Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 16:59 UK

'$100 laptop' platform moves on

By Jonathan Fildes
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Sugar labs logo
The group has been set up as a not-for-profit venture

An independent effort to develop the software originally designed for the $100 laptop has been launched.

Sugar Labs will take the laptop's innovative interface, known as Sugar, to the "next level of usability and utility", according to its founders.

It is intended that the free software will be made available on other PCs, such as the popular Asus Eee.

The launch comes after the announcement that the group behind the $100 laptop has joined forces with Microsoft.

The deal means that One Laptop per Child (OLPC) will now offer the low cost laptops with Windows XP, as well as an open source alternative.

It will also continue to offer the Sugar educational interface that the new foundation intends to continue to develop.

"We will continue to work with OLPC but we will also work with other manufacturers," explained Sugar Labs founder Walter Bender.

"Hopefully it will mean that these ideas will get out there faster and to a broader community."

Divergent views

Until recently Mr Bender was second in command and the person who had been responsible for software and content on the XO, as the $100 laptop is known. He resigned in April.

XO laptop running windows

"I didn't leave OLPC because of the Microsoft deal - it was a symptom rather than the cause," he told BBC News.

"I left OLPC because I think the most important thing it is doing is defining a learning ecosystem."

He said that over time his own views on how best to bring education to children in the developing world had diverged from those held by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte.

"One goal is to just maximise the number of laptops you get out to kids. And that is unequivocally Nicholas' goal."

But, he said, there was another approach.

"My approach is to demonstrate to the world a way to [deliver education] that is impactful and can scale but not be the one that necessarily does the delivering of the laptops.

"I felt that OLPC was moving very rapidly towards Nicholas' goal and my goal within the organisation was going to be more difficult to achieve."

Sweet work

Sugar is a user interface that allows children to collaborate even when working on different machines. For example, they can write documents or make music together.

Pupils at Galdima School, Nigeria
Sugar was originally designed for the $100 laptop

The open source software also contains a journal and automatically saves and backs up all data.

"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," said Mr Bender.

"By being independent of any specific hardware platform and by remaining dedicated to the principles of free and open source software, the Sugar platform ensures that others can develop diverse interfaces and applications for governments and schools to choose from."

Sugar Labs will work closely with developers from the open source community to develop the user interface for other computers and operating systems.

It has already been bundled with the most recent releases of the Ubuntu and Fedora Linux operating systems.

OLPC has said it will also continue to develop Sugar through "third parties" and will develop a version for Windows XP, something that Mr Bender does not consider a priority.

"There's a lot of engineering and it is not clear that it's the best use of engineering resources at this moment," he explained.

However, he said, this did not mean that he did not support OLPC's activities.

"I want to make it clear that it is aligned with, rather than against, OLPC."

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