[Community-news] on Sugar

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Thu Apr 24 01:29:20 EDT 2008

Thanks for talking with us.

On Wed, Apr 23, 2008 at 9:06 AM, Nicholas Negroponte <nn at media.mit.edu> wrote:
>  People keep asking me:
>  Yes, OLPC's commitment to Sugar has changed. It is now larger, not smaller.
> Contrary to inferences drawn by Walter's departure, the press and venerable
> sources such as OLPC News, we are scaling Sugar up, not down. Let me
> explain.

You could fool us. Wait, you did.

>  Sugar is a very good idea, less than perfectly executed. I attribute our
> weakness to unrealistic development goals and practices.

Sugar is an excellent idea, executed better than was thought possible.
I attribute our weakness to almost total lack of communication with
you, and to your unrealistic goals and practices.

In particular, the insistence on the absolute minimum possible cost of
XOs, and the refusal to take the developed world market seriously as
assisting in reaching our real goals.  We could be making a profit on
first-world sales, and plowing the money into all of the other
activities that you and the rest of us agree are needed.

On April 09, 2008, I wrote at

So if I were CEO, what would I do? Well, to start with,

* Change the structure of GiveMany,
http://laptopfoundation.org/participate/givemany.shtml, to Give as
Many as possible on reasonable terms. And don't let Brightstar write
the software for it.

* Create a genuine customer service organization, managed by somebody
who is passionate about the customer.

* Completely revamp communications, starting with a series of press
releases and a Web page where anybody can find them, and press
conferences where we could find out what questions are on the public's

* Hire a Doc Lead and several writers and training specialists, and
add the responsibility for developing a wide range of training
programs. And write a contract with Roy Doty of Wordless Workshop.

* Invite the Peruvians and Nepalese to come and share some of their
training programs with everybody up through MoE level, and even the
legislatures. Get this material localized into English and other

* Reach out to every NGO involved in education and in work on any of
the Millennium Development Goals, inviting contributions and
cooperation of every kind, especially in localization and content.

* Review all internal communication policies and non-policies, and
start telling the volunteers what is really going on.

* Organize a global conference where actual results would be reported,
in addition to having discussions of future plans and possibilities.

* Organize XO Teach-ins at other conferences, and for NGOs and government.

* Create a funded program of research and publication on XOs in
education, and on Constructionist education in full generality. Get
foundations to foot the bill.

* Expand the mission to include Internet connectivity, appropriate
technology for education and business, a business curriculum,
microfinance, and other topics, where we would not do the work
ourselves, but would invite others to do it in cooperation with us.

* Hold bake-offs. Illinois is proposing one right now.

> Our mission has
> never changed. It has been to bring connected laptops for learning to
> children in the poorest and most remote locations of the world. Our mission
> has never been to advocate the perfect learning model or pure Open Source. I

That may be your self-appointed mission, but it is not the mission of
the rest of us. We intend to offer not just the best education
possible, but freedom. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom
from tyranny and lies, freedom of conscience, freedom of trade (not
the current nonsense about free trade for corporations and starvation
for real people), freedom to speak and be heard, and software freedom.
Among all of those big freedoms software freedom doesn't sound like a
big deal, but it is. It is the first stage in an economy of abundance
rather than scarcity, of a shared commons rather than hoarding and
squeezing and beggar thy neighbor. It makes no sense to come so far
and then to throw away so much by selling out to a monopolist.

We are well aware that we do not have the perfect learning model, and
that the XO is not pure Open Source. None of us is under any such
illusion. Nor do we expect to arrive at purity, ever. Only an Open
Source fundamentalist like Theo de Raadt talks that way. His view is
that none of us should be here at all, because of the proprietary
microkernel on the Marvell wireless chip (that we are working on

> believe the best educational tool is constructionism and the best software
> development method is Open Source. In some cases those are best achieved
> like the Trojan Horse, versus direct confrontation or isolating ourselves
> with perfection. Remember the expression: perfection is the enemy of good.
> We need to reach the most children possible and leverage them as the agents
> of change. It makes no sense for us to search for the perfect learning
> model.

We are running over 100,000 units a month, which comes to nearly a
quarter billion dollars revenue in the first year. What is this
nonsense about failure? I understand such talk from those business
publications who feel it to be in their interest to run down Free
Software for daring to compete. But where did you get it from?

Given that huge, astounding measure of success so far, what do we need
Microsoft for? The XO provides unheard-of educational opportunities in
its crude present state, with only a few activities provided. It is
the greenest, ruggedest, lowest-power, lowest-cost laptop on the
planet, with the best available screen technology, by wide margins on
each measure. The competition has to talk about hard drives, big
memory, and "industry compatibility" to justify charging twice as
much, when all of these things are irrelevant to the education
mission. We would wipe the floor with them in a bake-off, assuming
that we got the word out about which measures actually mean anything.
And so, regardless of your half-baked opinion on the matter, I am
going to help OLPC Chicago to help the state of Illinois hold its
HB5000 bake-off, and I am going to exult to the press when we get the

The most important points about the competition between Linux and
Microsoft (because the competition with Windows is simply laughable)
are 1) the value of freedom to the user, and 2) their competing
network effects.

You cannot put a price on freedom, so monopoly power is helpless
against it within the community of those who believe in it, as British
military power was unable to crush the American Revolution, or
Napoleon's army and navy to crush the Haitians. We will pay any price,
bear any burden, etc., etc. (John F. Kennedy) We have nothing to fear,
but fear itself. (FDR) And all the rest of the rhetoric of freedom
over the centuries. Any society that would give up a little liberty to
gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. (Benjamin

The network effect is the set of shared benefits that grow faster than
the size of a user community, whether it is the effect of a shared
language, or culture, or of building roads, or of telephones or e-mail
or the Web. The first part of the network effect of a dominant
operating system and applications is that users have common file
formats and protocols for sharing information. Another is that it
supports an ecosystem of developers to meet many wants. Microsoft gets
a lot of these effects, and billions of dollars in profits from them,
but the effects are much smaller than is possible, simply because its
software is proprietary and its formats and APIs secret, and it has
achieved monopoly control. It would cost Microsoft too much, from its
point of view, to fix the myriad failings of Windows and Office, and
there is no competition to push it to do better. Users can share data
up to a point, but their files are held hostage by Microsoft's
proprietary file formats. Microsoft's proprietary formats and secret
APIs form a barrier to entry not only for would-be competitors, but
for developers wanting to support Windows, and students wanting to
learn it.

Linux is small, and Microsoft is big, but the network effect of Free
Software is already greater than Microsoft's. This is demonstrated by
the fact that Linux continues to grow in the face of such unrelenting
hostility from Microsoft. Microsoft has to pay its employees and bully
the rest of the world in order to hold itself together. The Linux
community is no less self-interested, but it has found quite other
incentives for people to cooperate. Making as much money as possible
is not one of them. Giving back to the community that supports you is.
Freedom is an incentive. Ending poverty is an incentive. Human rights
are an incentive. Not having to think of price before installing a
package is an incentive. Being able to read and change the code is a
major incentive, not just for hackers, but for whole nations that
cannot get Microsoft to support their languages.

>  For this reason, Sugar needs a wider basis, to run on more Linux platforms

We all agree there, and it is going along well. See
Category:Installing Sugar. Ubuntu Hardy Heron includes packaged Sugar,
a major milestone. Scroll down at
http://packages.ubuntu.com/hardy/x11/ .

> and to run under Windows. We have been engaged in discussions with Microsoft
> for several months, to explore a dual boot version of the XO. Some of you
> have seen what Microsoft developed on their own for the XO. It works well
> and now needs Sugar on top of it (so to speak).

I have no objection to Microsoft implementing Windows for the XO, even
though I laugh at it. May the best software win! :-P

But let Microsoft port Sugar to Windows. Why should we spend time and
money to make their money for them, when they won't contribute
anything to us? The Gates Foundation is sitting on tens of billions of
dollars, and apparently has no idea what to do with it. I could make a
few suggestions, but they won't talk to me. How about you?

>  As a non-profit, humanitarian organization, OLPC has a unique position,
> from which it can change the world for children and learning. Laptop makers


> rushing into the low-end marketplace is a perfect example of success of one
> kind. Another will be what kids do outside school and with other kids around
> the world.

How are they going to do that? We have no children on our Wiki or our
mailing lists. We provide no place for them to showcase their work. I
know of one (1) YouTube video by a student with an XO. We have no XO
social networking site, nor a child-centered portal or search engine,
nor anything else for the children.

> A third is what we do.
>  We are not a business, but need to be more business-like: meet schedules,
> manage expectations and fulfill promises.

Now we come to the point. Your personal failure to manage expectations
is the worst problem OLPC has. You do not present a coherent picture
of our work to the world, or to us. You seem to believe your own hype.
You refuse to explain or demonstrate the differences between the XO
and the supposed competition. You do not tell us what is going on, and
you never answer our questions. You have admitted that you didn't
understand the difference between a handshake with a head of state and
a signed purchase order. Well, that's not all you didn't, and don't,
understand. You don't understand how to communicate with a Free
Software team, or why. You don't understand why we are here, and why
some of us are discussing walking out on you, forking Sugar, and doing
it right this time.

> To do that, we need to hire more
> developers,

Exactly right.

Also people who understand logistics, customer service, PR,
documentation, and education research.

> work more together

Also exactly right.

Including the matter of you working with us. We try to work with you,
but you ignore us.

> and spend less time arguing.

Exactly wrong.

We need to spend much more time arguing about substance, so that we
can spend much less time reacting to rumor because we can't discuss
policy with anybody who will do anything about it.

> Because of
> public attention, anything we say will be quoted out of context.

Nicholas, you don't have a context. It is not the fault of the media,
or the public, or the volunteers that you shoot your mouth off without
ever explaining what is most important.

> We can only
> speak with our actions and those are only one: a reliable and ubiquitous
> Sugar. That includes being more collaborative engineers ourselves and
> engaging the community better. Our limitations are not financial, but
> identifying the required human resources and resolve to do so.

Where the Hell have you been, then? We have been begging for you to
engage the community and to hire.

>  What is in front of us is an opportunity for big change. Sugar is at the
> core of it. To pretend otherwise would be a joke. That said, Sugar needs to
> be disentangled. I keep using the omelet analogy, claiming it needs to be a
> fried egg, with distinct yoke and white, rather than having the UI,


> collaborative tools, power management and radios merge into one amorphous
> blob. Otherwise, it is impossible to debug and will be limited to the small,
> albeit growing, world of the XO hardware platform.

I'm going to leave the real technical arguments to others. But from
what I hear, your statement is nonsense. A fantasy. Something that
could only be said by someone who doesn't talk to the people doing the

And the XO hardware platform is not a small community, considering how
young it is. It was plenty big enough to get the attention of Google,
and Red Hat, and eBay, and Microsoft over a year ago, and now we have
more than half a million customers/incipient agents of change in

>  As we reach out to engage a wider community, some purism has to morph into
> pragmatism. To suggest that this forsakes Open Source or redirects our
> mission is absurd.

You cannot just say so. You have to give believable reasons, which I
for one haven't heard from you.

But we are not the ones talking to the press about Sugar on Windows
without consulting either the laptop community or Microsoft. And we
are not telling you to cut Microsoft off, just to leave them to their
own devices. We are the hardheaded practical men and women who are
making it all happen, with or without your support.

The worst disasters in the world come from idealists ready to
sacrifice their ideals to expediency, all the while thinking that they
are helping to preserve them. Jefferson over Haiti, and the
introduction of slavery into the Louisiana territory. The Inquisition.
Communism. Neo-conservatism. Idealists must hold to their ideals, and
not compromise on the essential point. Which is, do we think we are so
much better than others that we can decide their future for them, or
do we think we are the same as they, and offer them the choice? That
was Jefferson's problem as a slave owner, and the problem of all the
ideologies that make some people more equal than others.

Handing the children's future to Microsoft would be a betrayal of the
worst kind. Letting Microsoft spend its own money rearranging the deck
chairs, and sticking to our own knitting, is the best we can do for
the children.

> Kids will be the agents of change and our job is to reach
> the most of them. That is not just selling laptops, but making Sugar as
> robust and widely available as possible.

Robust? Windows?! LOL

>  Nicholas

Edward Cherlin
End Poverty at a Profit by teaching children business
Life is what happens while we were making other plans.

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