OLPC Switch to Windows on XO Is 'muddled,' Developers Say

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Open-source developers should stop bickering, unite and jointly develop a Windows user interface to make XO laptops more appealing to users, One Laptop Per Child Chairman Nicholas Negroponte has urged in a public note to that community.

Developers in the open-source community did not take lightly to Negroponte's comments, expressing outrage and questioning the judgment of OLPC's shift from Linux to Windows for the XO laptop. Developers called Negroponte's appeal "vague" and "demoralizing" for the future development of Sugar, the user interface that currently works with Linux on XO laptops.

In a note on OLPC's community site, Negroponte wrote that Sugar is less than perfect and needs to be developed for Windows to expand the laptop's appeal. The nonprofit has engaged in discussions with Microsoft to load Windows on dual-boot versions of the XO laptop.

"I attribute our weakness to unrealistic development goals and practices," Negroponte wrote. "Our mission has never changed. It has been to bring connected laptops for learning to children in the poorest and most remote locations of the world. Our mission has never been to advocate the perfect learning model or pure Open Source."

Sugar needs to be separated from the OS core and made platform agnostic, Negroponte wrote. "To do that, we need to hire more developers, work more together and spend less time arguing."

This week developers began debating XO's possible shift from Linux to Windows after Monday's resignation of Walter Bender, OLPC's president of software and content. Bender gained a following in the open-source community by promoting open-source software for the XO despite growing efforts to load the laptop with Windows XP.

In a note posted Monday at OLPC's community news, Bender said that he was leaving to advance the quality open-source software for learning and would continue to work with the OLPC community "by adopting the spirit and methodology of the open-source movement."

Observers contend that Bender left because he was less than happy with OLPC's move from open source to Windows on the XO laptop. Some developers saw it as a sign that OLPC is scaling down Sugar's development.

Drawing that conclusion from Bender's departure is incorrect, Negroponte wrote: "We are scaling Sugar up, not down."

Developers replied that his vision of Sugar for Windows is muddled and that he is further dividing himself from OLPC's developer community.

"If you are not serious about Sugar on Windows within the next year, please continue to avoid 'now' and use 'might' and 'someday' when you talk about it, and we'll continue to try to make Sugar-on-Linux achieve its potential," wrote C. Scott Ananian in a community posting at the OLPC site.

"I approve of keeping OLPC's options open, in case your current development team (myself included) cannot deliver on Sugar's potential, but setting vague (and demoralizing) goals for future development -- without actually devoting the resources to achieve those goals -- is madness. You have only succeeded in alienating the developers you need to make Sugar-on-Linux work, without actually achieving any progress on Sugar-on-Windows," Ananian wrote.

Porting Sugar, which runs on multiple Linux distributions, to Windows shouldn't be hard, but the question is whether users will have the same experience on both OSes, wrote Tomeu Vizoso.

Negroponte wrote that Sugar needs to be changed from an omelet to a fried egg "with distinct yoke and white, rather than having the UI, collaborative tools, power management and radios merge into one amorphous blob."

Vizoso wouldn't chew on Negroponte's vision of a fried egg. "My understanding is that the Sugar UI is composed of inseparable components because we wanted to give an integrated and coherent experience. In which way are you suggesting to split Sugar?"

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