Sugar on Fedora 15, the Spice for Children

One of the spins of Fedora is the Sugar On A Stick(SOAS). However, you can install sugar as an additional desktop environment. It is not that any of you, the readers of this magazine, are likely to use Sugar as their working environment. However, if you ever have children visiting home, this is a great way to expose them to the joys of Linux and keep them entertained.

My very limited experience has shown me that you do not need to provide any assistance to the children. You do not need to be able to teach a child the Sugar activities. A child just seems to know what to do, at least, if the adults just leave him/her alone!

Applications in the Sugar environment are called activities. In this article, you will learn how to set up the Sugar desktop for the children around you from the perspective of a 'normal' Linux user.

Adding Sugar Desktop

One of the groups in Fedora repository is the 'Sugar Desktop Environment'. Hence, all you need to do is run

$ sudo yum groupinstall 'Sugar Desktop Environment'

This installs the core Sugar environment and a number of Sugar activities. There are a number of additional Sugar activities packaged as rpm's. Since you may want to set up Sugar for children of various ages and let the child decide what he/she likes, it is useful to install the additional activities as well. All rpms of Sugar activities are prefixed with 'sugar-' . Hence, installing additional activities is easily accomplished by

$ sudo yum install 'sugar-*'

Sugar activities are written in Python. Sugar-specific data and activities are installed in /usr/share/sugar. The activities are in the sub-directory activities.

There will be a sugar.desktop file in /usr/share/xsessions so that a user can opt to run the Sugar desktop from the gdm login screen. You can also try Sugar by using the sugar-emulator command, which will run the Sugar desktop in a Xephyr window.

A User's Runtime Sugar Environment

A user's configuration files, log files, and other runtime information of the Sugar environment is stored in the $HOME/.sugar directory. For diagnosing any problem in an activity, you may view the log files in $HOME/.sugar/default/logs. The log files are recreated for each session and do not become large. On the other hand, you cannot look at the log of a previous session.

There is a Log activity for viewing logs from within Sugar environment. The Log activity may not be visible on the main screen, which shows you your favourite activities in a circle or a spiral. Selection of favourite activities is quite simple. The 'List View' icon on the upper left of the first page shows you all the activities available and lets you 'star' the preferred applications. As you can imagine, this is very useful as you can customise the menu and show only the appropriate or useful activities for a child at the start.

You are not restricted to activities packaged by Fedora. Many more activities are available on and packaged as a XO file, which is just an archive or a bundle, as Sugar likes to call it. You can download a bundle and install it using the command sugar-install-bunde. Activities installed by a user are installed in $HOME/Activities directory and are available only to the user who installed them.

Some of my favourite activities

My favourite activity is Turtle, which is a visual implementation of Logo. It is great to build programs by plugging Lego-like blocks and watching the turtle move. A number of samples are included which show you what all is possible.

Espeak activity is fun. Hindi is one of the languages included in the text to speech engine. The voice is pretty robotic, but I am sure it is still a pretty good input to the children in learning reasonably good pronunciation, particularly by slowing down the rate.

Typing Turtle is a useful way to improve your touch typing.

Memorize makes memorisation painless and fun.

Implode is nice game for very young children, objective is to get rid of groups of 3 or more blocks of same colour.

Pippy is a Python IDE with a number of examples, including sound and graphics, to help you learn programming in the Sugar environment.

TamTam activities related to sound and music appeal to me a lot. I would have loved music at school were I exploring it using such activities. These activities, though, are currently broken on Fedora 15 because of changes in csound; however, that should be resolved soon.

The best option is to explore what is available on Sugar versions of Gcompris and even Blender are available.

The great thing about the Sugar Desktop Environment is that it takes very little additional effort to add it to the existing Fedora installation. In case you prefer Ubuntu, you may see

It gives you a chance to try fun stuff. You may even get addicted and create some activities for the children who will love you.

Creating, extending an activity or migrating an application to a Sugar activity can be an excellent BE project. These projects would be achievable within the time constraints and still be very useful!