac / iBook hardware at the time, so we bought a pile of broken iBooks from eBay to experiment on what it would take to get it going again: the iBook was sorely missed, and seemed worth the gamble / experiment.

iBooks are a nightmare to take apart. No kind way to put it. Apple really never meant for it to be and end-user operation. Here is the procedure over at ifixit for how one gets at the DC-in bit and replaces it: Even after having done it many times now, it still takes me at least two hours to get the iBook apart, the part replaced, and the iBook reassembled.

Once the original iBook was running, my daughter and I looked at the pile of parts, and decided we had enough bits to get another iBook assembled as a gift. We tested various things like screens and motherboards, and got together a 500 Mhz iBook and gave it to my brother for Xmas in 2005. It was the perfect gift we thought: Something he would never buy for himself, something we had spent hours making, and would help free him and his wife from MS Windows.

He powered it up, used it for a bit, and we noticed something. It was not charging. It had been when we built it, but it was not anymore. He had the time  of one battery charge to play with it. Having just been through that "No Charge" thing on my iBook I suspected, and it did in fact turn out to be turned out to be the DC-in bit. His gift was a few days late, since I took it home, and replaced the DC-in with another from the junk pile and tested it again.

That DC-in lasted 3.5 years, but it apparently had failed again.

My brothers other computer is the Mint 4 handbuilt desktop box I gave him a while back, and that was fine for email, web surfing, and school work, but you can not sit if front of the TV looking up stuff, like "What other stuff did that actor / actress star in? They look so familiar....". The iBook had been that computer for them for years. But I had to haul it away for another screwdriver session.

At some point repairing iBooks, or really any computer, becomes like that joke about the hammer: "I like this hammer. It is my favorite one! I like it so much I have replaced the head twice and the handle three times."

I had with me (as at all times) my OLPC XO-1. I handed it to them as a replacement for the iBook till it was repaired, showed them how to open up the lid by first flipping up the ears (this always gets adults for some reason). There was general notice of how cute it was, how tiny the keyboard is, etc. By the time I got home I had an email from my brother from gmail and the XO-1 about how much they liked the little unit. It would be fine till the iBook was back among the living.

This made me feel better: While I was pretty sure the problem was the DC-in bit as ususal, if it *wasn't*, I was going to give them the XO-1 as their in-house laptop. That they actually liked it helped make that idea easier.

I ordered a new part from pbparts (although ifixit has them too), and a week later it arrived. I put it in last night, and the iBook is back among the living again. With a fresh rather than used part, I hope it will last another 3 years at least. The next thing to fail will probably be something other than the DC-in.. you would think. Although this is clearly not a quality part / design relative to other parts of the iBook... or any other Apple gear.

Once nice thing about the iBook is that it looks like, at least for now, that parts are plentiful, and this one can keep rising from the dead for years (like the proverbial favorite hammer): at least until Macbooks drop down to this pricepoint, when it will probably be time to move on.

Even nicer though is that the XO-1 was there and worked for them for what they wanted it to do: be the living room laptop. Given the way the XO-1 is built, it should be able to do that for a very very long time to come. Aaannnnd .... it is cute as a bug and runs Linux. Hard to beat that.

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