LATU stands by Laboratorio Tecnológico del Uruguay and is in charge of the technical aspects of the Plan Ceibal, as well as the overall coordination of the project. As part of their responsibility in making the software deployed on the OLPC machines as useful as possible in their context, they are spending considerable resources in the development and support of Sugar.
Because they were until recently on the initial phase of the project, they have carried that work on their own, without participating in the community nor working together with other deployers of Sugar. Now that every child in public primary schools in Uruguay owns a XO laptop, they are starting to think about optimizing their Sugar work by pooling resources with others and coordinating with upstream's schedules. The LATU also has a big interest in that their work benefits other countries using Sugar, as part of Uruguay's participation in international cooperation. I have the hope that most of what they learn when working with Sugar Labs will help them take the most of other free software projects they use, such as GNOME (chances are the laptops that will be given to high schoolers in the next years will be running that).
The concrete issue they found when developing on their own was that every time that their upstream (OLPC) produced a new image build, in order to benefit from the improvements in that release they had to apply the customizations made locally, solve any conflicts and retest everything. If they had contributed those modifications to Sugar, OLPC images would have come with them and no further work would be needed. Reaching the point in which they can directly use the OLPC images as-is is still a bit far away, but every bit that they integrate upstream is a step in the right direction and reduces their development and support costs. Also, when their employees work within the communities that maintain their software, they work directly with the most qualified engineers in those technologies, increasing local capacity.
Through Walter's mediation, Miguel Brechner contacted me a few weeks ago proposing visiting them in Uruguay to explore ways for integrating their processes with those in Sugar Labs and other free software projects they use such as OLPC. I was lucky enough to be able to take the chance to also attend Ceibal '09, a wonderful event about which I blogged here.
Another happy circumstance is that the LATU took the initiative of inviting Paraguay Educa, the deployers of OLPC and Sugar in Paraguay, to send one of their engineers to Montevideo in order to participate on the sessions. It was a big pleasure meeting Martin Abente (tch in #sugar), who wrote about his trip (in Spanish) here and hope I can meet in person the rest of his team soon.
This is the first time since a year ago that I have been paid for working on Sugar, so I have high hopes in that we are going to find soon business models that will sustain further development of Sugar. Would be a sad situation if upstream development of Sugar had to halt because the core developers had to end their involvement in order to fulfill their real-life responsibilities. If that happened, deployers of Sugar (responsible for more than a million installations) wouldn't have a place where to pool resources and coordinate their work.
I'm going to blog two more parts about the week I spent there, one focusing on the technical aspects and the other will be about the management and community side of things.