PC World, among other outlets, is reporting on Nicholas Negroponte's call to make the Sugar interface used on the OLPC XO laptops "platform agnostic." In other words, redevelop it to run on top of Windows XP. Of course, since Microsoft will only allow Windows XP Home to be installed on new laptops shortly, this means that the interface that many have dubbed revolutionary will need to be reworked for this aging platform.
One developer wrote on the OLPC community 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."
Another developer asked of Negroponte's vision of separating the interface from the underlying OS,
"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?"
So what will this leave the XO's target audience running? Windows XP Home, with the requisite anti-malware software and the Sugar interface both running on top. That should be extra snappy (insert sarcasm here).
Given the number of available distributions, many of which can be made quite lean (Xubuntu and Puppy Linux being two obvious examples among many), why shoehorn Windows onto the XO? And why saddle local developers with closed source software when so many people-years of effort have gone into developing an accessible open source solution? How many times did Intel (as in the intel in Wintel) did Intel mention Windows at IDF? Not many times. Even if Windows continues to dominate many markets (enterprise, enthusiast, gaming, whatever), it doesn't need to dominate a market in which openness, collaboration, and collegiality should, in fact, be the dominant forces.
I understand that Negroponte is trying to increase sales by incorporating what he sees as a necessary force in computing; however, if this amounts to selling out and diluting the value of this effort, then I'll be looking forward to successful spinoffs and competitors from the defecting OLPC developers. This isn't about open-source fundamentalism, as Negroponte calls it; this is about satisfying the needs of users. Will Windows satisfy the needs of kids better than a mature, extensible, open source platform?