Sugar as operating system

Walter Bender walter.bender at
Tue Jul 21 13:56:40 EDT 2009

On Tue, Jul 21, 2009 at 1:26 PM, John Gilmore<gnu at> wrote:
>> > 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.


As I said, it is fair enough to critique Sugar and the decision as to
whether or not it was worth the effort to rewrite the UI. You've been
outspoken on this point. But that is clearly not what Nicholas is
referring to when he says that he wanted a 'fried egg" instead of an

Vanilla X Windows was always available--once we got to the point of
being able to boot Linux and managed to sort through all the issues
associated with Mary Lou's display. The Sugar effort was above and
beyond that, but it was a separate (smaller) team.

> 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.

We continue to disagree as to the appropriateness and utility of the
traditional desktop (Linux or otherwise) for elementary education. But
regardless, Sugar development, which is the topic of this thread, did
not represent a significant burden on the systems team; "Sugarizing"
was not the difficult part of power management, the network, etc.

One could argue that Sugar was off-putting to some potential
contributors. One could also argue that Sugar has been the catalyst
for many contributes. The size and energy of the Sugar community is
evidence of the latter. Also, it is not at all clear that those who
contribute to Sugar would have been able or interested in contributing
to the systems work--they are in large part two different communities.

> 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).

Netbook companies have a different mission than we had at One Laptop
per Child. If it were the same mission, then OLPC should be
congratulated for launching the netbook market and step aside. But I
think that exactly that "makework" is what continues to make OLPC

> 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.

XO-1.5 is less work because we did all that work for XO-1, not because
Sugar is an option. Still, fine-tuning power management, networks and
the like on the XO-1.5 is going to be hard work for the Fedora team
(or the Windows team). What does Sugar have to do with it?

>        John


Walter Bender
Sugar Labs

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