OLPC Chief: Our OS Was Our Biggest Mistake

In a recent interview with ZDNet Asia, Negroponte was asked about the mistakes made with the XO laptop and OLPC. Negroponte noted that putting the crank handle on the machine was a mistake, however he said the biggest mistake was using Sugar as the operating system.

Negroponte explained that the company should have offered Sugar as an application running on a regular OS. 

"Sugar should have been an application [residing] on a normal operating system," he told ZDNet Asia. "But what we did…was we had Sugar do the power management, we had Sugar do the wireless management--it became sort of an omelet. The Bios talked directly with Sugar, so Sugar became a bit of a mess."

Negroponte went on to say that the move by Sugar Labs to offer Sugar on a USB stick was "much cleaner" and added that with this development, we could see a "naked" XO laptop sometime in the future.

What do you think OLPC's biggest failure has been to date? Let us know in the comments below!

  • ricardok
    The OLPC is a failure by itself.
    Go for ATOM, and add some nice ports to it.
    And the handle, yuck.

    Kids love new stuff, but not "that" stuff..
  • christop
    Well It was a good Idea... But I tried sugar and hated it.. That was a mistake they should have went with ubuntu or something maybe windows based
  • squatchman
    I'm going to go with the obvious, "They refused to sell it" reason.

    Remember that the OLPC predates the Atom and nearly predates the netbook fad itself.
  • Jane,

    Thanks for picking up on the OLPC News article where we debate OLPC biggest mistake: http://www.olpcnews.com/people/negroponte/olpc_biggest_mistake_sugar.html
  • mdillenbeck
    Should have sold it under on the open market at the price that would have subsidized one donated laptop per laptop sold. Also, yet, they should have use an open-source linux platform and made sugar a custom interface - I think it would have made them seem more humanitarian in nature. I like the Ubuntu suggestion, as the two groups seem to share the same philosophical foundation.

    Of course, another reason it may have "failed" could be the global economic downturn and the inability to include key features for the desired implementation. (For example, having hand cranked power so those people in remote areas could use it without an expensive solar charging station!)
  • The sad thing here is that Steve Jobs offered OLPC a free version of OS X for OLPC way before they got started and they said OS X was not "open enough" in spite of the fact that the core OS is open source, and BSD, Java, Apache2, PHP5, Ruby, Python, HTML 5, OpenGL and much more is all built-in. And in spite of the fact that OS X can run a compositing OpenGL interface even on 2001 hardware.

    What it comes down to is that OLPC had to have the word "Linux" in their system and and now OLPC is just another failed consumer Linux. The irony is that Linux is so famously open source, but everybody who uses it starts totally from scratch and builds up to X-Windows and then quits. X-Windows is literally 1980's technology.

  • belardo
    The OLPC was designed for 3rd world operations. A generic cheap notebook would die out in the elements and power is an issue.

    The handcrank is an expenses and function needed out in the boonies... so it does work. But I think most people living out in forests/etc where there is NO power, TV, etc - could care less about computers.

    The OS really shouldn't have made a difference since A modern computer such as the OLPC is far more powerful than 16bit computers of the 80s. Compatibility with MS shouldn't have been a factor, its a beginners computer. Designed to work in any language that any child can figure out how to use.

    Now, Sugar shouldn't have been the OS. A stripped-down linux or if MS wanted to DONATE an embedded version of windows would have been better (if possible - do we know?) with Sugar as the GUI.

    The OLPCs are a 3+ year old design now. The OLPC-2 is better and modern design that's even better and even COOL by any standards. There is almost no ports or any moving parts. It opens up, that's it. No keyboard, "ears", etc. Its 2 LCD screens... Opened like a notebook, one screen becomes the keyboard. (No dirt or water damage) Hold it like a book and the mode its in, and it works like a book. Open it flat, its a tablet computer.

    But what caused the OLPC to fail?
    - Intel : They wanted their CPU and made their OWN vesion of a mini-computer that they would NEVER make. Then hit the 3rd world countries and competed against the OLPC with the Classmate PC.
  • By all means the colors and design!
    Though it's made for the African continent where they love colors, in western countries it would not sell very well.

    Apart from that I think the OLPC in it's time was a piece of ingenuity!
    The first laptop I know that uses AA type of batteries, has a semi reflective LCD display, with increased resolution by using diagonal aligned pixels, it was dust proof, rugged, and had a CPU powerful enough to do most chores.
    Also the sugar OS could be converted to a debian like screen with a launch bar,and a desktop with desktop icons.
    An improved os for meshing is also something we hardly ever see in our western society where everyone is expected to have their own internet access point.

    I don't think the OLPC was a failure at all, and for many hardware hackers and gadget freaks a tool cheap enough to open up, and mod it (eg: adding a bluetooth stick, increase flash space or other things).

    I think it would have been good for the laptop to have a SD card as drive; it is cheap enough, and the upgrade will give a significant boost in diskspace(compared to the factory disk space)!
  • Another thing:
    Biggest failure is the "buy one give one" requirement.
    I'm sure a lot more people would have bought it, if they only didn't need to buy 2 of them (which costed back then almost $400!).
  • lifelesspoet
    This has been the lesson learned by most netbook makers. Intuitive designed, large icon space saving desktops are great for 2.5 inch cell screens. A large portion of netbook users installed generic linux desktops or windows on their linux netbook. The msi wind shipped with poor drivers and lenovo bosses blamed the linux community for not doing a better Job making drivers.
    A squandered opportunity for linux. Also note, one of the best selling linux netbooks, the dell mini, comes with a very usable version of ubuntu.