[Rule] Sugar on everything?

Liam Proven lproven at gmail.com
Thu Feb 8 17:30:18 EET 2007

This is a post from my blog, but I thought it might be of interest here...

I've just been reading about the interesting new security system for
the <a href="http://www.laptop.org/" target="_blank">One Laptop Per
Child project</a>. It's called <a
href="http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Bitfrost" target="_blank">Bitfrost</a>
(a weak pun on "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bifrost"
target="_blank">Bifröst</a>", I suppose) and it aims to tightly
restrict the privileges on every application on the machine, so that
apps can't do anything that isn't essential. Puts the onus on the app
developer instead of the user, which is probably a good idea,
especially in this area. As its <a
target="_blank">author says</a>:<blockquote><i>"How can you expect a
6-year-old to make a sensible decision when 40-year-olds can't?"
Krstic asked in a session at the RSA Conference. Those boxes simply
train users to check "yes," he argued.</blockquote></i>Well, indeed.

But I'm wondering. I'm not actually a big fan of the OLPC idea.
Whereas it's a great, laudable notion, I think that existing charities
such as <a href="http://www.computeraid.org/" target="_blank">Computer
Aid</a> and <a href="http://www.computers4africa.org/"
target="_blank">Computers4Africa</a> are doing something more
sustainable: recycling discarded Western business machines and
shipping them to schools in the developing world for free, rather than
expecting impoverished, corrupt developing-world governments to pay
$250 (eventually dropping to $100) each for millions of kids to have
their own computers. Great idea, but flawed logic, I feel. Surely it's
generally better to recycle and reuse than to build anew? And in the
West, millions of perfectly functional computers go into landfill
every year. That's a waste. Waste is always bad, I feel.

One of the snags of the ComputerAid (&c) efforts are that in large
part they're putting closed commercial proprietary software on those
machines. They're locking the kids into the same vicious circle of
dependence on big western profit-making companies that we already have
here in the "developed" world.

I really much prefer efforts like <a href="http://rule-project.org/"
target="_blank">the RULE Project</a> and <a
href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_Lite" target="_blank">Ubuntu
Lite</a>, which aim to strip-down leading Linux distros into something
light enough to install on old PCs and have run in a fast, stable and
secure fashion. And no, telling people to just install 10y old distros
is not an answer. Old PCs are perfectly capable of running modern
software if it's done right.

Which has led me to wonder...

Is there any point or relevance in creating a special version of the
OLPC's cut-down <a href="http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Fedora"
target="_blank">Fedora</a> with its <a
href="http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Sugar" target="_blank">Sugar</a> <a
target="_blank">GUI</a>, designed to be installed on vanilla PCs? So
that for areas where they're too poor to afford OLPC machines, they
can run the same software on donated hardware?

Liam Proven  Blog, homepage &c: http://lproven.livejournal.com/profile
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