Bender forms group to promote OLPC's Sugar UI

Former OLPC executive Walter Bender forms a nonprofit organization to promote the open-source development of Sugar, the user interface found on XO laptops.

Former One Laptop Per Child President of software and content Walter Bender has launched Sugar Labs, an organization that will promote the development of the open-source user interface originally developed for the XO laptop.

Sugar Labs Foundation will refine the development of Sugar, a UI (user interface) for the Linux OS that provides educational tools for kids. The foundation aims to create distributions of Sugar for multiple hardware and open-source platforms beyond the XO laptop.

"By being independent of any specific hardware platform and by remaining dedicated to the principles of free and open-source software, Sugar Labs ensures that others can develop diverse interfaces and applications from which governments and schools can choose," the nonprofit said.

GNU/Linux will remain the platform of choice for the development and distribution of Sugar, Bender said in an interview. However, Sugar Labs is not promoting operating systems; it intends use open source as a tool to promote a learning model, he said.

The give and take of the open-source development model embodies the culture of learning and education. "A transfer of this culture could greatly enhance the education industry and its ability to engage teachers and students," he said.

Whether the nonprofit helps port the Sugar UI to Windows is yet to be determined, Bender said. "It is hard to imagine that a Windows port would be done without the cooperation and participation of the core Sugar developers," he said.

The organization has its own roadmap for developing the Sugar UI and it hopes to work with OLPC.

"For the moment at least, OLPC is continuing to fund the development, so we anticipate a productive partnership, regardless of the fact that OLPC will be offering Windows XP as an option," Bender said.

Sugar Labs, of which Bender is one of the founders, was announced the same day OLPC announced it would start selling Windows XP on the XO laptop, an ultraportable computer designed as a learning tool for kids in developing countries.

Bender resigned last month from OLPC as the group seemed to move toward loading Windows XP on XO. His resignation earned him applause from the open-source community.

After Bender quit, OLPC Chairman Nicholas Negroponte questioned the development process of Sugar, calling it a "weakness" due to unrealistic development goals and practices. He urged the developer community to stop bickering, unite and to help port the Sugar UI to Windows to make XO laptops more appealing to users.

Sugar needs to be separated from the Linux OS core and made platform agnostic, Negroponte wrote. "To do that, we need to hire more developers, work more together and spend less time arguing," he wrote in an e-mail.

Developers in the open-source community expressed outrage at Negroponte's comments, calling his appeal vague and demoralizing for Sugar's future development. The comments spawned a debate on the merit of OLPC's move to the Windows OS.

Earlier this month, Kim Quirk, director of the technical team at OLPC, tried to reassure developers that OLPC was committed to Sugar as an open-source project, as it provides a great opportunity for learners as well as contributors, she wrote in an e-mail.

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