This was originally a comment to another blog over here, but thought I would save it for my personal OLPC stash too. Enjoy!
Kids get the XO. They get it in ways that I think most of those critical of the program would be surprised by. I don't have a huge sample size, but I do have two of the little buggers (XOs. I'm not calling my kids buggers, really I'm not.) and I've spent some time with other kids we come in contact with on a regular basis, ranging in age from 18 mos old to about 8.
Kids get this machine.
They get that it's for them. They are drawn to it. They think it's the neatest thing in the room. They put down their Nintendo DSs and drop the xbox remotes and ignore the fast computers in the room. I'm not using hyperbole, this has actually happened.
They can't use the XO completely alone. They are fearless explorers and will try anything, but they typically hit a wall a few minutes in. However, a few gentle pointers from an adult or more experienced kid, suggestions for things to try, explanations for activities ("try that one - it's like a memory game where you match up letters") generally gets the kids going in the right direction. No learning experience for a child should take place in a complete vacuum. There is always a role for a more experienced coach/mentor/teacher/adult/student when a child is learning.
The 18 month old couldn't keep her hands off it, when she learned that pressing the keys made the baby giggle in TamTamMini. (this turned out to be a challenge as she didn't want to stop banging on the keys. While I believe the XO is solidly constructed and unlikely to break, I did end up putting it away after 10 minutes.) The 3 year olds crowded around the camera to mug for a shot and take turns making the alien sounds on TamTamMini. The 4.5 year old boy wanted to put a puzzle together after posing with his cousins for a photo (he needed some assistance in loading the picture into the puzzle activity, and yes - I had preinstalled puzzle.) My 6 year old son regularly makes videos (yes, short ones) featuring his playmobil action figures or the little green army men. His 4 year old sister does same with barbies or stuffed animals. She also plays the maze activity in tablet mode, using the gamepad keys to move the cursor around.
We're a technology family. My kids have access to five or six computers with fast internet connections, a few video game consoles, several hand held gaming systems, etc. They have each been using a computer since about age 2, unless you call accidentally emailing mommy's boss by banging on the keys before age 2 as "using a computer." They enjoy their XOs as much, or more than their other systems. They can do far more with their XOs. It's much more open. They haven't even used it much for web browsing, they are content with the activities available (or that we have downloaded.)
The 8 year old used the Write activity to copy info from his favorite Pokemon cards. The 5 year old girl played with TamTamEdit, figuring out things with it that I hadn't yet. My 6 year old son has learned how to make drawings with Turtle Art (yes, with coaching from me although the last time I saw a turtle program it was on an Apple II+ and was white on a black screen.) We've also dabbled in Pippy, and he was very excited to learn about etoys and scratch from some meetups we attended together (I've blogged about meetups with my son here on OLPCNews.com in the past.) He really wants to learn to program lego robots, and I've explained that he needs a grounding in basic computer skills first - understanding the way a computer takes instructions from you and follows them exactly, for instance. The computer is as stupid as you are, the saying goes in our family.
With mesh and two machines, we are able to play connect four against each other, use a chat room, use the acoustic tape measure (although I'm not sure we have it figured out yet) and otherwise collaborate via the mesh network. This feature set is significant, but somewhat unobservable when you only have one XO.
Have I mentioned the part where my kids teach other kids stuff via the XO? That part is pretty cool. To really learn something, try teaching it.
The machines are not without their limits. I agree that the file management metaphor isn't quite there yet. My children, who as young people have fewer ingrained metaphors for file systems in their heads, have trouble finding things they have worked on in the past. I think it's partly due to the different metaphor, partly because the journal page is somewhat slow, and because they aren't actively tagging their things even though that is a natural child behavior (I haven't encouraged them to do that because we aren't using the XOs for regular work, but rather for exploration and learning new things.) I think some improvements can be made in this area.
The speed of the computer requires patience, particularly on bootup and launch of activities. While we can debate the need for speed (and I find it hard to argue with a desire for zippy performance) - patience is not a bad thing for my children to learn when interacting with technology, no matter what the technology may be (the automated check-out system at the library works equally slow, and patience is required when withdrawing money from the automated teller, using the remote on the TV, etc. Things that may not be commonplace in developing nations, but are here.)
So, in closing, I'll mention this again. Kids get this computer, even western kids who have access to other technology. They get it, and are excited about it - even months later when many other Christmas presents are forgotten on the shelves.
I am sorry it didn't meet the needs of the original poster, but suggest we not extrapolate a failure of the goal of the project based on a mismatch in needs/features between an adult and the laptop. There are other adults who have experienced a similar mismatch. And still other adults who are completely satisfied with their friendly green machines and find they are able to meet their needs.
But I'll say it one more time - kids get it.