[OLPC Brasil] Fwd: Sic Transit Gloria Laptopi

alexandre van de sande alexandrevandesande at gmail.com
Tue May 13 21:11:09 EDT 2008

escrito fascinantemente honesto e direto ao ponto do ivan kristic.  
pode-se ler nas entrelinhas coisas teerivis mas outras cmaravilhosas

Begin forwarded message:

> Date: 13 de maio de 2008 21h3min36s GMT-03:00
> Subject: Sic Transit Gloria Laptopi
> Source: Planet OLPC
> Author: Ivan Krstić
> Photo: Walter shows me improvements to the Record activity at the  
> Lima coastline, Peru.
> I’ve been displeased with the quality of community discourse  
> surrounding the recent OLPC announcement of moving to Windows as the  
> OS platform. I decided to withhold comment at the time, and was  
> swayed only by the half-dozen volunteers mailing me personally to  
> ask whether all their work had been in vain. It hadn’t. And then I  
> left to travel for a few days.
> I just caught up with my mail and RSS feeds, and what I’ve read has  
> moved me from displeased to angry. So I’m going to comment after  
> all, and it’ll be my last OLPC-related essay for the foreseeable  
> future. But first, some background.
> The beginning
> Throughout his life, Nicholas Negroponte worked with education and  
> technology luminaries like Alan Kay and Seymour Papert. In the early  
> 80s, Nicholas and Seymour ran a pilot program backed by the French  
> government that placed Apple ][ machines in a suburban computing  
> center in Dakar, Senegal. The project was a spectacular flop due to  
> mismanagement and personality conflicts. In '83, barely a year after  
> the experiment started, MIT's Technology Review magazine published  
> its damning epitaph:
> Naturally, it failed. Nothing is that independent, especially an  
> organization backed by a socialist government and staffed by highly  
> individualistic industry visionaries from around the world. Besides,  
> altruism has a credibility problem in an industry that thrives on  
> intense commercial competition.
> By the end of the Center's first year, Papert had quit, so had  
> American experts Nicholas Negroponte and Bob Lawler. It had become a  
> battlefield, scarred by clashes of management style, personality,  
> and political conviction. It never really recovered. The new French  
> government has done the Center a favor in closing it down.
> But both Nicholas and Seymour emerged from the ashes of the Dakar  
> pilot with their faith in the premise of children learning naturally  
> with computers intact. Armed with the lessons from the Senegal  
> failure, it was perhaps only a matter of time before they tried again.
> Indeed, Seymour tried again only a couple of years later: the Media  
> Lab was founded in 1985 and immediately started supporting Project  
> Headlight, an attempt to infuse constructionist learning into the  
> complete curriculum of the Hennigan school, a public elementary  
> school in Boston consisting mostly of minority students.
> Fast forward almost two decades, to around 2000. Former Newsweek  
> foreign correspondent turned philanthropist, Bernie "one-man United  
> Nations" Krisher convinced Nicholas and his wife Elaine to join  
> Bernie's program of building schools in Cambodia. Nicholas bought  
> used Panasonic Toughbooks for one school, and his son Dimitri taught  
> there for a time.
> "Surely," the thinking went, "there has to be a way to scale this."  
> And the rest of the story is familiar: Nicholas wooed Mary Lou  
> Jepsen while she was interviewing for a faculty position at the Lab,  
> and told her about his crazy idea for an organization called One  
> Laptop per Child. She came on board as CTO. Towards the end of 2005,  
> the organization left stealth mode with a bang: Nicholas announced  
> it with Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize winner and then-Secretary- 
> General of the United Nations, at a global summit in Tunis.
> The part that bears repeating is that Nicholas' constructionism- 
> based computer learning project in Senegal was a complete disaster:  
> modulo commentary on the personalities and egos involved, it  
> demonstrated nothing about anything. And Krisher's Cambodia project,  
> the one evidently successful enough to motivate Nicholas to actually  
> start OLPC, used off-the-shelf laptops running Windows without any  
> constructivist customizations of the OS whatsoever. (They did have  
> some constructionist tools installed as regular applications.)
> What we know
> The truth is, when it comes to large-scale one-to-one computing  
> programs, we're completely in the dark about what actually works,  
> because hey, no one has done a large-scale one-to-one computing  
> program before. Mako Hill writes:
> We know that laptop recipients will benefit from being able to fix,  
> improve, and translate the software on their laptops into their own  
> languages and contexts. ... We can help foster a world where  
> technology is under the control of its users, and where learning is  
> under the terms of its students — a world where every laptop owner  
> has freedom through control over the technology they use to  
> communicate, collaborate, create, and learn. It is the reason that  
> OLPC's embrace of constructionist philosophy is so deeply important  
> to its mission and the reason that its mission needs to continue to  
> be executed with free and open source software. It is why OLPC needs  
> to be uncompromising about software freedom.
> This kind of bright-eyed idealism is appealing, but alas, just not  
> backed by fact. No, we don't know that laptop recipients will  
> benefit from fixing software on their laptops. Indeed, I bet they'd  
> largely prefer the damn software works and doesn't need fixing.  
> While we think and even hope that constructionist principles, as  
> embodied in the free software culture, are helpful to education,  
> presenting the hopes as rooted in fact is simply deceitful.
> As far as I know, there is no real study anywhere that demonstrates  
> constructionism works at scale. There is no documented moderate- 
> scale constructionist learning pilot that has been convincingly  
> successful; when Nicholas points to "decades of work by Seymour  
> Papert, Alan Kay, and Jean Piaget", he's talking about theory. He  
> likes to mention Dakar, but doesn't like to mention how that pilot  
> ended — or that no real facts about the validity of the approach  
> came out of it. And there sure as hell doesn't exist a peer-reviewed  
> study (or any other kind, to my knowledge) showing free software  
> does any better than proprietary software when it comes to aiding  
> learning, or that children prefer the openness, or that they care  
> about software freedom one bit.
> Keeping that in mind, Richard Stallman's missive on the subject just  
> riled me up:
> Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless. Its  
> functioning is secret, so it is incompatible with the spirit of  
> learning. Teaching children to use a proprietary (non-free) system  
> such as Windows does not make the world a better place, because it  
> puts them under the power of the system's developer — perhaps  
> permanently. You might as well introduce the children to an  
> addictive drug.
> Oh, for fuck's sake. You really just employed a simile comparing a  
> proprietary OS to addictive drugs? You know, ones causing actual  
> bodily harm and possibly death? Really, Stallman? Really?
> If proprietary software is half as good as free software at aiding  
> children's learning, you're damn right it makes the world a better  
> place to get the software out to children. Hell, if it doesn't  
> actively inhibit learning, it makes the world a better place. The  
> problem is that Stallman doesn't appear to actually give an  
> acrobatic shit about learning, and sees OLPC as a vehicle for  
> furthering his political agenda. It's shameful, the lot of it.
> While we're on the subject
> One of the favorite arguments of the free software and open source  
> community for the obvious superiority of such software over  
> proprietary alternatives is the user's supposed ability to take  
> control and modify inadequate software to suit their wishes.  
> Expectedly, the argument has been often repeated in relation to OLPC.
> I can't possibly be the only one seeing that the emperor has no  
> clothes.
> I started using Linux in '95, before most of today's Internet-using  
> general public knew there existed an OS outside of Windows. It took  
> a week to configure X to work with my graphics card, and I learned  
> serious programming because I later needed to add support for a SCSI  
> hard drive that wasn't recognized properly. (Not knowing that C and  
> kernel hacking are supposed to be "hard", I kept at it for three  
> months until I learned enough to write a patch that works.) I've  
> been primarily a UNIX user since then, alternating between Debian,  
> FreeBSD and later Ubuntu, and recently co-writing a best-selling  
> Linux book.
> About eight months ago, when I caught myself fighting yet another  
> battle with suspend/resume on my Linux-running laptop, I got so  
> furious that I went to the nearest Apple store and bought a MacBook.  
> After 12 years of almost exclusive use of free software, I switched  
> to Mac OS X. And you know, shitty power management and many other  
> hassles aren't Linux's fault. The fault lies with needlessly  
> secretive vendors not releasing documentation that would make it  
> possible for Linux to play well with their hardware. But until the  
> day comes when hardware vendors and free software developers find  
> themselves holding hands and spontaneously bursting into one giant  
> orgiastic Kumbaya, that's the world we live in. So in the meantime,  
> I switched to OS X and find it to be an overwhelmingly more  
> enjoyable computing experience. I still have my free software UNIX  
> shell, my free software programming language, my free software ports  
> system, my free software editor, and I run a bunch of free software  
> Linux virtual machines. The vast, near-total majority of computer  
> users aren't programmers. Of the programmers, a vast, near-total  
> majority don't dare in the Land o' Kernel tread. As one of the  
> people who actually can hack my kernel to suit, I find that I don't  
> miss the ability in the least. There, I said it. Hang me for treason.
> My theory is that technical people, especially when younger, get a  
> particular thrill out of dicking around with their software. Much  
> like case modders, these folks see it as a badge of honor that they  
> spent countless hours compiling and configuring their software to  
> oblivion. Hey, I was there too. And the older I get, the more I want  
> things to work out of the box. Ubuntu is getting better at  
> delivering that experience for novice users. Serious power users  
> seem to find that OS X is unrivaled at it.
> I used to think that there was something wrong with me for thinking  
> this. Then I started looking at the mail headers on mailing lists  
> where I hang out, curious about what other folks I respect were  
> using. It looks like most of the luminaries in the security  
> community, one of the most hardcore technical communities on the  
> planet, use OS X.
> And lest you think this is some kind of Apple-paid rant, I'll  
> mention Mitch Bradley. Have you read the story of Mel, the "real"  
> programmer? Mitch is that guy, in 2008. Firmware superhacker, author  
> of the IEEE Open Firmware standard, wrote the firmware that Sun  
> shipped on its machines for a good couple of decades, and in general  
> one of the few people I've ever had the pleasure of working with  
> whose technical competence so inordinately exceeds mine that I feel  
> I wouldn't even know how to start catching up. Mitch's primary  
> laptop runs Windows.
> Sleight of hand
> But really, I digress. The point is that OLPC was supposed to be  
> about learning, not free software. And the most upsetting part of  
> the Windows announcement is not that it exposed the actual agendas  
> of a number of project participants which had nothing to do with  
> learning, but that Nicholas' misdirection and sleight of hand were  
> allowed to stand.
> The whole "we're investing into Sugar, it'll just run on Windows"  
> gambit is sheer nonsense. Nicholas knows quite well that Sugar won't  
> magically become better simply by virtue of running on Windows  
> rather than Linux. In reality, Nicholas wants to ship plain XP  
> desktops. He's told me so. That he might possibly fund a Sugar  
> effort to the side and pay lip service to the notion of its  
> "availability" as an option to purchasing countries is at best a  
> tepid effort to avert a PR disaster.
> In fact, I quit when Nicholas told me — and not just me — that  
> learning was never part of the mission. The mission was, in his  
> mind, always getting as many laptops as possible out there; to say  
> anything about learning would be presumptuous, and so he doesn't  
> want OLPC to have a software team, a hardware team, or a deployment  
> team going forward.
> Yeah, I'm not sure what that leaves either.
> There are three key problems in one-to-one computer programs:  
> choosing a suitable device, getting it to children, and using it to  
> create sustainable learning and teaching experiences. They're listed  
> in order of exponentially increasing difficulty.
> The industry didn't want to tackle the first one because there was  
> little profit in it. OLPC successfully made them do it in the most  
> effective way possible: by threatening to steal their lunch. But  
> industry laptop manufacturers still don't want to tackle deployment,  
> because it's really, really fucking hard, isn't within a 100-mile  
> radius of their core competency, and generally has a commercial ROI  
> that makes baby Cthulhu cry.
> Peru's first deployment module consisted of 40 thousand laptops, to  
> be deployed in about 570 schools across jungles, mountains, plains,  
> and with total variance in electrical availability and uniformly no  
> existing network infrastructure. A number of the target schools are  
> in places requiring multiple modes of transportation to reach, and  
> that are so remote that they're not even serviced by the postal  
> service. Laptop delivery was going to be performed by untrusted  
> vendors who are in a position to steal the machines en masse. There  
> is no easy way to collect manifests of what actually got delivered,  
> where, and to whom. It's not clear how to establish a procedure for  
> dealing with malfunctioning units, or those dead on arrival.  
> Compared to dealing with this, the technical work I do is vacation.
> Other than the incredible Carla Gomez-Monroy who worked on setting  
> up the pilots, there was no one hired to work on deployment while I  
> was at OLPC, with Uruguay's and Peru's combined 360,000 laptop  
> rollout in progress. I was parachuted in as the sole OLPC person to  
> deal with Uruguay, and sent to Peru at the last minute. And I'm  
> really good at thinking on my feet, but what the shit do I know  
> about deployment? Right around that time, Walter was demoted and  
> theoretically made the "director of deployment," a position where he  
> directed his expansive team of — himself. Then he left, and get  
> this: now the company has half a million laptops in the wild, with  
> no one even pretendingto be officially in charge of deployment. "I  
> quit," Walter told me on the phone after leaving, "because I can't  
> continue to work on a lie."
> It's not like OLPC was caught unawares, or somehow forgot that this  
> was going to be an issue. I wrote in an internal memo in December:
> We have multiple concurrent rollouts of differing scale in progress  
> — Uruguay with eight thousand machines, G1G1 with potentially a  
> quarter million — and with at least Peru and Mongolia on the  
> horizon within a month from now. We have no real support  
> infrastructure for these rollouts, our development process is not  
> allocating any time for dealing with critical deployment issues that  
> (will inevitably) come up, and we have no process for managing the  
> crises that will ensue. I wish I could say this is the bulk of our  
> problems, but I mention these first simply because I predict it's  
> these deployments that will impose the heaviest burden on this  
> organization in the coming months — a burden we're presently  
> entirely unprepared to handle.
> ...
> We still have not a single employee focusing on deployment, helping  
> to plan it, working with our target countries to learn what works  
> and what doesn't. Evidently our "deployment plan" is to send  
> whichever hotshot superhacker we have available to each country such  
> that he may fix any problems that arise on the spot. If that is not  
> in fact our plan, then we have no plan at all.
> That OLPC was never serious about solving deployment, and that it  
> seems to no longer be interested in even trying, is criminal. Left  
> uncorrected, it will turn the project into a historical fuckup  
> unparalleled in scale.
> As for the last key problem, transforming laptops into learning is a  
> non-trivial leap of logic, and one that remains inadequately  
> explained. No, we don't know that it'll work, especially not without  
> teachers. And that's okay — the way to find out whether it works  
> might well be by trying. Sometimes you have to run before you can  
> walk, yeah? But most of us who joined OLPC believed that the  
> educational ideology behind the project is what actually set it  
> apart from similar endeavors in the past. Learning which is open,  
> collaborative, shared, and exploratory — we thought that's what  
> could make OLPC work. Because people have tried plain laptop  
> learning projects in the past, and as the New York Times noted on  
> its front page not so long ago, they crashed and burned.
> Nicholas' new OLPC is dropping those pesky education goals from the  
> mission and turning itself into a 50-person nonprofit laptop  
> manufacturer, competing with Lenovo, Dell, Apple, Asus, HP and Intel  
> on their home turf, and by using the one strategy we know doesn't  
> work. But hey, I guess they'll sell more laptops that way.
> Broken windows theory
> I've tried to establish already that there's no evidence that free  
> software provides a superior learning experience when compared to a  
> proprietary operating system. This point bears some elaboration.  
> Bernie Innocenti, until recently the CTO for the fledgling OLPC  
> Europe, a few days ago wrote:
> I myself wouldn't oppose a Windows port of Sugar. I would never  
> waste my time on it, or encourage anyone to waste their time on it,  
> but it's free software and thus anyone is free to port it to  
> anything they wish.
> Stallman similarly called a Windows port of Sugar "not a good thing  
> to do". Here's the thing: such a port is only a waste of time if  
> free software is not the means here, but an end. At Nicholas'  
> solicitation, I wrote an internal memo on software strategy in early  
> March. It was co-signed by Marco Pesenti Gritti, the inimitable  
> Sugar team lead. I am not at liberty to reproduce the entire  
> document, but I will quote the most relevant section with minimal  
> redactions:
> ... We [argue strongly that we should] decouple the Sugar UI from  
> the Sugar technologies we’ve developed such as sharing,  
> collaboration, the presence service, the data store, and so forth.  
> We may then make those services run well in a regular Linux desktop  
> environment and redefine the Sugar activity concept to simply be any  
> Linux desktop application capable of using the Sugar services. The  
> Sugar UI itself could, optionally and at a later date, be provided  
> as a graphical launcher, perhaps developed by the community.
> The core mistake of the present Sugar approach is that it couples  
> phenomenally powerful ideas about learning — that it should be  
> shared, collaborative, peer to peer, and open — with the notion  
> that these ideas must come presented in an entirely new graphical  
> paradigm. We reject this coupling as untenable.
> Choosing to reinvent the desktop UI paradigm means we are spending  
> our extremely overconstrained resources fighting graphical  
> interfaces, not developing better tools for learning. … It is most  
> important to recognize that the graphical paradigm changes are  
> inessential both to our core mission and to the Sugar core ideas.
> We gain a plethora of benefits from detaching the technologies that  
> directly support the mode of learning we care about from the Sugar  
> UI. Notably, it becomes far easier to spread these ideas and  
> technologies across platforms — our UI components are the hardest  
> parts to port. If the underlying Sugar technologies were made easily  
> available for all major OSes, we could leverage the creativity and  
> work of the wider development community to build applications on top  
> of our core offerings, creating a diverse ecosystem of powerful  
> learning tools. Those tools could then be used by learners globally  
> and on any computer, XO or otherwise. This should have been our aim  
> all along. Many of the technologies we’ve built would be welcomed  
> with arms wide open into modern Linux desktops, and a large number  
> of developers would likely get engaged with them if we provided the  
> possibility. In contrast to the current situation, such a model must  
> be the direction where we take things: OLPC benevolently steering  
> development which is mostly done by the community.
> Finally, with regard to the politically-sensitive question of  
> OLPC’s commitment to open source, we think there is a simple and  
> uncomplicated answer: OLPC’s policy should be that all OLPC- 
> developed software is open source and uses open standards and open  
> formats. We don’t think a stronger commitment is necessary. Our  
> preference for open source should stem solely from the conviction  
> that it provides a better learning environment than closed-source  
> alternatives. As such, having an open source cross-platform set of  
> core technologies for building collaborative learning applications  
> makes a tremendous amount of sense. But fundamentally, requiring  
> that a particular UI or even OS are used seems entirely superfluous;  
> we should be satisfied with any environment where our core  
> technologies can be used as building blocks for delivering the  
> learning experience we care so strongly about.
> At the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter to the educational  
> mission what kernel is running Sugar. If Sugar itself remains open  
> and free — which, thus far, has never been in question — all of  
> the relevant functionality such as the ‘view source’ key remains  
> operational, on Windows or not. OLPC should never take steps to  
> willingly limit the audience for its learning software. Windows is  
> the most widely used operating system in existence. A Windows- 
> compatible Sugar would bring its rich learning vision to potentially  
> tens or hundreds of millions of children all over the world whose  
> parents already own a Windows computer, be it laptop or desktop. To  
> suggest this is a bad course of action because it’s philosophically  
> impure is downright evil.
> And hey, maybe a Windows version of Sugar gets kids sufficiently  
> interested in computer innards to actually want to switch to Linux.  
> Trolltech, the company behind the Qt graphical toolkit, was recently  
> purchased by Nokia and announced it’ll be adding platform support  
> for the mobile version of Windows, apparently to accusations of  
> treason in the free software community. But Trolltech’s CTO Benoit  
> Schillings doesn’t think that’s right:
> Some critics are concerned that Trolltech’s support for Windows  
> Mobile could limit the growth of mobile and embedded Linux  
> technologies, but Schillings sees things differently. By enabling  
> application developers to create a single code base that can  
> seamlessly move across platforms, he says that Trolltech is making  
> it easier for companies that are currently using Windows Mobile to  
> transition to Linux, which he thinks will mean more adoption of the  
> open source operating system in the long run.
> The man speaks wisely.
> Now, pay close attention: while I’m unequivocally enthusiastic  
> about Sugar being ported to every OS out there, I’m absolutely  
> opposed to Windows as the single OS that OLPC offers for the XO. The  
> two matters are completely orthogonal, and Nicholas’ attempt to  
> conflate them by calling the open source community  
> “fundamentalists” (and watching the community foam at the mouth  
> instead of picking apart his logic) is just another bit of  
> misdirection. Not that anyone should really feel offended, since  
> he’s made it a habit to call his employees terrorists.
> OLPC should be philosophically pure about its own machines. Being a  
> non-profit that leverages goodwill from a tremendous number of  
> community volunteers for its success and whose core mission is one  
> of social betterment, it has a great deal of social responsibility.  
> It should not become a vehicle for creating economic incentives for  
> a particular vendor. It should not believe the nonsense about  
> Windows being a requirement for business after the children grow up.  
> Windows is a requirement because enough people grew up with it, not  
> the other way around. If OLPC made a billion people grow up with  
> Linux, Linux would be just dandy for business. And OLPC shouldn’t  
> make its sole OS one that cripples the very hardware that supposedly  
> set the project’s laptops apart: released versions of Windows can  
> neither make good use of the XO power management, nor its full mesh  
> or advanced display capabilities.
> Most importantly, the OS that OLPC ships should be one that embodies  
> the culture of learning that OLPC adheres to. The culture of open  
> inquiry, diverse cooperative work, of freely doing and debugging —  
> this is important. OLPC has a responsibility to spread the culture  
> of freedom and ideas that support its educational mission; that  
> cannot be done by only offering a proprietary operating system for  
> the laptops.
> Put differently, OLPC can’t claim to be preoccupied with learning  
> and not with training children to be office computer drones, while  
> at the same time being coerced by hollow office drone rhetoric to  
> deploy the computers with office drone software. Nicholas used to  
> say the thought of the XOs being used to teach 6-year olds Word and  
> Excel made him cringe. Apparently, no longer so. Which is it? The  
> vacillation needs to stop. As they say in the motherland: shit or  
> get off the pot.
> How to go forward
> Here’s a paragraph from one of my last e-mails to Nicholas, sent  
> shortly after I resigned:
> I continue to think it’s a crying shame you’re not taking  
> advantage of how OLPC is positioned. Now that it’s goaded the  
> industry into working on low-cost laptops, OLPC could become a focus  
> point for advocating constructionism, making educational content  
> available, providing learning software, and keeping track of  
> worldwide [one-to-one] deployments and the lessons arising from  
> them. When a country chooses to do [a one-to-one computer program],  
> OLPC could be the one-stop shop that actually works with them to  
> make it happen, regardless of which laptop manufacturer is chosen,  
> banking on the deployment plans it’s cultivated from experience and  
> the readily available base of software and content it keeps. In  
> other words, OLPC could be the IBM Global Services of one-to-one  
> laptop programs. This, I maintain, is the right way to go forward.
> I’m trying to convince Walter not to start a Sugar Foundation, but  
> an Open Learning Foundation. For those who still care about learning  
> in this whole clusterfuck of conflicting agendas, the charge should  
> be to start that organization, since OLPC doesn’t want to be it.  
> Having a company that is device-agnostic and focuses entirely on the  
> learning ecosystem, from deployment to content to Sugar, is not only  
> what I think is sorely needed to really take the one-to-one computer  
> efforts to the next level, but also an approach that has a good  
> chance of making the organization doing the work self-sustaining at  
> some point.
> So here’s to open learning, to free software, to strength of  
> personal conviction, and to having enough damn humility to remember  
> that the goal is bringing learning to a billion children across the  
> globe. The billion waiting for us to put our idiotic trifles aside,  
> end our endless yapping, and get to it already.
> Let’s get to it already.
> My thanks to Walter Bender and Marco P. Gritti for reading drafts of  
> this essay.
> Read more…

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