software: Sugar Labs - Simon Schampijer

Mstation first met Simon Schampijer at the Linux Audio Conference at
TU in Berlin in 2007, where he was one of the organisers and where he
worked at their well known Sound Lab. Since then he has moved on to
Sugar Labs which is closely related to the OLPC (One laptop per child
project). Sugar Labs does the GUI as well as coordinating the whole
Linux substructure in addition to serving as a gathering place for educators
and other interested parties.

Q: Let's start with a little history: The OLPC project (One Laptop Per 
Child) was, I think, dreamed up by M.I.T.'s Nicholas Negroponte with
the idea of providing children in 3rd world countries with cheap and
easily usable laptops that would connect to the internet. Is that a
fair summary?

A: From the Mission Statement at ( 
we miss the last part: "...with content and software designed for 
collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning." This is the important 
part which make this project different from a laptop project. This is 
the reason why Sugar and Sugar Labs, as a community project that foster 
collaboration between educators and developers, exist.

Q: Having looked at the OLPC briefly, it seems like there could be
lots of other uses. If someone wants to buy one of these, how do
they go about it?

A: There is a program up starting the 17th of November (

Q: You mentioned the elderly as well as being a group that might find
the OLPC useful particularly where internet access and/or WLAN
was helpful. Have you got anything planned to promote this?

A: The Sugar platform was designed for the use in education but it is 
finding applicability in a number of different venues where for example 
the simplicity of design brings much value, e.g. the elderly, mobile 
applications etc. I for example want to use it on my laptop as well.

Q: The GUI for this project has also been taken very seriously and the
famous design company Pentagram was used to create something that has
ended up being simple and quite pretty. Were there lots of early
versions before the present one was reached?

A: Here are some pictures from earlier versions of Sugar.

The last picture is what the latest stable release looked like, which is 
currently used in the deployments, e.g. Uruguay, Peru, Nepal. For the 
upcoming release, OLPC 8.2, Sugar went through a change for the home 
view and frame. Pictures how this looks like can be found here Sugar is 
quite a young software (about 3 years), and had been always under the 
pressure to find the balance between being a research project and the 
need to be a shippable product at the same time. With the deployments 
there were 500.000 users over night, so you can not easily change big 
parts anymore. It is a tricky and interesting problem, but I am 
confident that we find the balance.

Q: The GUI is now being handled by a separate entity, Sugar Labs. Why
did a split come about?

A: The idea was to make Sugar available on other platforms than the XO. 
For example, schools which have computer labs already. They can run 
Fedora or Ubuntu on those machines and provide Sugar as an alternate 
Desktop. Software has wings and we wanted to make use of that property. 
Furthermore we wanted to gather a community around the software. The 
open-source learning platform Sugar should be made by educators and 

Q: You're using Python and PyGTK to stitch it all together. Was this
choice obvious somehow, given the work you have to do, or were there
a few alternatives that were argued about?

A: The choice for python was made to make the software extensible and 
easy to modify. We want the users to be able to create activities (how 
applications are called in Sugar). We want to provide means to drill 
deeper; they are not going to hit a wall, since they can, at every 
level, engage in debugging both their personal expression and the very 
tools that they use for that expression. We think an interpreted 
language like Python does provide that freedom.

... continues below ...
Q: You're up to 0.82 with Sugar and along the way you've made it available for Debian, Ubuntu (apt-get install sugar), and Fedora as well as having Live CD/USB support. What are the main things to come before 1.00? A: For the next development cycle we want to refactor and start stabilizing our public API. For the reasons I described above, this is a delicate task. We will invest in performance improvements and we want to properly support standard desktop applications. And we want to make Sugar available everywhere. There is still a little polishing to do here. Interested developers are welcome to join. Q: You mentioned before that Sugar Labs will, in addition to providing the GUI software and the whole package for running on OLPC and other platforms, be "a support base and gathering place" for educators and developers. What formal and informal means will you use to achieve this? A: I think conferences are an important way for community building. The rest will be using the well known tools like Email and IRC. We are currently working on installing a feedback loop as well to get information of the deployments. Q: Sugar Labs is in the midst of becoming some sort of legal entity in order to apply for grants and accept donations. When this is achieved, what sort of projects will you be looking at undertaking? A: I think Sugar Labs as a gathering place will use the donations they get to sponsor community events for example. When money comes into a community it is hard to justify who gets the money and who does not. So there need to be guidelines for full time positions (e.g. people that do really hard technical work which is difficult to do part time (architecture, design, etc). So Sugar Labs might not invest in development directly. Thanks Simon.

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