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

12/14/09Follow @wroush

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worry about things like drivers, and a lot of the software engineering that OLPC had to do involved things like that, not Sugar per se. But a lot of that engineering had to happen whether you were going to run a vanilla Linux desktop or Sugar.

X: My interpretation was that he meant that he wanted the XO to support many different operating systems to increase its appeal to potential partners, and therefore it was important that there not be too much identification in people’s minds between Sugar and the XO.

WB: That could be what he meant. But that is pretty independent of the operating system. Right from the beginning, you could run Ubuntu on the XO. Somebody ported Ubuntu to it long before we ever shipped it. And Windows on the XO was going to happen eventually, if and when Microsoft put the effort into it.

X: Have you been involved at all in the planning of what Negroponte calls the “model 1.75″ XO Laptop, or the “model 3.0,” which he said would resemble a sheet of paper?

WB: I don’t know anything about that 3.0 machine at all. But I know a lot about the 1.75 machine. It’s using a faster Via processor. It’s a nice machine, and it runs Sugar great. It has the same form factor as the original XO, but they’ve upgraded a couple of components, most notably the touchpad, which had been fairly problematic in the original machines. We are involved in that, and I’ve also been helping them on a couple of the little aspects—for example, I had done all of the keyboards for the original XOs, so I am doing some keyboard work for them on this new machine.

X: Do you still think of the XO as the “reference” design for Sugar—the one machine that it’s most perfectly suited for?

WB: I’m thinking about it less and less that way. The XO is still our biggest deployment. But if I had to give a rough guess, I’d say that 10 percent of the instances of Sugar are now running on machines that are not XOs. And that number is going to grow rapidly. When I went to this netbook summit, I had a lot of interest from every single one of the netbook manufacturers about having Sugar be part of their offering. It’s easy for them, and it affords access to a different market segment.

X: Are you saying companies like Samsung might pre-load Sugar on their netbooks?

WB: There’s no reason why they couldn’t. It’s just a matter of whether they want to. But even if it’s not pre-loaded, it’s so easy to do, especially with the new facility in Blueberry for loading Sugar onto the hard drive directly.

X: Sugar Labs recently announced a partnership with a USB key duplication company called Nexcopy, where they’re going to take used USB keys and put Blueberry onto them. Is that part of your plan for expanding access to Sugar?

WB: That’s not so much about expansion as it is that there are some places where paying even $5 for a USB key is a lot. So this is really more in the spirit of trying to reach the have-nots. We’ll be bulk-loading these USB keys with Sugar and shipping them off to schools. We’ve already had quite a few schools asking about it. We don’t have enough in stock yet to make it worthwhile, but it’s a very easy, very low-cost thing for Nexcopy. At worst, we’ll be able to get these things out for the cost of mailing.

X: What else have you got up your sleeve at Sugar Labs these days?

WB: Well, one teaser I’ll give you is that the working name for the next release of Sugar on a Stick is “Cloudberry.” It’s a wonderful berry that grows in the Lapland region of Finland—a little orange-colored raspberry that they use to make a really nice liqueur. But as the name suggests, we’re really going to try to beef up a lot of the cloud features in the next release. Part of it would be things like using the cloud for storage, and part of it flips the other way, having the cloud locally on your machine, using Google Gears-like stuff. We have a bunch of extensions to Sugar already that we haven’t put into the main release that allow you to move your work offline and then redistribute it–so for example a teacher could go find something online at home, then bring it into the classroom, and have the kids work on it, even though it was originally a Web app. I had a Google Summer of Code student working on that last summer, and its been getting closer to being ready.

X: When will Cloudberry be ready for release?

WB: I think it will be in the March or April time frame.

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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