Sugar Gets Sweeter: Former OLPC Exec Walter Bender on Netbooks, E-books, Blueberry, and Cloudberry

12/14/09Follow @wroush

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very few people write essays. On a phone a lot of people will play a game, but very few will write a game.

X: So are you still optimistic that netbooks can be a good platform for innovation, and a good market for Sugar?

WB: I do see them as a big market for Sugar, and I see them as a place for innovation. I think the problem is that they let themselves get caught up in thinking about netbooks as doing everything that [laptop and desktop] computers do, only less expensive. But there is some neat stuff going on between projects like Chrome OS and companies like Litl.

X: Litl’s John Chuang just presented at our Cloud3 forum on Thursday. What do you think of them?

WB: When OLPC let go a bunch of people, Litl scooped them up. One of the lead Sugar engineers went to Litl, and one of the designers, and a bunch of the other engineers. I think what they’re doing is absolutely great. And I think there is lots of room for those kinds of innovations. I like to describe Sugar as an example of bucking the status quo. We’ve got a problem to solve around learning and education, and rather than bringing our problem to the existing tools, we said we’re going to make tools to deal with our problem. And there are lots of other problems out there that aren’t education, where people are going to say “we can build x, y, or z for our problem,” and that is where the innovation is going to happen. That’s very different from what you see happening in the smartphone world, where there are a phenomenal number of apps, but most of them are pretty trivial. The netbook industry is talking about doing that—Intel is doing their Moblin app store, for example. I’m not sure an app store is the right way to do it, but it will at least get people excited about the kinds of innovation that Litl did and that Sugar did at OLPC and continues to do.

X: On the theme of Litl, it seems that they’ve decided that the problem they want to solve is media sharing, and they’ve built a tool that’s perfect for that. Is that how you see them?

WB: I think they have a couple of things going. That is certainly part of it. But the whole idea that it’s a cloud device, so you don’t have to worry about loading any software or maintenance or backing anything up, so that there is a certain simplicity to the end user, that is equally important. A lot of the collaboration ideas that we have explored in Sugar fit very nicely into the cloud model, and Litl has taken the ideas a lot further than we have been able to take them with Sugar yet. We’ll see what people are actually interested in doing with the Litl machine, but it’s certainly an example of the innovation we need in that space. But the big question is where things are going with Chrome OS, and what is a Chrome OS computer going to look like. There is an elephant in that room.

X: You just released Blueberry, the latest version of Sugar on a Stick. What’s new and exciting with Blueberry?

WB: Blueberry is the second spin on Sugar on a Stick. The original, Strawberry, was just meant to get the idea out into the world. It was relatively crude, and carried a relatively old version of Sugar. Blueberry has all the latest Sugar bits in it, plus a bunch of additional utilities—everything in Sugar, plus a little bit more. It’s running Fedora 12 [a version of Linux], which just came out. It’s got a utility that allows you to install Sugar onto your hard drive directly; with Strawberry, it was just for Sugar on a Stick, and there wasn’t any way from there to installing Sugar natively, but with Blueberry you can … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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