Thursday, December 4, 2008

SugarCamp Nov 08 (Part II)

Wednesday Nov 19th

Wednesday was the day that was most focused on technical issues.

Scott gave an interesting talk about what we can do to improve Sugar integration with traditional Unix desktops, though, as Marco pointed out during the talk, about half of that was already done ;) Check out the slides here.

In my opinion, the most important reason behind Sugar's success despite the very small resources available, is how we (though Marco needs to be credited as being the pusher for this) took advantage of the infrastructure already available in GNOME (or most specifically, GNOME Mobile). Sugar shouldn't be seen (from the architectural point of view) as a system on par with GNOME, KDE or Xfce, but rather as a peer of Nokia's Maemo and Canonical's Ubuntu Mobile, building on the GNOME Mobile platform.

Edward Cherlin talked next about important work that needs to be done in order to achieve OLPC's goals, but nobody has taken the initiative yet. This includes electric power distribution and generation, local entrepreneurial, content creation, etc. We at SugarLabs really need to find a way to work together with all organizations that share goals with us, and Local Labs will have a critical responsibility there.

Then was Martin Langhoff's turn, he spoke about the school server, the work done by now and the next steps. His small team of one person can only focus on OLPC's priorities for now, but I hope we'll find ways to use his work in non-OLPC deployments and contribute back some good stuff.

Sayamindu Dasgupta explained the work he has been doing lately to improve our localization infrastructure: language packs that can be deployed at a later stage than code deployment and supporting multiple fallback languages for regions where several languages are used and not all have a complete translation coverage. Scott showed us how our UI elements could be translated in place by users and we had some talk about the issues of consolidating that work.

After dinner Scott explained his view about the networking issues that OLPC faces.

UPDATE: Scott corrects me by saying that Wednesday night he actually talked about some miscellaneous topics.

Thursday Nov 20th

Early that morning Solution Grove's Caroline Meeks brought Marco, Bernie and me to visit the Thomas Gardner elementary school, where a Sugar on a Stick pilot may happen sometime next year. We got to see how the computer lab was set up, which infrastructure was in place, got the opportunity to ask about how kids used the computers in the lab, how classes were conducted and some of the interesting problems that the school faces and that Sugar could help with. A very inspiring time that makes me want to make sure that the next Sugar release (0.84) has all what is needed to conduct the pilot with success.

That visit made us arrive late to the first talk of the day, Greg Smith's "How Sugar Labs could better work with OLPC in satisfying their customers". As interesting as the school visit was, I felt very sorry to miss the first half of that talk because Greg really knows how to care about customers. There's lots to learn there and we would better understand how to work together with our users if we want to succeed. Checkout the slides. I would vote for him to give the same talk in our next half-dozen Sugarcamps, at least.

Nice presentation by Brendan and Caroline about their plans of using Sugar in schools in the US. We have some challenges to solve in order for them to be able to successfully deploy Sugar as they plan to, but we must succeed if we want to gain the enormous momentum that deployments in developed countries can give to Sugar in the short (1-2 years) term. As said above, Caroline plans to pilot Sugar in schools were every kid has a usb stick with a complete Sugar solution on it, and Brendan is working on deploying Sugar in thin clients. See more details in their beautiful slides.

OLPC's Ed McNierney talked with us about which are going to be the priorities for OLPC in software development. He explained that the focus would be "deployability", meaning by that all that can make easier for laptops to get into children's hands. Turned out that Sugar seems to be working pretty well for them, so work is mainly needed in: rebasing on F10, power management, localization/translation, activation/lease/signing/management, run linux and any linux app easily. Some of those areas involve Sugar modifications, though not of much use to other deployers of Sugar.

Given that OLPC is today the only organization putting development resources into Sugar and that they don't plan to work on further improving the platform as a whole, our roadmap for 0.84 is seriously questioned. So Marco decided to cancel his talk about the roadmap and instead talk further with OLPC employees about the areas in which we could work together. Unfortunately, those hours were finally spent in talking about OLPC issues not related to Sugar and we decided to leave the meeting room and focus on other stuff instead.

On the bright side, OLPC hasn't decided yet on what their contractors should work instead, so we keep working in the meantime on the original roadmap that we decided some months ago at the start of the 0.84 cycle.

Friday Nov 21th

Friday was dedicated to matters of a more organizational nature, though we started with a presentation on how Sugar could integrate the concept of a Portfolio. Giving better tools to children for them to explain their own work fits very well with our educational goals but also matches a growing trend in developed countries for kids to be a more active part in their own evaluation. Unfortunately, I missed most of this talk because my little brain wasn't able to follow the constant changes to the schedule. Slides here.

Walter gave next an overview of what have been the first 6 months of SugarLabs. We have covered lots of ground in the constitution of a community and an organization to support it and we have a clear idea of what our next challenges are. Check out the slides, they start with a very good introduction of SugarLabs' goals, mission and strategy.

Greg DeKoenigsberg lead a discussion on what the job of SugarLabs' marketing team would be and it resulted in a brainstorm about which message we want to communicate about SugarLabs.

After lunch we had a presentation by Pentagram's Christian Marc Schmidt and OLPC's Eben Eliason that I was eagerly waiting: Design opportunities for Sugar. It was a session packed with a thorough explanation of the principles behind Sugar's UI, several very interesting ideas about how to further develop its design goals and how to solve some issues that were discovered after actual use of Sugar by students and teachers. The presentation resulted very stimulating for the presents and several interesting discussions were started, though Michael Stone seemed to be specially excited by the talk and his frequent comments caused the talk to be rushed at the end. Check out the slides linked above because they are really awesome.

Scott continued presenting his ideas about how collaboration can better work in the scenarios that OLPC cares most about, and we found a way through which he can improve Sugar's support for those without disrupting the more mainstream use cases, which are presently working pretty well. So we are going to further work inside the telepathy stack that GNOME provides and OLPC developers will try to find alternative ways to provide a collaboration experience that works optimally in their deployments.

Saturday Nov 22th

Saturday started with some more work on marketing being led by Greg DeKoenigsberg. We worked on the elevator pitch and you can check out how this work further progresses here.

Then Adam Hyde from FLOSS Manuals talked with us about the very successful effort to create the Sugar manual and had some discussion about how best to translate this and other content like free-as-in-freedom textbooks.

Bernie presented next his awesome work on SugarLabs infrastructure and discussed with us how to move next. We keep considering several alternatives for acquiring a new machine and for hosting our services. Bernie has been doing big efforts in finding the best way to involve more volunteers that take the responsibility of maintaining the different pieces of SugarLabs' infrastructure.

Then Marco finally got to explain where we are regarding the engineering roadmap and we defined the major areas in which we need to work in this development cycle, check out the transcription of the whiteboard here. There's a lot of uncertainty regarding which resources OLPC will devote to this, but we need to move forward in any case.

Scott expressed his intention of working on a replacement for the Journal in Sugar, but as he wasn't able to pledge that his work could land during this development cycle, I will have to keep developing the old journal, that is getting a new datastore, entry network transfer and hopefully several usability improvements.

Scott's plans are very ambitious and if his new journal is not able to land at time for 0.84, we should make sure it does for 0.86.

To end this week talks, Mel conducted an experiment with us, the result of it can be found here.

Well, at last this got written, hope it helped a bit those who weren't able to attend. Next time I attend a Sugarcamp, I will think twice before offering to write about it.


C. Scott Ananian said...

Wednesday night I think I actually gave my Miscellaneous topics talk, not a networking talk. Great summary!

Mel said...

Thanks for the great notes, Tomeu! I've added them to the Sugarcamp '08 wiki page - it's always great to see events from someone else's perspective, especially as thorough and detailed a view as yours. :)