Sugar on a Stick: Good for Kids' Minds (and School Budgets)
Even as a child, I knew that Pixie Sticks were just trouble. The paper tubes loaded with colorful yet mysteriously flavorless sugar weren't particularly tasty, and too many of them led to mom and dad either threatening to pull the car over or hinting ominously about what would happen if they "had to tell me again." Parents today know that in addition to the traditional side effects, Pixie Sticks aren't terribly good for USB ports, either.
That's not the case with the other sort of Sugar. Sugar, the kid-friendly open source desktop that was featured first on the OLPC XO laptop is now available (in a beta release) as a liveUSB image. The Sugar on a Stick environment is powered by Fedora 11 and features familiar Sugar desktop applications and functions, as well as new educational and collaborative tools, such as the InfoSlicer online content editor, remixer, and delivery application.
Sugar on a Stick, like other live media distributions, runs without altering any software or data on the computer's existing hard drive. The Sugar on a Stick project plans on offering several configurations for the live image -- so that a child's work can be saved on the flash drive whether it is run natively or through a virtualization or emulation mode. The liveUSB image requires a flash drive of at least 1 GB in size (formatted as a FAT32 or FAT16 partition). Sugar on a Stick can peacefully coexist with existing data on flash drives meeting the size and formatting criteria. The Sugar Labs Wiki explains how to create the image on Windows, Linux, or Mac platforms, as well as instructions on getting it up and running in a virtual environment.
Netbooks and inexpensive, kid-friendly hardware are great ideas, but in many cases, they simply aren't possible (or necessarily desirable). Packaging Sugar in this format offers the educators -- and children -- using it many of the same benefits at a much lower price point. While you might not wish to use your child's school work as part of the beta testing, the Sugar on a Stick team invites educators, parents, and even their interested progeny to try the software on as many devices as possible and report back with bugs and feedback. The Sugar on a Stick team hopes to offer students a polished 1.0 release by the third quarter of 2009 -- just in time to head back to class.