Bender Creates Sugar Labs—New Foundation to Adapt OLPC’s Laptop Interface for Other Machines

Walter Bender, the former president of software and content for the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, contacted Xconomy this morning to alert us to the creation of Sugar Labs, a non-profit foundation that will work on new versions of Sugar, the learning-oriented graphical interface Bender developed for the OLPC’s XO Laptop.

Coming on the heels of last night’s announcement of a formal deal between OLPC and Microsoft to make a version of the XO that runs Windows rather than its original Linux-Sugar software stack, Bender’s move gives concrete form to a split that has been developing in recent months among the leading engineers and educators behind the XO—something he spoke about in a detailed and revealing interview with us a few weeks ago.

OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte has said that OLPC needs to become more systematic and pragmatic about the way it manufactures and distributes the XO—which, in practice, has meant working with established commercial software organizations such as Microsoft and even, as yesterday’s deal showed, replacing the XO’s own software with Microsoft’s. Bender, meanwhile, leads a contingent who believe that it is important that the learning software educators offer to children in developing countries be based on open-source principles.

Sugar Labs “will be a unifying catalyst for free and open-source learning systems across multiple distribution[s] and hardware platforms,” Bender wrote in an announcement on the new Sugar Labs wiki. “In order to provide a rich learning experience to as many of the world’s children as possible, it is critical to not just provide computers to children, but to ensure that the software that runs on the computers maximizes the potential for engaging in activities that promote learning: exploration, expression, and collaboration. 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 announcement says that Sugar Labs will work on adapting Sugar for low-cost platforms other than the XO, such as the ASUS Eee PC. Many of the developers who helped Bender create Sugar will participate in the new lab’s projects, including Marco Pesenti Gritti, Bert Freudenberg, Simon Schampijer, Bernardo Innocenti, Aaron Kaplan, Christoph Derndorfer, and Tomeu Vizoso, the announcement said.

Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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