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03 January 2009

OLPC: Why Sugar Sucks - A Really Long List

Why OLPC Software Sucks

olpc's "sugar" operating system takes the cake for the most unresponsive OS ever, and that's saying a lot! this is a pic of me trying to open an activity bundle, an ".xo" file. As i type this, nothing has changed. ctlr-alt-f2-ing over to a real, honest-to-god terminal shows me that unzip has eaten my XO's rather limited AMD GEODE processor for now. WTF?

Steps to cause users great software discomfort:

1. Use redhat's fedora core, and alter it almost beyond recognition - the result is "sugar", an awkward operaring system that steals valuable devel time from the OSS world.

2. insist that every previously-written piece of software must be "sugarized" to work with XO. Generate buzz and intial devel activity that result in lots of orphaned software projs.

3. write a new browser. nevermind many decent ones already exist.

4. Refuse to play nice with anyone, or admit mistakes *ever*

I've been trying to use sugar for about a year now. It's still terrible. It's more terrible than i can summarize in the requisite 1000 characters of an MMS, so i now continue my diatribe from the green machine itself.

Other things i hate:

* No man pages - the most flagrant sign that "it just plays linux on TV"

* No swap, since it has a flash "hard drive" that would be degraded by swap's frequent writing. Too bad linux on 256MB ram *really* needs swap. Eric's performance hacks, especially the incredible compcache greatly alleviate this evil (keep an eye on compcache - changing the nature of linux computing!). Still, it's non-trivial to permanently enable compcache. Another example of "it just plays linux on TV"

* No mp3 capability by default; installation must be done via commandline. I'm no fan of mp3. I used ogg for years before i finally admitted defeat. We're stuck in an mp3 world. As such. the XO is a victim of idealogical zealotry.

* Battery life - claims of 10-12 hours were a major selling point for me. A year later. sugar's best power saving features are still *experimental*, for god's sake! 3.5 hours today from full charge, 1/3 of that with backlight off, reading by sunllight.

* No hibernate, nor the possibility of it. On my thinkpad, i can press a button and suspend my machine to disk, leave it my backpack for weeks, and get my in-use desktop back with the press of a button. With OLPC's emphasis on power, i thought the XO could at least match this feat.

Nope. At best, it goes sleep. Leave it asleep on the shelf for a month or two, and the battery gets so dead that it WON'T CHARGE. A special EC program (batman.fth) must be used to flash the battery. All this requires an easily-obtained developer's key. What's secure about requiring this key???

* Ebook reading still not functional. Flipping through pdfs is painfully slow. Hit the wrong button and *surprise* you're at the end of the book, you've lost your place, and it will take 5 or 10 minutes to get back.

Overall, the XO's software sucks. Bad.

The hardware is amazing. I've put the keyboard under running water. It's 3 pounds, had a nice handle, and a small powerwart. I can read the screen in DAYLIGHT!

So what's a geek to do? Buy a 16gb SDHC sandisk extreme II (15mb/s) card ($40 at writing) and install ubuntu. That's what i'm doing.


  1. Sugar is for children not for adults.

    I hope you will get happy with Ubuntu.

    Please report your result.

    Regards, Rainer

  2. It's time for OLPC to stop hiding behind the "made for children" mantra.

    Childern need computers that charge. Childern can benefit from mature software that gives the much-touted super-long battery life, allows them to listen to podcasts, and open more than two apps without their computers freezing for minutes at a time with no feedback.

    Most especially, children should not need to use the command line to fix the XO. But if children want to learn what's "behind the magic", they *need* man pages. The self-documenting nature of *nix is key to its continued success.

    I tested ebook pdf reader more yesterday, and it's a lot better, I admit. On the other hand, I'm getting less than 3 days of sleep until total power failure. Lame.

  3. the machine has very low specs, you seem to expect a lot from a machine with 256mb. Maybe you dont remember laptops in the 1990s? It can do quite a lot with its limited resources and its getting better with 767 but its is not ever going to be an EEEpc.

  4. Does this comment bear the slightest relevance to my post? Battery life, mp3 capabilities, swap-space and man-pages are not new!

    Yup, I remember the 90's. In fact, I've been plunking away on 90's laptops by installing linux on them, and it was a rather new experience to see linux grind to a complete halt!

    Blinded by ideology! I believe i mentioned, repeatedly, that the hardware is *amazing*. Too bad sugar makes relatively poor use of it.

  5. Absolutely right, you've summed it up. It seems there's some slow progress towards 'harmonizing' real-Fedora and olpc-Fedora. Meantime I'm reasonably satisfied with DebXO but might give Ubuntu a go one day soon. I lived with sugar for a while but it's so horribly painfully excruciatingly grindingly slow.