Will the OLPC interface ruin computing for millions of kids?

I was reading this and this, and I must say that I agree. By not including a normal computing interface on these OLPC laptops, the kids of the third world won’t learn to use a computer, but they will learn to use something virtual and superficial. They might be able to do their homework with these laptops, but they won’t learn to use actual computers.

Make no mistake, the Gnome libraries are running normally below the “Sugar” interface, so this was not a decision by Red Hat to simply make the UI faster. It was in fact a misguided decision to make the interface more “kid-like”. Which is a bad decision for the future of these kids, because if they ever get real jobs or real computers, they won’t be able to use them, cause they won’t understand them how that UI works. They would be confused as hell.

If Red Hat was concerned about usability problems with Gnome and that was what drove them to the creation of the Sugar interface, they should have spent the time to fix the Gnome UI, so we would ALL be benefited from that work.

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taratata wrote on November 25th, 2006 at 10:20 AM PST:

The goal of the OLPC isn’t to “learn about computing” i think. It’s more about eBooks (haven’t they said they will include a “small wikipedia” inside them ?), communication, working in group..

It will be cheaper to give them ebooks on the long term (if those computers aren’t getting destroyed by their hands) than to give them pricey and big books.

Those computers are not for teaching computing. They are there to help educate those kids.

It was never said the goal of the OLPC was to build a Legion of computer programmers and Office secretaries. We would be losing our jobs.

patrique vian wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 1:10 AM PST:

Eugenia, Tomh and everybody that’s not thinking out of the box:

this is a project that falls into the category of “think different”

This is a very different project from what we’re used to. So all the thinking we make about it must be different and free from the experiences we have as granted. Don’t think KDE, GNOME, WindowsUI or Aqua. This IS different. It must be!

JBQ wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 2:28 AM PST:

Eugenia, I disagree with you, for two reasons:

-arguing that they won’t learn about computing because they’re using a computer that has a different UI is like arguing that all Windows and Mac users don’t learn about computers because they don’t know how to do everything with a command-line.

-those OLPC machines aren’t meant to be used to teach computing, they’re primarily e-books. They’re meant to allow each kid to have all the textbooks that they need, and dictionaries, and encyclopedia…

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Eugenia wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 2:37 AM PST:

JBQ, about your #1: You obviously have not seen the UI these laptops use. It is not a normal computing interface, it’s a wall garden UI-wise essentially, like in an embedded appliance. Kids do NOT learn how normal computing experiences are if using Sugar.

Memson, and JBQ about your #2: It would not hurt them to learn to use computers. Even if they decide to follow a career that is not related to computer sciences, it is always very, very important to know how to use a computer in general. EVERYONE must learn to use a computer, even if their profession is not directly related. And the OLPC program could greatly help on this if they used Gnome instead of Sugar.

In my opinion, a specialized, limited UI is a mistake. Real-life computing environments must be used. Yes, they will be harder to use and less-obvious at first, but what these kids will get from the experience is very important. And no, this doesn’t mean that you engineers & programmers will lose your jobs. It just means that knowing how to use a computer for various tasks will be common place. As it SHOULD be. The OLPC should be the machine that drives that kind of knowledge forward too, not just merely work as a dumb text book.

l3v1 wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 5:14 AM PST:

Eugenia, Thom, I can’t agree with you here. While I also think to an extent, that a somewhat more “classical” ui approach would’ve been a better way to go, I don’t agree with anybody who says they should use a specific ui just so they get used to it, this is stupid, this is the philosophy that microsoft has pursued since ever. The point in teaching youngsters computer usage is not getting them stuck to a gui, but to give them the experience of using a computer. The more interfaces they use, the better for them.
Why don’t you complain every time a pda, a phone, or an alternative os comes out with a somewhat different gui ? Yes, because it would be stupid. to do so.

These children, people, should get to know what computers are, what they can be used for, and that with as simple interface as that can be, to make their learning curve as easy as it can be. Later this knowledge will be useful when trying to use different style guis to do the same things. And remember, these simple apps are not so different in functionality, which means less hassle and less trouble.

By complaining about this general gui you just don’t think these people – or any other non-pc knowing people – could learn one way to do things and then get accustomed to do it another way. Why is that ? People are not dumb by their nature, just give them a chance and some time, and some opportunities and they will succeed.

nbates wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 5:29 AM PST:

Eugenia. I learned to use computers with a Commodore 64 when I was about 9. This meant a command line BASIC. And here I am… I can use gnome, blackbox, enlightenment, the command line, windows XP and I’m sure I’ll survive Vista.

Do you think the basics of computing are the start menu and the three buttons in the top right part of your windows? Maybe they are if you are a 30 year old who has to learn to use a pc to use Excel for work, but this are children, they can learn much more (think that the system will probably allow to use python to the children!).

Really, the UI is not the point at all. Do you think the UI will be something “normal” when those kids grow up? Do you think you can predict what will they use? They only need to have a computer, get used to interact with computers, learn not to be afraid of them. Once they learn that they will be able to cope with whatever the future brings.

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Eugenia wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 7:16 AM PST:

Personally, I believe that when people learn to use standard computer interfaces, they will be easier learn to use certain applications (e.g. browsers, spreadsheets etc). This is social progress, and it’s as important as general education. This is why I advocate that they should have cleaned up the Gnome interface and go with it, instead of creating an embedded appliance UI.

Thom Holwerda wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 8:02 AM PST:

It feels like to me they are ‘using’ the OLPC project as some sort of testing ground for new ideas. And in all honesty, that’s just not very nice to those kids getting this thing. Why rely on new, unproven technology and ideas, when we have roughly two decades of real world usage when it comes to UI design?

I just don’t get it. There’s a reason why everybody tries to copy Apple and Microsoft. They spent millions of Dollars on UI research. The OLPC project has not.

Valkadesh wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 10:43 AM PST:

I just don’t get it. There’s a reason why everybody tries to copy Apple and Microsoft. They spent millions of Dollars on UI research. The OLPC project has not.

Apple and MS have spent millions of dollar to create UIs suitable to their customers. But some of the people behind the OLPC project have spent thirty years studying how to use the computers to enhance learning, and there’s a big difference in that.

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Eugenia wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 11:38 AM PST:

If a UI is suitable for customers, it means that this UI must be learned by people who want to become real computer users at some point in their life. Therefore, the OLPC must function as a computer-learning device too, and not just as a dummy text book.

Thom Holwerda wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 11:52 AM PST:

JBQ, first go and see the actual video of the UI. Then, answer the following question:

Does using a low-end mobile phone’s UI teach you anything about how to use Windows/GNOME/Mac/etc.?

ralph wrote on November 26th, 2006 at 12:18 PM PST:

Thom, use it first before commenting on it. You know, there are images for vmware, qemu, etc. available. Calling it a low-end mobile phone’s UI is just stupid.

Eugenia, really, aren’t you the one always acting as if you were an usability expert? And you of all people can’t see that the UI is and has to be tuned to the device it will be used on and to the audience that will use the UI?

Yes, it’s different from other interfaces, but it’s so with good reason. And no, knowing how to use a computer does not equal being trained in one particular kind of interface.

If that were the case you could as well argue that children shouldn’t be allowed to use OSX as they will not be familiar with an application menu like the windows start menu.

Really, I get the impression some people just have to bitch for bitching’s sake.

Kitty wrote on November 27th, 2006 at 10:40 AM PST:

It’ s the second time you downplay it with the words “dummy text book” as if it was a diminishing. A book is basically about the content, not the form.
I’d like to remark that there’s probably 100x times more information and educational value in the content that the children will be able to receive than in the tools themselves.
Literally: they’ll use it for years to learn geography and history and maths, to read news from all over the world and even to learn some basic programming skills. That’s years of learning. It would probably take a children between a day and a week to learn to use any given interface, be it Windows or OS/X or Gnome.
So, while I might not like the icons, or the specific ways the frame thingie works, or some other details, I understand the reasoning behind it: make it in fact more appliance-like in the sense that the interface is tasks-oriented. Remove everything from the interface that stands between the child and his/her goals of reading, writing, drawing, coding and communicating with other children.
And btw, nobody commented about the way the project seems to be very social-oriented with its mesh-mapping representation of what all the nearby children are doing and how they are gathered. I have been told by people that worked on the field that in some places building a real community spirit is a very important part of the education for children that might have to walk 5 miles just to get from a distant village to the classroom.
One day they’ll maybe have to use “real” interfaces for some reason. Big deal, they’ll learn whatever they need quickly. The only people that seem to give some value to “learning about a GUI” are those for which it was an effort. That’s 40+ years old office users and managers. For a child that kind of experience means basically zero effort and zero time when compared to real learning, and has thus zero value.

Harry wrote on November 28th, 2006 at 2:22 AM PST:

Hi everyone, I have made a new UI video demonstrating the collaborative features baked into the operating system. Now on:


There is also a youtube version (warning: fuzzy) in case my site goes down again.

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