When we were discussing XO laptops shipping with Fedora or Windows XP, but not Sugar, the signature user interface developed by One Laptop Per Child, I was amazed by the number of people who thought Sugar suboptimal. It seems they were not alone in their option. Nicholas Negroponte has expressed the same idea to the Boston Globe:
Some One Laptop critics said developing Sugar was like reinventing the wheel. Today, Negroponte admits the critics were right. "In retrospect, it wasn't necessary," he said. Last year, he disclosed an agreement with Microsoft to bring the Windows operating system to the XO laptop.
I have to disagree with Negroponte. Sugar was an OLPC innovation up there with a dual-mode screen and mesh networking. By being child-centric, Sugar helped define the XO laptop as an educational device, a tool to empower children to learn learning, not a "$100 laptop". Sugar was almost exclusionary to adults used to windowing interfaces, an added bonus to keep the XO in a child's, not parent's hands.
Had the XO shipped with Windows XP from the start, it would've faced even more false criticism that it was "underpowered" or not "fully functional". In addition, while adult-centric software can be great for office automation, that's not the OLPC's goal. Its education, and as such OLPC need an educational experience for its end users. Or as Walter Bender says
"Just giving kids a traditional desktop, whether it's a Linux desktop or a Windows desktop or a Mac desktop, that's inadequate."
Now Sugar has its issues. Sugar is woefully underdeveloped, but that's not a fault of Sugar itself, only the resources and strategy applied to it. Sugar also could've had more administrator-friendly applications, the ability to print, and maybe even an Aquatic Sugar option for adults.
But are those drawbacks really enough to consider it a mistake?
Stay current with Sugar: subscribe to OLPC News via RSS Feed, Emails or Twitter.