Saturday, December 6, 2008

Why Sugar?

Or rather, why to spend a significant part of my life in this project?

To make it short, it's because I see how computers have failed many people around me.

I was lucky to grow in a family that, though not affluent, had ready access to computers. First it was a Macintosh (128K), then came a Mitsubishi MSX and in the next 15 years several models of Apple and PC-compatibles followed. One outcome of this was that my brother and me grew up playing, programming and tinkering with the different platforms, and my mother earned a live with desktop publishing. But, my sister, father and grandparents (who lived in a flat below ours) didn't particularly benefited from those computers. Why?

In a similar way, about 90% of my classmates only ever used computers during their studies because we passed one hour every week in the computer lab and a teacher would evaluate their knowledge about how to put files inside folders, use bold and italic fonts in text documents and sum up columns of numbers. At the end, they didn't benefited from the computers they had access to. Why?

Perhaps it's because those totally capable people couldn't justify in their minds to spend an indeterminate amount of effort in order to gain a very fuzzy benefit, something very reasonable, I would say. During the last 10 years, our societies have increased awareness of the benefits of computing, so more and more people have decided to make bigger efforts to use computers. But we are still failing a very significant part of our communities. Why?

Maybe, because the effort required to use computers hasn't decreased much during these years. That's why I think that the UIs that so efficiently geeks like me are using aren't enough when we want to bring the benefits of computers to all people.

And how can Sugar help to improve this situation? I see Sugar as two things in this regard: a common place where people who care about extending access to computing can work together, and a software platform where we are free to break assumptions and provide a better user experience to the use case we care most about: education.

If you go to the Ubuntu forums or call Microsoft's user support and propose a change to their software that benefits the educational use of their software but needs to change in some way how office workers use their UI, you will be told more or less politely to go ask somewhere else. But not in Sugar, as we have the power to actually change things and will welcome any idea that improves how people learn with their computers.

In case it's not clear yet, I understand how people that are happy with how they use their computers today can find Sugar a waste of time and how they can decide to be opposed to many computers around them run such an unfamiliar UI. But what I want to stress is that we are not saying that we are going to make Sugar a platform _you_ will be happier to use (though we'd love that, of course), what we say is that something is wrong with today's computers and something needs to be done.

So, share your ideas (and code!) about why Sugar sucks and how it can be improved. But please, stop repeating that existing desktops are just fine and we shouldn't be reinventing the wheel. From where I stand, I only see squared wheels and there must be something better!

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