A reader of the blog I posted yesterday ("Who decides which OS makes it onto an OLPC?") raised some interesting objections to the Sugar user interface originally developed for the OLPC XO laptop. While I'm not sure I entirely agree with him, it does give some food for thought:
I am from Africa and the OLPC's SUGAR UI doesn't please the children and I think most lovers of this UI (though they don't use it) are hyping over it. It does please some children around 5-7 but the problem again is that other products by VTECH are there and those kids prefer the ease of the UI of those products. Also the Vtech has different products which help them better because they are designed for various age groups and that help them a lot better and have many learning software.
The 9+ kids hate the Sugar UI and prefer what the normal PC's normally have as UI. We know that Sugar is mainly for children but I think for the 5-7 year old group. After that age, they should just get access to other UIs which are popularly used worldwide or these kids will find themselves used to what the world doesn't use.
If this Sugar UI is so good why wouln't the US government implement it in most of their schools for the kids to use.
Well, I think we know the answer to the last question. A huge install base and lots of legacy applications mean that Windows (and to a lesser extent, Mac OS) have a pretty firm foothold here in the States. However, in markets where such an install base doesn't exist and barriers to adoption of something "not Windows" are lower, is Sugar still too juvenile?
I've experimented quite a bit with Sugar in a virtual machine and I've been really impressed with what I saw as a revolutionary approach to collaborative computing. Now I have readers comparing it to educational toys from VTech (and finding Sugar lacking).
Obviously, Walter Bender thinks Sugar has a real future or he wouldn't have founded Sugar Labs. I'm inclined to agree. I love the idea of kids being able to step into an intuitive interface and share their work with each other, save and retrieve "activities" (documents and other content in Sugar-speak) without concern for a file system, and otherwise just use the computer.
That being said, my five year is perfectly happy to bang away on an Edubuntu, as well, as long as he can find the games and websites he likes. When my wife substitute teaches for his kindergarten class, he happily shows her how to use the Macs in the computer lab and where to find the educational software the class is supposed to be using. Do we need to sugarcoat an operating system for kids (pun definitely intended) or are we better off just incorporating some of the slick features in Sugar into mainstream operating systems like *buntu or (dare I say it?) Windows?
I wish Walter Bender the best of luck, but I have to wonder if it might not be time to simply take the lessons learned from OLPC and the development of Sugar and just give kids computers they will be able to use for years to come, without imposing a system they might outgrow too soon.
What do you think?