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OLPC sweet talks Microsoft

Sprinkles Sugar on top of Windows

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The One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) is adapting its Sugar software package to make it compatible with Microsoft’s operating system.

The group’s founder Nicholas Negroponte said in an email yesterday that it was agreed after months of discussions with the software giant that the XO Laptop, which currently only runs on a Red Hat-developed version of Linux, should be adapted to run Windows.

Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Negroponte said: “Sugar needs a wider basis, to run on more Linux platforms and run under Windows.”

He said that Microsoft and the Foundation are also exploring the possibility of a dual boot version of the XO with the option to run Linux or Windows.

Negroponte also went to some pains in his email to insist that the non-profit group’s decision to climb into bed with Microsoft does not mean that the group would abandon open source software development.

“Sugar is a very good idea, less than perfectly executed," he said. "I attribute our weakness to unrealistic development goals and practices. Our mission has never changed. It has been to bring connected laptops for learning to children in the poorest and most remote locations of the world.”

“Our mission has never been to advocate the perfect learning model or pure open source. I believe the best educational tool is constructionism and the best software development method is open source.”

The OLPC Foundation started manufacturing the $188 XO laptop, which is designed to save the children of developing countries from a world without technology, late last year.

Earlier this week, the OLPC Foundation lost a key person behind the XO laptop scheme, which reached fewer school kids than the group originally hoped because of reluctance among governments to invest in a non-Windows machine.

According to AP Walter Bender, who is a big open source fan, left the project just at the moment when the organisation opened its arms to Windows.

His resignation was the OLPC's third high-profile casualty inside a few months. Since December its chief technology officer Mary Lou Jepsen and top security architect Ivan Krstic have also left the group.

Bender now has plans to launch an independent effort to further develop Sugar by getting it run to computers other than XOs. He said in an email: "Sugar is in a narrow place and it is ripe to be unleashed." ®

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