Sugar as operating system

John Gilmore gnu at
Tue Jul 21 13:26:12 EDT 2009

> > More seriously, I don't know if it is possible, but getting Nicholas
> > to stop making a "scrambled egg" out of the software stack with his
> > "omelet" analogy would go a long ways to reducing the confusion in the
> > media as well. His continued insistence that Sugar is an operating
> > system--the problem--is being spoken out of ignorance and does not
> > reflect well on either project. As you know better than most, the bulk
> > of the software engineering effort at OLPC has been in support of
> > getting the hardware to boot, drivers, security, power management,
> > etc. All critical tasks, whether or not this is an education project.
> > Sugar (or any other user-facing) bits have always been and still are
> > almost entirely separate from these engineering necessities, as is
> > content development and the bulk of the deployment work.

I heard a ring of truth from Nicholas's last remarks, even if you
didn't, Walter.  OLPC needed to pull off "too many miracles" to ship
the XO-1, and one of those miracles that didn't work was the total
rewrite of the GUI.

Not just rewriting all the applications, ignoring the hundreds of
useful ordinary Linux GUI programs that still don't work on the XO.
But making your own window manager and insisting that any program had
to be "sugarized" to run on the machine was Icarus-style hubris.  That
then required rewriting all the ancillary control panels including
power management settings, WiFi selection and passwords (which had
endless bugs), two or three brand new software update mechanisms, the
DRM, the worm security model, building your own Linux distro releases,
etc.  It was all fun research, of course.  But doing all that stuff
*before* being able to ship hardware was makework that OLPC could ill
afford.  There's still a lot of hardware potential in the XO-1 that
the software never got its chops together to exploit -- but three
years have gone by and all the work is going into new hardware.

The other major challenges were plenty hard enough.  Netbook companies
figured out that they could ship tens of millions of laptops without
all that makework.  Some of OLPC's most important innovations (like
auto-suspend) have never recovered because they didn't get enough
attention.  (It's shipping, but not on by default, because of too many
serious bugs -- so battery life is half what it ought to be).

I'm glad that the team learned those lessons, painful as it has been.
The XO-1.5, installing a standard Linux release, with Sugar as an
option, will take an order of magnitude less software work, if
those lessons have really been taken to heart.


More information about the Devel mailing list