Oooh Look! Pretty Computer!

Olpcmac Nicolas Negroponte‘s One Laptop Per Child project draws as much criticism as it does admiration.

Much of it is valid, such as Lee Felsenstein‘s studied critiques of OLPC’s pedagogical philosophy; but sniping at the $120 hundred dollar laptop and its lo-fi technology based is missing the point. OLPC is an educational initiative not a laptop project. Guys like Lee are the ones who should be heard; his first-hand experience in bringing computing to third world communities is invaluable and insightful.

Educational and altruistic merits aside – OLPC’s XO laptop is ostensibly an impressive piece of industrial design, conceived by Yves Béhar. However, perhaps more striking is Sugar, the XO’s operating system, a variant of Fedora Linux. Sugar seeks to move away from traditional interface metaphors and explore more naturalistic concepts

  • Activities rather than applications.
  • Groups and Neighborhoods to express other users in physical and logical proximity.
  • A View Source key to encourage users to tinker.
  • Replacing files and folders with a ‘journal’ oriented around recency and temporal granularity.
  • Tagging, clipping, sharing and searching as system-wide features.

In reorienting the user experience around learning, children, openness and collaboration, Sugar promises to be the singular technological innovation of the XO…though it remains to be seen if Sugar or traditional UIs are better suited for learning.

With XOs restricted to the XO Giving programme in North American and to OLPC client nations, the only way to experience Sugar directly is through virtualisation and emulation. Along with, Windows Vista and OS X, my MacBook Pro is now also host to a Sugar installation running on Parallels…here’s how it’s done.

Though I’ve bene unable to access the web under emulation, playing with the journaling feature has been illuminating and points the way to new design patterns for web and desktop applications…Ian and I might pinch some of these patterns for Ensembli 🙂

In the meantime, it’s worth checking out Sugar’s Human Interface Guidelines and the guide to emulation.

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