OLPC's Open Source Sugar Platform Aims for New Hardware

by Ostatic Staff - May. 16, 2008

As we reported last month, Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) effort has had rocky times recently. The company has just announced a partnership with Microsoft to put Windows on OLPC laptops, although Linux-based open source versions of the sub-$200 laptops will stay in production. The laptops are targeted at children in developing nations. Recently, several key executives have left the project, including former president Walter Bender. Questions swirled about Bender's reasons for leaving OLPC, but now, in a surprise twist, he has resurfaced. Bender has announced Sugar Labs, a new foundation focused on taking the Sugar user interface in the OLPC laptops to other hardware platforms.

According to a release from Sugar Labs:

"Sugar Labs Foundation is being established to further extend Sugar, the highly acclaimed open source “learn learning” software platform that was originally developed for the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) XO laptop. Sugar is the core of the XO laptop's human-computer interface; it provides a fun, easy-to-use, social experience that promotes sharing and learning. Sugar Labs will focus on providing a software ecosystem that enhances learning on the XO laptop as well as other laptops distributed by other companies, such as the ASUS Eee PC. Consistent with the OLPC mission to provide opportunities for learning, an independent Sugar Labs Foundation can deliver learning software to other hardware vendors and, consequently, reach more children."

Many of the core Sugar developers are participating in the launch, including Marco Pesenti Gritti, Bert Freudenberg, Simon Schampijer, Bernardo Innocenti, Aaron Kaplan, Christoph Derndorfer, and Tomeu Vizoso. Bender himself came originally from MIT Media Labs.

Bert Freudenberg, one of the developers, has added:

"Expanding Sugar to more hardware platforms gives a great boost to all developers of educational software. Sugar is the first system specifically aimed at helping children to learn while supporting a rich variety of contributed applications. As third-party developers, my colleagues at Viewpoints Research Institute look forward to a great relationship with Sugar Labs.”

So this week shows how many seismic changes are going on at OLPC. Windows versions of the OLPC laptops will cost about the same ($180) as the Linux-based versions, but if the Windows versions become popular, that throws into question the future of the Linux-based machines.

Meanwhile, Asus is an example of a company that has had tremendous success selling inexpensive Linux-based laptops, with its Eee PCs. The company now has a Windows version of the Eee PCs as well. With the Sugar open source platform extending out to manufacturers such as Asus, the platform originally devised for OLPC may reach many more users.

Governments, so far, have ordered about 600,000 OLPC laptops--well below projections. However, Asus is forecasting sales of its Eee PCs doubling to 1.2 million units in the second quarter, and reaching 5 million units this year. At this point, there is every reason to believe that the open source platform that caused so many news headlines on the OLPC project will reach far more machines in the standard consumer hardware market. For more good analysis on this story, see our sister blog GigaOm's analysis.

Do you think OLPC and Sugar Labs are headed in the right directions?