Video for the web is generally a contentious topic—the HTML 5
specification does not, yet, have a required codec—but browser
developers have begun making their own codec decisions. Google has
included support for the patent-encumbered MPEG-4 codecs in its Chrome browser, which has caused
some consternation among those who are working on HTML 5. The underlying
concern is for web video interoperability, especially for browsers who
cannot or will not license codecs, but it has also manifested itself as a
question about free software licensing and its relationship to patents.
The Web Hypertext Application
Technology Working Group has been working on HTML 5, and a posting
from Josh Cogliati to its mailing list was the jumping-off point for a
wide-ranging discussion. Cogliati suggested using an MPEG-1 subset as the
required video codec for the HTML 5 <video> tag, but, since MPEG-1 is
rather old and is considered technically
inferior, the idea was not met with much support. Ian Fette noted
that Google Chrome has chosen to "support H.264 + AAC as well as
Ogg (Theora + Vorbis) for <video>", so MPEG-1 support is not
likely to be of interest for Chrome. But the mention of H.264, which is
covered by multiple patents and licensed by the MPEG Licensing Authority
(MPEG-LA), caused a rather negative reaction among many of the other
mailing list participants—some of whom are notably affiliated with
Chrome added support for H.264 by way of FFmpeg, which is a free software
implementation of various multimedia formats, and is covered by the LGPL
version 2.1 (though some optional parts are GPLv2). This led some,
including Anne van Kesteren of Opera Software, to question the
relationship of the patents to the LGPL. As he, and others
saw things, Google couldn't license those patents without passing them
on to anyone else who distributed FFmpeg. This is because of LGPL
11, which reads, in part, as follows:
If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent
infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues),
conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or
otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not
excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so
as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any
other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute
the Library at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit
royalty-free redistribution of the Library by all those who receive copies
directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy
both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of
Google's position, as outlined by Chris
DiBona and Daniel
Berlin, is that it has a license from MPEG-LA which licenses the
patents for use in Chrome. That license does not say anything about
FFmpeg, so there is nothing that "would not permit royalty-free
redistribution" of FFmpeg. Thus, from Google's perspective, its
patent license does not interact with Section 11 at all.
Others are less sure about that interpretation. Opera CTO Håkon Wium
I also understand that the LGPL doesn't explicitly "require [anyone]
to pass along patent rights we may have obtained elsewhere". However,
it seems quite clear that the intention of #11 is to say that you
cannot redistribute the code unless you do exactly that.
What am I missing?
Berlin makes the argument
that the example in Section 11 must be interpreted with the rest of that
section, not in isolation:
My understanding of the example is consistent with the LGPL's goal
statement at the start: "Therefore, we insist that any patent license
obtained for a version of the library must be consistent with the full
freedom of use specified in this license."
The goal statement, at least to me, makes clear the example is talking
about obtaining a patent license that covers the library directly, not
that covers something that uses the library.
But others have interpreted the LGPL differently. Miguel de Icaza said
that Moonlight would have preferred to use FFmpeg, along with a license
from MPEG-LA, rather than the proprietary codecs it ended up using. He
wonders if anyone has checked with the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for their
interpretation. Berlin points
out that the FSF's opinion is not particularly relevant in this case as
only the FFmpeg project has any standing to complain about LGPL violations
of its code. So far, FFmpeg has not, publicly at least, complained.
In the end, as DiBona states,
Google—along with its lawyers, presumably—is comfortable that
it is complying with the terms of the LGPL. Whether that might cause
others to re-examine their decisions about using FFmpeg remains to be
seen. But the LGPL compliance question is really a bit of a distraction
from the real underlying issue regarding patented codecs for web video.
Both Mozilla and Opera employees are quite obviously unhappy with Google's
decision to support H.264 for the <video> tag.
out that the licensing issue, if any, can easily be dealt with by
Google, but: "The incredibly sucky outcome is that Chrome ships patent-encumbered
'open web' features, just like Apple. That is reprehensible."
exception to that label:
Reprehensible? Mozilla (and all the rest) supports those same "open
web" features through its plugin architecture. Why don't you make a
stand and shut down compatibility with plugins from flash, quicktime
and others? How long would Firefox last in the market if it were
incompatible with those? Honestly.
DiBona's argument is that H.264 is demanded by users because of quality
issues. Lie is not
so sure, noting: "YouTube is very popular despite the fact that its
video clips resemble the transmission from the moon landing in
1969." He continues:
At Google, you have a unique opportunity to be part of this. You have
the video clips, the disks, the processing power, and the talent to
launch a service that will firmly establish <video> and Ogg Theora as
the video solution for the web.
[...] The web is based on free and open formats. Google would not have
existed without the web. It will be a terrible tragedy if you tip the
scales in favor of patent-encumbered formats on the web. We expect
higher standards from you.
That is really the root cause of the dispute. To many, the "open web"
demands open codecs, while Google doesn't necessarily disagree with the
intent, they are not so idealistic as to ignore a de facto video
standard for Chrome. In addition, YouTube, which is owned by Google, has
an enormous collection of H.264-encoded video that Google would undoubtedly
like to support directly in Chrome.
Slowly but surely, though, the Theora
codec is building momentum. Chrome, Opera, and Mozilla will all be
supporting it for the <video> tag, the Thusnelda encoder is becoming
competitive with H.264, and more sites are starting to carry Theora video.
The mailing list thread contained multiple mentions of Dailymotion
as supporters—and, more importantly, adopters—of Theora.
While Mozilla, Opera, and probably others are not forcing Theora as
the only choice for their users, they are making it the only default video
codec. Plugins or extensions will most certainly support H.264 (along with
other codecs), but the idea is that web site owners can be sure that their
visitors browser will support Theora. Currently, web owners are often
forced to rely on Adobe Flash plugins as their video delivery system; an
in-browser solution will clearly be a step up.
There are those—Nokia and Apple among them—that are unconvinced
about the unencumbered nature of Theora, and consider it an open question
whether there will be patent suits against deep-pocketed implementers.
Google would seem to fit that bill, so, with luck, the Chrome
implementation will flush out any
submarine patents that some patent troll believes Theora infringes. Given
that Google was willing to pay for a license from MPEG-LA, one might guess
they would be willing to do the same for Theora, but at least that would
bring the submarines to the surface. Perhaps that is not the perfect
outcome, but is certainly better than the uncertainty that exists today.
Comments (33 posted)
OpenMoko has had a tough time. Since
announcing in 2006 that it was creating an open, Linux-powered mobile
phone, it has been plagued with hardware problems and immature, buggy
software (the software stack has been rewritten at least twice). The
problems with the product has resulted in poor sales which caused smart,
motivated staff to leave (or be laid off), thus creating a vicious
LWN has chronicled OpenMoko's progress and problems over the years,
culminating in another recent
round of lay-offs and OpenMoko (OM) refocusing on a mysterious "Project B" about
which little is known except that it is not a mobile phone.
Ironically, just at the time OM is (temporarily?) refocusing away from
phones, its phone: the Neo FreeRunner (aka
GTA02) is just becoming a stable, usable phone suitable for use by the
typical LWN reader.
There are a number of distributions
available for the FreeRunner. The majority of those that have ongoing
development are based on a
telephony stack called freesmartphone.org (FSO)
developed by (now-)former OM employees. This stack provides a number of
D-BUS interfaces for controlling various phone components including GPRS,
wifi, and GPS, as well as the GSM phone functionality. Different
distributions can then build on top of the FSO stack.
Stable Hybrid Release
(SHR) was one of the earliest FSO distributions; it originally aimed to
be a hybrid (hence the name) of the best bits from the various official OM
distributions. It has evolved into a general purpose, community-driven
distribution that has regular testing releases (and a continuously updating
unstable release) that incorporate new software and features
officially blessed distribution and, like SHR, it is based on FSO and OpenEmbedded
OM2009 is minimal in the features and software it provides; OM wanted to
concentrate on creating a working mobile phone before trying to create a
"smart" phone. This is reflected in the choice of the Paroli
application, which is a
GUI for controlling basic phone functionality such as a dialer and SMS.
Not all the FSO distributions use OpenEmbedded, for example Hackable:1
created a number of popular applications) is based on Debian and there are
also Gentoo and Slackware distributions. There are also a number of non-FSO
based software stacks including a port of Android
All the FSO based distributions are still relatively immature; Neither
SHR or OM2009 has yet to make a formal stable release though the "testing"
images are widely used. Looking at mailing list traffic and IRC, most users
seem to have switched to using them (I've been using SHR for about a month
as my daily phone).
Using SHR as a day-to-day phone
SHR contains all of the features you'd expect in a basic phone: a dialer,
messaging, and contacts applications. They all work well, but are
rudimentary. Call quality is noticeably worse than that of my Nokia in noisy
environments, but is still acceptable. The phone is configured to suspend
in order to save battery life, but reliably wakes up on incoming calls and texts.
fairly typical usage pattern, the phone battery lasts a couple of days
before needing to be recharged; though recharging it every night is not a
Wifi, GPRS (the FreeRunner is a 2G phone), and GPS all work and can be
configured via the GUI. The default browser (Midori) is more suited to a
traditional desktop - it lacks finger scrolling and zooming which makes
using it quite cumbersome. Other browsers are available, in particular, a
Hackable:1 community member has created a WebKit-based browser named Woosh
which is designed for the FreeRunner. Woosh is still in its infancy but if
it, or another similar project mature it will be a big boon for the
A variety of other software is available, most is available in the
repositories for the various distributions but opkg.org exists as a useful showcase. Some
popular apps that I regularly use include Navit (GPS car navigation system
that requires some fiddling with text files to install and configure,
Intone (music player) and MokoMaze (simple but addictive accelerometer
based ball-in-maze game). You can also use applications like Dictator to transform
your phone into a basic dictation machine or to record phone calls.
There are a large number of keyboards/software input methods available
(e.g. Hackable:1's Xkbd and qwo) but partly because the
screen is inset from the case (and partly just because it is a
touch-screen) entering lots of text can be a laborious operation. Because
it's an open phone based on a recent Linux kernel, though, it has support
for Bluetooth keyboards which make text entry much more efficient.
In short, it has all the basic requirements for a
simple phone. In addition, there is a community creating and refining
software for it and you have the ability to do things like ssh in and use
vi (or to make use of a simple D-BUS interface to determine your
location). There are plenty of rough edges, though, for example, the
speaker phone button doesn't seem to work in the dialer, there is currently
no GUI for altering the volume during a phone call, and connecting to a
wireless network requires two applications: one to turn the wifi power on,
the other as a GUI for wpa_supplicant.
There are OM distributors around the
world who will happily sell you a FreeRunner, however it is worth
noting that there have been a number of hardware revisions. Those prior to
the most recent (A7) revision were susceptible to "buzz" on the
line during phone calls with certain combinations of GSM
frequencies and carriers. OM has supported distributors (e.g. Golden
Delicious and SDG) in providing
hardware buzz fixes to earlier models, but confirming which revision of the
FreeRunner you are purchasing could prevent a lot of hassle after
The future is uncertain for OM and its relationship with mobile
phones. OM has opened the hardware schematics for the FreeRunner and a community project is
making a number of updates. Whether we will ever see new phones and major
new software revisions coming from OM itself is an open question, but, given
the open, community-oriented nature of both the hardware and the software,
that is not necessarily a death knell for the phone. OM has plenty of
stock of FreeRunners and can continue to produce more if the demand is
Despite the rough edges, the Neo FreeRunner is a usable phone. What sets it
apart from other phones is its openness; unlike others, the user
rather than the phone vendor or the carrier are in control. All the
software that runs on the phone's main CPU is open source (the separate GSM module
is closed) and hardware schematics are available. However, given the
perilous state of OM's finances, if you want open phone hardware with a
growing community, now might be a good time to buy one.
Comments (2 posted)
Video editing stands to get significantly easier for Linux users this
year. The GStreamer-based
nonlinear video editor (NLE) PiTiVi
has released its first public build since undergoing a substantial rewrite.
Version 0.13.1 was released
May 27, 2009, and adds a handful of user-visible changes but makes
substantial improvements under the hood, laying down groundwork for the
next development cycle.
Video editing continues to be an unsettled topic among Linux
users. Among the handful of applications currently available, each has its
share of limitations, user interface quirks, and stability problems. Kino,
for example, is very capable at capturing DV video from cameras, but uses
an unfamiliar UI for an NLE, without the familiar editing timeline, and
requiring a rendering step for every title, transition, or effect.
Kdenlive and Cinelerra offer broader feature sets, but are plagued by
widely-reported installation and stability problems. For its part, the
chief criticism of PiTiVi has always been missing functionality. The
rewrite of the 0.13 series, begun in 2008, promises to change that.
PiTiVi (pronounced "P-T-V") uses Python for its user interface and
top-level logic, but all audio and video processing — from playback
to filters — takes place in GStreamer. That gives the application
better performance, the ability to take advantage of GStreamer's
multi-threading, and independence of codec and file formats. Any format
supported by GStreamer is supported by PiTiVi, which is convenient for
users, and distributions can include the application without introducing a
package dependency on potentially legally-risky media engines such as FFmpeg. GStreamer's plugin-based abstraction
allows PiTiVi to function regardless of whether any particular codec pack
— patented, commercial, proprietary, or free — is
installed, and does not require maintaining a specially-tailored playback
engine to avoid legal conflicts.
Users will notice that PiTiVi 0.13.1 supports multiple layers in the
timeline, permitting simple overlay of multiple video and audio sources,
support for still images as video tracks, and the ability to trim audio and
video clips in the editor. As the before (at left) and after (below, at
right) screenshots depict,
audio waveforms and video thumbnails are now used to represent tracks in
the timeline, making it easier to distinguish between clips while editing.
In addition to the visible changes, however, the more substantial work of
the 0.13.x series is the refactoring of the core, which will eventually
make the editor more powerful.
Lead developer Edward Hervey said that the refactored application
core reflects several years of feedback from users and discussions with
professional video editors. "The previous design was more the
evolution of a certain view I had of video editing and its workflow back in
2003." The old design included a lot of hard-coded features that
held the application back in real-world workflows, such as limits on the
number of audio and video tracks, a limit on the number of layers, and only
being able to have one project open at a time.
One example Hervey cites is the internal representation of the editing
timeline. The old PiTiVi core was tied directly to the timeline provided
by the Gnonlin library (a
dependency of PiTiVi that implements NLE features as GStreamer plugins),
which limited it to one object per stream and track. The new core adds an
layer, permitting multiple objects and tracks.
The rewrite is also considerably more modular, making it easier for the
developers to add additional features. Features planned for the 0.13.x
cycle include critical editing tasks like titling, transitions, and effects
— operations which are already possible in GStreamer
plugins. Hervey explained:
There are two titling elements for example (takes text in
input, renders it with Cairo/Pango into a video frame and outputs that
frame), we have a video mixer elements (to
combine several streams), several elements to apply alpha/transparency to a
video stream, some video effects (from EffecTV
) [...] But despite
having all those elements, there is some work to be
done in PiTiVi to make them useful to end-users. Classifying the various
effects/operations is one such task we have to do (there's no big
difference GStreamer-wise between color balance, video mixing or applying a
funky video effect). We also need to show the
various properties of those effects in an editing-oriented way, sometimes
add some UI to properly modify those properties (Using a bluescreen effect
would require having a dialog box with a color picker and a
Most of the user
interface work has been taken on by new team addition Brandon Lewis,
with assistance from Jean-Francois Tam. As is often the case, the team is
trying to maintain a clean separation between the application core and its
user interface, but for PiTiVi this choice has implications for its
customizability. Hervey explained that the goal is to keep the UI as
simple as possible in order to make the program usable by novices, but to
leave room for building additional functionality on top of it through the
use of plugins.
PiTiVi development is intrinsically tied to GStreamer development. As
Hervey explained in an interview with
Gnomedesktop.org, he, Lewis, and core developer Alessandro Decina are all
employed by Collabora Multimedia,
which sponsors ongoing GStreamer work alongside other open source projects.
Some of Collabora's revenue comes from consulting jobs that involve
building custom GStreamer processing and editing solutions, so building a
dependable NLE is an important task, which influences the direction in which
GStreamer itself moves.
One such influence was the notion of "segments"
that was added in GStreamer 0.10. Segments allow PiTiVi to track in- and
out-markers for each video and audio buffer without altering the buffer
itself, greatly speeding up the process of rearranging clips in the
timeline. "Previously in order to do time-shifting we'd have to
modify the timestamps of all buffers, whereas with segments we can give
information as to when buffers that follow that event will be displayed, at
what speed, etc..." In addition, Hervey added, PiTiVi development
tests all GStreamer plugins to ensure that they fully conform to the API,
such as making sure that all decoders can do sample-accurate
Furthermore, as with any GStreamer project, the modular nature of the
media framework means that other projects can share in the improvements
that originate in PiTiVi, and vice-versa. Because PiTiVi represents a
different usage of GStreamer than the considerably more common "media
player" paradigm, it stress-tests plugins in different ways.
Up next on PiTiVi
The next milestone in PiTiVi development is scheduled to be released in
July, adding essential features like undo/redo, blending and compositing,
and video capture. Because it is officially designated a development
branch, the team has not pushed the 0.13.x series for inclusion in Linux
distributions. Until then, users interested in testing the development
releases can either download
and compile source code packages, or if using Debian or Ubuntu, access
development binaries through the project's Personal Package Archive (PPA).
The PPA includes updated packages for GStreamer, GStreamer plugins,
Gnonlin, and other key dependencies. Building from source also requires
satisfying these dependencies, so instructions are
provided on the PiTiVi wiki.
NLEs are notoriously complex beasts, and a stable, capable NLE remains a
missing piece of the free software desktop for many users. Because it can
leverage GStreamer for the heavy lifting of media processing, PiTiVi stands
a better chance than most young projects of reaching dependable usability,
and if the first release of the newly-rewritten core in 0.13.1 is any
indication, the application is well on its way.
Comments (6 posted)
Fourteen months ago, when One Laptop per
Child (OLPC) announced that it was preparing to work with Windows, the
free software community treated the news as a betrayal. However, nowhere
was the reaction stronger than within OLPC itself. Within days, Walter Bender, who
oversaw the development of Sugar, OLPC's graphical interface, had resigned
and announced the creation of Sugar
Labs, a non-profit organization for ensuring Sugar's continuation. Now,
looking back over the year since then, Bender considers that Sugar Labs has
progressed steadily towards its main goals: getting organized, taking
advantage of the nature of free software to enhance education, and
developing a community of teachers and students to help direct Sugar's
"It turns out that One Laptop per Child didn't really go down the
Windows path," Bender admitted. "They're still shipping Linux and Sugar
with every laptop, and they've just announced that their 1.5 machine
is also going to be Sugar-based." However, he had no way of knowing
that last year.
At any rate, the proposed change of operating systems was not the only
reason for the creation of Sugar Labs. "At the same time, I was
thinking that Sugar should be broader than just one particular hardware
platform," Bender added. "We spent a lot of the first year
undoing any specific dependencies on the One Laptop per Child
hardware. What we've done is made Sugar run pretty much everywhere."
Sugar is now available in most major distributions, and Sugar Labs is
currently in the middle of developing Sugar on a Stick,
a USB installation. In addition, Sugar Labs has been discussing Sugar
deployment with several netbook manufacturers.
"I think we've got a lot of ways to go in terms of raising
awareness about Sugar," Bender said. "I don't think the world knows that
Sugar's out there, and that it's a separate thing that can run outside of
One Laptop per Child. That will take time. Our marketing budget is the same
as all the rest of our budgets — zero — but we'll get
At the same time, Sugar Labs has established a structure more in
keeping with the free software and interactive learning ideals of its
members. Modeling itself after free software organizations like the GNOME
Foundation, Sugar Labs is run by an elected Oversight Board, which is
deliberately designed "to be pretty toothless. About the only power
that the Oversight Board has is to appoint a committee to solve
Instead, it is the project's various teams that make most of the
decisions, with all discussions occurring on the same IRC channel. As with
most free software projects, this organization is born out of necessity,
since Sugar Labs does not actually have any office space, but Bender
suggested that it is also an advantage in building the type of community
that project members desire.
By contrast, he suggested that OLPC, which does have a physical
location, "was struggling a bit to maintain communication with the
global community. Conversations were not deliberately obfuscated, but,
because they were happening in a room as opposed to online, a lot of people
weren't hearing the conversation, and a lot of people felt they weren't
part of the project because of that. We don't have one physical center of
activity, and that plays out to our advantage, I think."
All in all, Bender stated, "Things have gone remarkably
smoothly. We've been a pretty disciplined bunch. For instance, if you look
at our release map, we're not letting features get ahead of our ability to
deliver something that is robust and on time. For the most part, it's been
a great year."
Free software ideals and education
However, for Bender, Sugar Lab's greatest accomplishments have not been
in its organization, but in the advancement of its educational goals
— goals that Bender views as meshing remarkably well with the ideals
of free software
From the start, Sugar has been intended as more than an
interface. Instead, Sugar Labs prefers to describe the software it develops
as a learning platform. "We're not interested in anything except
learning," Bender said. "as we make decisions about what we
release and what we do, the first question we always ask is, 'How does this
impact learning?' But 'platform' is important, too, because Sugar is not
just a finished product that we give you to use. The implication is that
Sugar is the platform on which you are going to build as well. We give you
some scaffolding, but that scaffolding is there for you to build upon, as
opposed to something you just use."
In this respect, Bender views Sugar as radically different from
proprietary learning systems. "Often times, the tendency is to give
children toy versions of a program, so that they don't hurt
themselves. Also, the professional versions are expensive. Sugar takes a
different approach. We want to give them tools that are real, and don't
limit them in any way. But, at the same time, we're very cognizant that we
have a path that doesn't require them to be an expert to get
started. Really, that's an approach that is possible to achieve in free
software, but quite difficult to achieve in any other way."
For example, Sugar's music activities begin with "tools that are
literally accessible by a two year old — a sort of
pound-on-the-keyboard activity. They can take that tool and use it over the
network to make a band, and use it for sequencing and to compose
music. then they can go into a synthesizer and start to play with wave
forms, random number generators and envelope curves. Then they can go into
a scripting language called cSounds
and start to understand how music is scripted in the machine — and
that's the same language that the pros use in Hollywood for scripting
special effects. Then they can go into our View Source editor and hack the
Python code that's underlying all these tools. They have the ability to go
deeper into anything — and anything is determined by the child's
interests, [or] by the teacher. It's not determined by the people writing
In much the same way, Bender considers the collaboration framework that
is part of the basic Sugar interface as a direct invitation for open-ended
critical discussion. "This has a very direct connection to free
software," he said. "One of the things about free software is that not only
do you share, but you also engage in a critical dialogue about what you're
sharing. The idea that ideas are there to be critiqued is one that a child
has got to learn, and Sugar collaboration is as much about being engaged in
criticism as it is about sharing." In other words, Sugar Labs
considers the collaborative development found throughout free software
projects as a model of exactly the sort of interaction that is ideal in
Another area of success in the past year has been the increased
participation of teachers and students in Sugar development.
"We've been really persistent about constantly going back to the
teachers and saying, 'You've got to participate. You've got to give us
feedback,'" Bender said. "'If you don't give us feedback,
we're not going to learn, and you're not going to get the kinds of tools
Bender acknowledged that finding the right channel for this feedback is
difficult. He would personally prefer IRC, "because on IRC you've got
this discussion among experts [who are] solving problems," as well
as access at any time of the day. However, experience has taught him that
IRC is not "a tool that teachers are going to be comfortable with, at
least initially." Instead, teachers seem to prefer email, despite
the fact it is not instantaneous and that communication is asynchronous.
But, regardless of the medium, teachers and students are starting to
let their views be known. For instance, in Uruguay, teachers using the Turtle Art
activity (Sugar's name for an application) requested a square root function
they could use to teach the Pythagorean Theorem. At first, Bender told
them to write the function themselves. But, eventually he realized that
such a contribution was beyond most teacher's ability. He added an
extension that gave them several different ways to add to the code,
including some that did not require programming expertise, and the square
root function got done.
What was more important than the specific function, though, was the
lesson Bender learned about coding styles in general. "I wasn't
thinking how I could make things extendable by teachers when I [wrote]
it," Bender said. "Now, that's at the forefront of my
The last year does not seem to have produced any example of student
involvement comparable to one Bender remembered from 2007, when
Igbo-speaking students in Nigeria produced their own spell-check dictionary
for Sugar's Abiword-based Write activity. However, Bender did mention that
he was scheduled to be interviewed soon by students in Boston about Sugar,
and an upcoming project to have students write Sugar documentation, so
Sugar Labs is trying to engage students in discussion as well.
Still another mechanism for receiving feedback is the relatively new
practice of establishing Sugar Labs wherever the interest exists. The goal,
Bender said, is to "have those local centers be responsible for local
support and localization. Those centers can be pretty much structured in
any way that's appropriate to that region. We aren't going to impose a
structure on them. So long as they share our core values, they can be Sugar
Labs. That's beginning to happen now."
A Sugar Labs now exists in Colombia, and others are being organized in
Washington, D.C. and Lima, Peru. "Each of them has its own set of
issues they're trying to focus on, but all of them at the same time are
participating in the global dialog," Bender said.
Building for a pedagogical future
Fourteen months after Sugar Labs was established, OLPC machines remain
the major deployment for Sugar. However, Bender is encouraged by signs that
the educational ideas behind Sugar are starting to be adopted elsewhere in
Sugar has a long relationship with Fedora, the basis for the original
OLPC operating system and an active participant in everything from Sugar on
a Stick to the Oversight Board. But, in the last year, Sugar Labs has
started to work more closely with distributions that are specifically
geared towards education. For example, Bender suggests that his discussions
with the developers of Skolelinux,
an educational distribution based on Debian, may have helped them move
their planning beyond the mechanics of installation and system maintenance
or of software selection.
"I think they were only just beginning to think deeply on how
Linux can impact on learning," Bender said. "I think that's why there's a
lot more interest in Sugar recently, because we've been thinking about that
question right from the beginning. I'm convinced that there's not just
technical merit in Linux for learning — there's cultural and
Increasingly, Bender hoped, other parts of the free software community
will take over some of the technical aspects of Sugar, such as solving
their own problems with adapting Sugar to specific distributions. If that
happens, Bender said, "that means our attention can be elsewhere,
focusing on the dialog with teachers and with students, and making sure
that deployment is specific to the needs of schools is being done."
Concluding, Bender said, "This is important stuff. We've got to
do something about giving every child an opportunity to learn and be a
critical thinker. There's all these problems that the wold is facing right
now, and the only way that these problems are going to be solved is by
putting more minds around them. Whether it's Sugar or something else, I
think that the community really needs to be working hard at engaging more
people in problem-solving and engaging them in learning. And I think that's
the strength of the Linux community."
At a time when discussions about free and open source software tend to be centered on business, such comments may sound outdated in their idealism. But, after listening to Bender, the only conclusion one can come to is that is why Sugar Labs was created in the first place: To provide an alternative perspective that is harder to maintain in a commercial venture like OLPC. By that criteria, Sugar Lab's first year can be counted as a solid success.
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