[conspire] [bytesforall_readers] Can we rescue OLPC from Windows?: RMS

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Thu May 1 14:34:34 PDT 2008

I am in the middle of this controversy, having succeeded in engaging
Nicholas Negroponte in a conversation. He still doesn't answer the
question you ask him, so it's going to take a little doing. Nicholas
has been diagnosed as dyslexic, and I suspect that he also has
Attention Deficit, as I do. ADHD impusiveness would partly explain
some of his more peculiar pronouncements, if he does. Both ADHD and
dyslexia are associated with creativity and compassion, according to
the researchers, so they may in fact be essential elements of a
project like OLPC, or of Free Software. We are also known for
inaccurate self-image, and disdain for the conventional, but it all
takes very different forms in different people.

They also say that ADHD and dyslexia are endemic in the geek/nerd
population. My observations bear this out for ADHD, but I don't really
know how much dyslexia there is among my friends in the business.

On Thu, May 1, 2008 at 1:52 AM, Frederick FN Noronha
<fredericknoronha at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
>  From: Hempal Shrestha <hempalshrestha at gmail.com>
>  Date: 2008/5/1
>  Subject: [FOSSNepal] Fwd: {OLPC Nepal} Can we rescue OLPC from Windows?: RMS
>  To: foss-nepal at googlegroups.com
>  Dear All,
>  Here is what RMS is asking, How are the OLPC things going to take
>  shape in Nepal?
>  Source: http://www.fsf.org/blogs/rms/can-we-rescue-olpc-from-windows/blogentry_view

OLPC Nepal is in excellent shape. http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Nepal

"OLPC launched at Bashuki and Bishwamitra schools on April 25th, 2008.
Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal) distributed a total of 135
OLPC laptops to grade 2 and 6 students from two schools in the
outskirts of Kathmandu Valley. These were addition to the 22 laptops
that were handed out to teachers from the schools during the teacher
preparation program held a month ago. The laptop project was
undertaken in partnership with Nepal government's Department of
Education (DoE). This project is part of OLE Nepal's mission to
increase quality of education while reducing current disparity in
access and quality between school types, regions, and population
groups by integrating ICT-based education in daily teaching-learning
process. The laptops for the project were donated by the Danish IT
Society in Copenhagen. "

>  Regards,
>  Hempal Shrestha
>  ====================================================================================
>   Can we rescue OLPC from Windows?
>  by Richard Stallman
>  I read Negroponte's statement presenting the OLPC XO as a platform for
>  Windows in the most ironic circumstances possible: during a week of
>  preparing, under a deadline, to migrate personally to an XO.
>  I made this decision for one specific reason: freedom. The IBM T23s
>  that I have used for many years are adequate in practice, and the
>  system and applications running on them are entirely free software,
>  but the BIOS is not. I want to use a laptop with a free software BIOS,
>  and the XO is the only one.

That's Open FirmWare, GPLed by Sun. Holding down a certain button on
the XO while booting takes you to the OFW Forth prompt (ok), and lets
you examine and modify the code.

>  The XO's usual software load is not 100% free; it has a non-free
>  firmware program to run the wireless chip.

I talked with rms at one of Rick Moen's installfests in Menlo Park,
CA, about the proprietary microkernel on the Marvell wireless chip,
and created a project to replace it with Free Software.
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Marvell_microkernel I'm pinging the
volunteers to see how far along they are.

>  That means I cannot fully
>  promote the XO as it stands, but it was easy for me solve that problem
>  for my own machine: I just deleted that file. That made the internal
>  wireless chip inoperative, but I can do without it.
>  As always happens, problems arose, which delayed the migration until
>  last week. On Friday, when I discussed some technical problems with
>  the OLPC staff, we also discussed how to save the future of the
>  project.

The conversation must include the volunteers and the children. The
volunteers are easy to reach on mailing lists at
http://lists.laptop.org. We have started the discussion about how to
get children involved.

>  Some enthusiasts of the GNU/Linux system are extremely disappointed by
>  the prospect that the XO, if it is a success, will not be a platform
>  for the system they love. Those who have supported the OLPC project
>  with their effort or their money may well feel betrayed. However,
>  those concerns are dwarfed by what is at stake here: whether the XO is
>  an influence for freedom or an influence for subjection.

See http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Controversies for a summary of the
situation and links to the source statements of fact and opinion in
e-mail, on blogs, and in articles and interviews. I have staked out a
pro-Free Software position, threatening to fork the project if
Nicholas Negroponte goes too far in courting Microsoft. I think it
unlikely that things will get that bad, because Microsoft isn't
cooperating with Nicholas's plan for a dual-boot (Linux/Windows XP)
XO, and I have reason to believe that neither Microsoft nor the OLPC
community is interested in porting the XO's Sugar UI and learning
activities to Windows. Scott Ananian has posted an analysis of the
porting problem, and concluded that many important Sugar features
would require Windows kernel hacking, which Microsoft has never
permitted outsiders to do.

But Nicholas doesn't make his intentions clear, giving rise to much
uninformed speculation and even conspiracy theories. Does he want OLPC
volunteers to work on porting Sugar to Windows? Not going to happen,
say the volunteers who have spoken so far. Would OLPC hire Windows
programmers to do the port? Nobody knows, but the community is so far
unanimous against it. Would Microsoft port Free Software to Windows? I
can't imagine it. What do you think?

>  Since the OLPC was first announced we have envisioned it as a way to
>  lead millions of children around the world to a life in which they do
>  computing in freedom.

Yes! In software freedom, and in freedom of thought, and speech, and a
whole lot of other freedoms. See Development as Freedom, by Amartya

>  The project announced its intention to give
>  children a path to learn about computers by allowing them to study and
>  tinker with the software. It may yet do that, but there is a danger
>  that it will not. If most of the XOs that are actually used run
>  Windows, the overall effect will be the opposite.
>  Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless. Its functioning
>  is secret, so it is incompatible with the spirit of learning. Teaching
>  children to use a proprietary (non-free) system such as Windows does
>  not make the world a better place, because it puts them under the
>  power of the system's developer -- perhaps permanently. You might as
>  well introduce the children to an addictive drug. If the XO turns out
>  to be a platform for spreading the use of proprietary software, its
>  overall effect on the world will be negative.
>  It is also superfluous. The OLPC has already inspired other cheap
>  computers; if the goal is only to make cheap computers available, the
>  OLPC project has succeeded whether or not more XOs are built. So why
>  build more XOs? Delivering freedom would be a good reason.
>  The project's decision is not final; the free software community must
>  do everything possible to convince OLPC to continue being (aside from
>  one firmware package) a force for freedom.

Definitely. You can talk to me about how to join the effort, now that
I and a few others have Nicholas Negroponte's attention.

>  Part of what we can do is offer to help with the project's own free
>  software. OLPC hoped for contribution from the community to its
>  interface, Sugar, but this has not happened much. Partly that's
>  because OLPC has not structured its development so as to reach out to
>  the community for help -- which means, when viewed in constructive
>  terms, that OLPC can obtain more contribution by starting to do this.

We have more than 2,000 volunteers, but it is true that nobody on
staff at OLPC has this kind of community outreach as a responsibility.
I'm a volunteer Volunteer Coordinator, and I work on outreach to many
communities. For example, I am on staff for future Python Conventions
(where we have OLPC coding sprints), I recruit people from other
countries to localize Sugar to their own languages, and I work with
OLPC Chicago on Illinois HB5000, The Children's Low-Cost Laptop Act. I
concentrated for a while on critical gaps in localization, and on
leading developers to discover innovative ways to apply existing Free
Software to new educational initiatives. I have had to put some of
that aside for a time, because I consider the mismanagement of OLPC to
be the critical factor right now, and I actually have a voice in that

>  Sugar is free software, and contributing to it is a good thing to do.
>  But don't forget the goal: helpful contributions are those that make
>  Sugar better on free operating systems. Porting to Windows is
>  permitted by the license, but it isn't a good thing to do.
>  I am typing these words on the XO. As I travel and speak in the coming
>  weeks, I will point to it in my speeches to raise this issue.
>  ________________________________

Thanks, Richard, for all that you do so that we can help each other,
and so that we can bring hundreds of millions of children into our
community, along with their teachers, families, and friends.

>  Copyright 2008 Richard Stallman
>  Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are
>  permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice
>  is preserved.
>  ====================================================================================
>  --
>  Frederick FN Noronha * Independent Journalist
>  http://fn.goa-india.org * Phone +91-832-2409490
>  Cell +91-9970157402 (sometimes out of range)
>  Please see http://nursing.goa-india.org

Edward Cherlin
End Poverty at a Profit by teaching children business
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."--Alan Kay

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