[sugar] Review of Build 539, firmware Q2C18

Ryan Pavlik abiryan
Sat Sep 1 15:24:04 EDT 2007

It is clear you have looked very carefully at the software.  I'd 
recommend trying to get an "executive summary" at the least (if not 
reading all) of the traffic on this mailing list, as it would explain a 
few of the questions you have.  The journal is replacing the file system 
and saving is implicit, which explains why a) you don't see a save/open 
button in AbiWord and b) why the GTK open/save dialog hasn't been worked 
on - it's going completely away.

I am ill-qualified to address your other concerns, but I thought I might 
pitch in where I could.


Ivo Emanuel Gon?alves wrote:
> Warning: This is long.
> This is a review for Build 539, firmware Q2C18.  It's somewhat
> outdated, what with new builds and firmware versions available, and me
> being busy and also meticulous with my tests.  Hopefully, most of the
> points addressed will still have some use to improve the laptop.
> Build 539 was my first upgrade.  I previously used the stable build of
> the 400 series (can't remember the exact number, I think it was 438)
> that came by default on this B4 system and, in the process, I wrote a
> review of it[1].
> _The upgrade process and the new Sugar_
> The first thing I noticed after upgrading was that the boot process
> took a bit longer.  Or at least I think so.  Not being able to
> benchmark it against the older system, I have no way to know if it was
> a placebo effect caused by my expectations.  Still, the upgrade
> process was pretty nice and easy.  I liked that.  I wonder though how
> many updates will the disk drive support before it becomes corrupted.
> It's a flash-based media, after all.
> When Sugar loaded, I noticed three things: new programs, an
> application already loaded with an icon similar to Write, and a
> triangle.  I thought the triangle was a notification that there was a
> device mounted: my USB pen drive.  Hovering the mouse over the
> triangle showed a large black rectangle, as if the information was
> corrupted or there were missing font glyphs.  I didn't know what it
> was at the time, but later I found out it was a notification of a
> wireless network close by.  Speaking of graphic glitches, I noticed
> that sometimes after the battery is discharged, and I put it charging
> again, the battery notification reports that "the battery is fully
> charged", which is obviously impossible.
> The icon similar to Write turned out to be Journal.  It loads by
> default, so it must be a central piece of the XO experience.  I have
> to confess though that besides listing previous activities that I have
> gone through it doesn't seem to have any other purpose.  Am I mistaken
> or is this not much of an important feature?
> The Journal was my first experience of the new Sugar interface menus,
> and -- I have to confess -- wasn't a positive one.  I loved the
> simplicity of the early Sugar interface.  Now, I see an aberration in
> the history of Interface Design: options split by tabs.  By tabs!  I
> don't have screenshots, but use your memory.  The Abiword of the 400
> series had a beautiful, simple interface.  The Abiword of build 539 is
> a mess, complicated by a clunky, unintuitive interface.  Even the
> Open/Save buttons are gone now, and it does feel clunky and confusing.
>  Yes, it now allows space for tables and, yes, it now has these handy
> mesh activity options, but I do not think the overall effect is well
> conceived.
> I have been thinking how to improve the interface and, while it may
> not be the best solution, it is a fine proposal to consider.
> _Proposal to improve the applications' interface_
> My first suggestion is to get rid of the close button, which is placed
> in the activity tab.  Have kids use the keyboard instead by making the
> close key there (Esc key on a normal keyboard) actually do something
> and close any of the Sugarized applications.  That's one less button
> to worry about.  It's pretty annoying when you are working in an
> application, say the browser, and when you want to exit it, you need
> to switch to the activity tab to access the close button.  Not a good
> approach to interactive design, in my opinion.
> I also suggest making the activity not the default tab.  Yeah, the
> meshing activities are a vital part of the system, but are they more
> important than basic operations like Open/Save?  I don't think so.
> Make it non-default and push it to the far right, so it will be in the
> same location on every application.
> Finally distribute the remaining buttons not by topic, but by
> importance.  For instance, in Abiword the children will rarely use the
> table functions or insert images.  While distributing options by topic
> may at first seem logic, it makes a bad experience interactive-wise,
> as children will have to move from tab to tab frequently.
> With less tabs cluttering the interface it will be easier to make it
> simple and beautiful again.  Maybe even go as far as get rid of the
> tab bar, and put those options on the button bar, where they will
> collapse right and left according to where the user clicks.  Nifty
> effect that may be.  It would please the children and make the
> interface that much less cluttered.
> _Applications_
> Hey, new programs!  This must be a video player and, what's this?
> Connect?  Hm, where's the Reader?  Write, Watch, Browse...  No "Read"?
>  Yeah, I guess everyone noticed by now that the icon for Read is (or
> was) missing.  Anyhow, I had to find a way to open it somehow.
> The terminal was of no use; I could not guess what command was needed
> to launch the program, which is okay really; it's not like the
> children will need to do the same.  It turns out the browser can be
> used as a very basic file explorer.  It resembles somewhat the
> directory listing of an Apache server.  Through it, I managed to
> access my pen drive and try to open a PDF book.
> Surprise!  A left sidebar showed up.  It seemed like your typical
> clipboard, listing the file.  From there, I was able to click "open"
> and get it to load on the Reader.  Yeah, it was here and with the new
> interface.
> Strangely enough, doing the same thing with an OpenDocument Text file
> didn't work.  While the file did appear in the sidebar, the "open"
> option was disabled.  Disappointment ensues: I expected Abiword to
> open it.  Abiword appears not to be the default application for
> So, my pen drive was auto mounted by the system.  Nice.  This was a
> much needed feature from the previous version.  Two problems showed
> up, though: I cannot unmount it through the CLI, even as a root[BUG],
> and it is mounted without the noatime option[2], which degrades the
> amount of writing times I can get out of it.  Not good.  It's also (as
> of this build) appending a .olpc_store folder to the drive's root,
> which I see no use for.  I suggest not letting this "feature" stay.
> Personally, I have always hated OS X for doing this, so why mimic it?
> Is there any performance gain from doing it?  Any advantage to the
> user?
> And speaking of the CLI, the XO's terminal emulator is now quite
> unstable graphic-wise.  By unstable, I mean that when I use auto
> complete (by pressing the Tab key) the command completely overlays
> that same line, usually hiding the path and part of the command
> itself[BUG].  This bug, which did not happen in the earlier version I
> used, seems to be caused only by auto completing commands.
> Back on Abiword issues, whatever happened to the Open/Save buttons?  I
> am now forced to use the keyboard (Ctrl+O and Crtl+S) to access these
> features.  Nothing wrong with using the keyboard, but how are the
> children going to find out the shortcut keys?
> Abiword strangely continues to support the Microsoft Word .doc format.
>  Why?  I have previously shared my thoughts on this subject, but short
> and sweet: the same way the XO does not support MP3, it should not
> support .doc.  By doing so, you are allowing those who will work on
> Open Education material to overlook the fact they should use Open
> Media formats.  If their office suit only spawns .doc, and that works
> on the XO, why should they care?  That reminds me of the time my test
> machine was arriving and someone from the OLPC project sent me a
> whooping 10 Mb .doc file over e-mail, which was supposed to be the XO
> manual.  C'mon people!  If you do not give the example, nobody will.
> _Suspend mode_
> The power button used to turn off the whole machine.  Now, it suspends
> the laptop.  While I'm not a fan of Suspend, it is a laptop-thing, so
> it's at home here.  I found two problems, though:
> 1) When you suspend the XO, it will turn on automatically in about
> eight or nine minutes without any interaction from the user[BUG].  It
> will also forget the brightness levels and put them back on maximum.
> 2) Powering off via Sugar or Terminal's halt command sometimes doesn't
> completely shut down the system[BUG].  It is only occasionally, and
> I'm not sure yet what causes it, but when it does happen, the shut
> down sequence is not 100% successful.  Even though the screen is
> turned off, lights like the battery, or even my pen drive showing
> activity stay on.  When this happens, the only way to power off the
> machine is to press and hold the power button for a while.  There was
> one occasion when not even that worked, and I had to take out the
> battery.
> Another thing I noticed, is that the screen now turns off after a
> while when the XO is idle.  Pressing a key or using the touch pad
> turns it back on and, here's the surprise, the brightness level is the
> same as before, which is something that doesn't happen with Suspend
> mode.
> On the subject of level preserving, here's an issue that affected both
> this build and the early 400 series: the ALSA Mixer levels[BUG].
> Volume and PCM is always configured on the maximum and that's pretty
> annoying, since changing the volume matters little for the Mixer since
> it restarts to default levels at booting.  Every time I turn on the
> machine, if I forget to low the volume, my ears bleed as I use
> headphones.  I rather not affect my hearing capacity, and I doubt
> anyone else wants that either, so please fix it, so the Mixer doesn't
> reset the audio levels at every boot.  Bleeding ears!
> _Other nitpicks_
> The Open/Save dialog is the standard GTK one.  I believe someone
> commented on my first review that this would change in the future.
> Right now, it's here and showing the olpc home and the entire Linux
> file system.  One of the new additions as of this build is the Search
> option at the top, which I agree to be a good idea.  I think it should
> hide the file system and show only /home for the user files and /media
> for the external disks.  /home/olpc should be renamed to the user's
> name, though.  Or to Documents, or something like that.
> When I open the browser, instead of the internal library that was
> available in the stable build (whatever happened to it?), the browser
> now defaults to //google.es.  Google.es, the Spanish version of
> Google.  Why?  I'm not Spanish.  The kids in Africa either speak
> Portuguese or English.  So, why?  In case of doubt, use the standard
> google.com.  It tends to examine the IP of the user and present Google
> in the user's language, as well as prioritizing search results in that
> language.  A much better deal I would say.
> _Proposal: Add Comix_
> Comix is a Python application to read comic books, usually compressed
> in ZIP or Tar files (and 7z in the future).  It can also be used as a
> normal image viewer, which is useful considering that watching a bunch
> of pictures through the Browser or Paint, one by one, is not very
> efficient.  Very seriously so, I would say.  Hence, I believe Comix
> would be a good addition to the XO library of applications.
> _Proposal: Create a Game DevKit_
> This was a random thought I got while writing this review, but bear
> with me.  One way to bring in companies to produce educational
> software and games for the XO is to provide them a proper DevKit,
> optimized for this hardware.  It's unlikely that the XO will change
> drastically in the near future, it has a SD card reader, and even game
> play buttons near the screen.  It's crying to be turned into the GP-32
> of educational material and games.
> I suggest getting someone to assemble a nice and simple DevKit to send
> companies.  Making it available to the public is also a very good
> idea.
> Maybe this was already considered.  If so, what's the status?
> _Open Media Review_
> And in this section ends my review.  While all points above are listed
> in an attempt to improve the system, what I really have been testing
> the XO is for Open Media compatibility, so let's go over it.
> The Video/Audio player was a very nice addition.  I don't know what
> it's based on, I suppose a GUI build especially for Sugar.  I assume
> the backend to be gstreamer, like SJ told me in the one occasion we
> met.
> User-wise it has a few faults:
> 1) In the Import menu it states it can support pretty much anything
> under the Sun, especially proprietary formats.  In fact, the only
> thing I have been able to play in it were Theora and Vorbis files.
> More on that later.
> 2) It only allows to open file by file manually.  It doesn't allow to
> create a playlist.
> 3) Opening a file is annoying.  After browsing for it, I have to
> reconfirm it is the right file by clicking OK.
> Back to the Open Media review.  Watch plays only Theora and Vorbis.
> This should be changed, in my opinion.  Watch should be able to _at
> least_ play Theora, Vorbis, FLAC, and Speex.  It should also be able
> to interact with XSPF playlists and the Matroska container (when it
> contains Open Media formats).
> The Watch developer(s) should also take in consideration that now the
> recommended file extension for Theora (and for all video in Ogg) is
> .ogv, while the MIME type is video/ogg.  Ogg FLAC (which is FLAC
> within Ogg) is now .oga and audio/ogg.  Speex and Vorbis MIME types
> have changed to audio/ogg; however, their file extension is kept for
> backwards-compatibility.
> Dirac and Wavpack support may also be considered.
> Regarding SVG, it is a shame that the only SVG parser available is the
> Gecko browser, which is still far from being compatible with the SVG
> standard.  That's a fault of the Gecko developers, but also of the SVG
> standard itself, which is quite complex.
> Regarding XSPF, there's no support at all.  Neither the browser, nor
> PenguinTV, nor Watch may interact with it.
> Regarding Speex and FLAC, it is strange that their command line tools
> are actually available.  The command line tools are of no use to the
> children, though.
> Regarding Theora and Vorbis, I hope that the browser will be updated
> to use the patched Firefox <video> and <audio> support elements of
> HTML 5, when said patch becomes more mature.  Those elements will
> completely deprecate the need for Adobe Flash to interact with media
> content over the Web.
> Furthermore regarding those two, I noticed that they are the format
> used by the Record software.  Theora is a good option.  Vorbis isn't.
> Or rather, it isn't a bad option, but there are better, namely Speex.
> Speex is totally optimized for voice alone, while Vorbis is a general
> purpose codec.  The combination of Theora+Speex is possible -- that's
> why those formats use the Ogg container.  All Xiph codecs may be mixed
> inside Ogg in all kinds of imaginable combinations.
> SJ mentioned that there were a few issues with Theora encoding.  Be
> sure to forward them to me, or to the Theora-dev list at Xiph.  We'll
> try to help in what we can.
> _Final words_
> You will notice [BUG] split throughout the review.  I intended to
> submit those issues to Trac, but every time I have tried lately,
> either Trac is down, or it doesn't allow me to login.  I gave up for
> now.  This review has been too delayed, and I rather release it now
> than when it becomes even less relevant.
> I wish I would be more active in the community development behind the
> XO, but this hasn't been possible so far.  Still, I am trying to help
> in what way I can.
> Keep up the good work.
> For what it's worth, I release this work under the Creative Commons
> Attribution License 3.0.
> Best regards,
> Ivo Emanuel Gon?alves,
> Xiph.Org Foundation
> [1] http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/devel/2007-July/005922.html
> [2] http://dev.laptop.org/ticket/2854
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> http://lists.laptop.org/listinfo/sugar

Ryan Pavlik
AbiWord Win32 Platform Maintainer, Art Lead: www.abisource.com
AbiWord Community Outreach Project: www.cleardefinition.com/oss/abi/blog/

"Optimism is the father that leads to achievement."
 -- Helen Keller

"The folder structure in a modern Linux distribution such as Ubuntu
was largely inspired by the original UNIX foundations that were
created by men with large beards and sensible jumpers."
 -- Jono Bacon, The Ubuntu Guide

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