Betavine Cape Town Developer Day 2010

I used to work for OLPC, whose mission is to distribute low cost laptops for education, without necessarily the connectivity with the outside world. Now at Praekelt we’re focusing on using connectivity as the power – harnessing the deployed base of mobile phones in Africa without requiring them to be smartphones or computing devices. As part of this Praekelt Foundation and Vodacom are hosting the Betavine Social Exchange Cape Town Developer Day 2010.

I’ve asked Steve Wolak to tell us more about Betavine and the event.

Who is Steve Wolak?

Stephen Wolak, Founder and Head of Betavine, has worked in mobile technology and software since graduating from Imperial College, London. Stephen joined Vodafone Group R&D in 2000 and in 2006 put forward the idea of an open platform for engaging the wider technology community with R&D activities.  The rest, as they say, is history.

MC: I first became aware of Betavine when looking for 3G drivers for Linux, but I’m sure there is more to it than that. What is Betavine and how did it start?

SW: Betavine was launched in January 2007 and has been evolving ever since, with new features being added in response to new requirements and feedback from the user base.  One area of success has been the linux software for the Vodafone Mobile Connect (VMC) card which has been downloaded over 750,000 times and has created a lively community around it.

We have also run a number of successful competitions on the website and created a lively Widget Zone. The website continues to evolve and we try out new things.

MC: What is the Betavine Social Exchange?

SW: This is our latest idea.. creating “social and sustainable” mobile solutions.  The Betavine Social Exchange seeks to bring together 3 communities; the mobile community, the social sector and the entrepreuners.  Together these communities can create mobile solutions for the social sector.  Community organisations create challenges on the website and mobile developers / social entrepreneurs create solutions. The website then supports the deployment of these solutions on the ground.

MC: The BSX’s success certainly depends on connecting the right people: those with needs – the NGOs and community organisations – and the developers. How do you publicise the BSX to reach them?

SW: We are running our pilot in South Africa and so we are working with Sangonet to help us get in touch with South African NGOs.  We are running a developer day in Cape Town to help us engage with the local developer community.

MC: What do the resulting solutions include – are they apps for mobile phones, mobi websites, SMS solutions or all of the above?

SW: All of the above.  It is important that the solution is appropriate for the challenge and the local community that will ultimately use the solution.

MC: What can developers expect from participating in the BSX?

SW: They can find real world challenges that people are seeking solutions to.  They can meet other developers and find useful resources to help them create a business.  The full resources section is coming soon.

MC: Which leads us on to the Developer Day being hosted in Cape Town next month. What’s going to be happening at the event, and how does it tie in with the BSX?

SW: We are keen to encourage mobile developers based in South Africa to engage with the real challenges that have been posted on the Betavine Social Exchange.  The developer day will include presentations on mobile technology and some exciting mobile solutions plus a developer competition and lots of creative energy and networking.

MC: You’re going to be speaking at the event. Who would you like to see there?

SW: I would like to see mobile developers plus those with design skills and a passion for using mobile technology for social change.

MC: We’re having a developer competition on the day. Can you tell us anything about the prizes/incentives you’re planning to bring?

SW: Well, the developer day is free and includes lots of food and drink plus some beer at the end of the day … :-)  We also intend to offer a few prizes for the competition winners .. But we have not decided exactly what yet.  You will have to come along and see but tickets are going fast!

Developer Day details

Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 from 9:30 AM – 7:00 PM

Location: The Lightbox Daylight Studio, Green Point, Cape Town

More information and free tickets are available at eventbrite. Due to the demand, the event has been expanded to 70 people.


Ubuntu Server: Versioning /etc with etckeeper rocks!

Deploying a new server at work – a dedicated server hosted at Hetzner. Fortunately Jaunty (Ubuntu 9.04) was released before we had anything hosted on the machine, so I took the decision to upgrade it before we do serious deployment.

One of the shiny new features of Ubuntu Server 9.04 is etckeeper, documented here by Thierry Carrez. In particular, on 9.04 etckeeper plays well with bzr and shows the real user who typed “sudo etckeeper commit” in the bzr log, not just “root”.

As we have a (small but distributed) team adminning the server, this will help a great deal to keep track of who did what when.

Surviving an Ubuntu Release Day

Some observations on the last n releases:

Throughout the Ubuntu development cycle, there are daily “snapshot” CD images produced. If you’re fortunate to live in a country where most of the “broadband” online population are not capped at 1GB per month (and a presidential hopeful who doesn’t keep singing “bring me my machine gun“) then you can download these during the development cycle to boot (daily-live) or install (perhaps in a virtual machine) to check on the progress or help with testing. These culminate in the actual “gold” release image.

Therefore, if you have one of these images from near the end of the development cycle, such as the release candidate, you can rsync to the latest image available on release day, and that will download the differences between the iso you have, and the final daily image – which will be identical to the release image, even though the daily image will be named something like jaunty-desktop-i386.iso and the corresponding release image named ubuntu-9.04-desktop-i386.iso. Rename it, and you’re done!

(Check the MD5SUMS after the release is announced, to be 100% sure you have it. There is always a small chance of a change to the ISOs on release day if some major “ate all my data” bug is found – so if you do have problems, remember that it comes with no warranty…)

Now, for kicks, go and lurk on IRC in #ubuntu-release-party and watch the masses rocking up to ask “Is it out yet?” Note Alan Pope’s list of Things Not To Say, and don’t go gloating that you have it already – you’ll only be kicked from the channel by the ironically named partybot.

Instead, burn write it to a USB stick (CDs are so early 2008) and get installing!

OLPC discontinues “Change the World”


In a stunning moment of irony, OLPC has discontinued “Change the World”.

In an email that leaked out onto the grassroots mailing list, OLPC quietly announced the end of the “Change the World” program previously known as “Give Many”, where you could buy 100 or 1000 XOs for the school of your choice.

Here’s the relevant excerpt:

> Unfortunately, as some of you might have heard "Change the World" aka "Give
> a School" aka "Give 100, Give 1000" will cease to exist. We are just waiting
> for the info to be taken off the main website (any second now).
> We are doing this in an effort to refocus back to large-scale deployments
> that create change in a major way. We WILL honor all requests that we have
> received prior to the info being taken off the website. So if you know
> anyone who is interested, tell them time is of the essence!!

Indeed, the ways to give page no longer lists “give a school” as an option. That option used to read (courtesy of Google cache):

Give 100 or more laptops with this special program that allows donors to choose the country where the laptops go. This geo-targeted program can impact a village, a region, or even a country, with large group donations.

The page it linked to is still live, but the link is gone.

I’m speculating that the minimum deployment is back up to 10,000 XOs, which was a previous category of deployment.

This is a blow to future small deployments in South Africa, as we have over 600 XOs deployed in South Africa through this program with more that were planned. Marco Rosa has been setting up a local non-profit organisation to raise funds and coordinate deployments – now to no effect unless we use laptops from other vendors.

Now I’ll get back to making Sugar, the learning platform originally developed for the OLPC XO, work on other hardware via Ubuntu

[Image remixed from Ploum, CC-BY]

Status of Sugar on Ubuntu

Here’s the status of Sugar on Ubuntu:

[ Help wanted sign ]

Sugar 0.82 on Intrepid (8.10)

There are various bugs and issues with Sugar 0.82 on Intrepid.

I’ve finally got a fix released for the problem of Browse not starting – it breaks every time we get a Firefox security update and we need to go through the process of getting hulahop rebuilt against the newer xulrunner path and uploaded to -proposed, tested and pushed out to -updates.

Other issues in Intrepid include needing support for Network Manager 0.7, and the Journal appearing not to store any entries (which is a xapian corruption thing fixed in Debian which we need to apply to sugar-datastore). We need to get these fixed, and there are patches available, so it takes people to do the packaging, sponsor the uploads, test the results, and keep testing and giving feedback.

Sugar 0.84 on Jaunty (9.04)

I’ve been working on packaging Sugar (sucrose) 0.83.x for jaunty. At this stage, the packages are uploaded to a PPA: Don’t expect them to work yet, but if you have a troubleshooting mindset, please do help test.

I’ve got tickets open for uploads to jaunty, ready for sponsoring. In the mean time, jaunty still has 0.82.x.

(Please note that PPAs now have signing keys, so you need to add the GPG key to your apt config. Instructions are on the PPA page.)

I’ve packaged glucose and Browse and Chat for now. I could use help packaging the rest of the activities that we have in the archive.

Also, we need to get Read and Write working for Jaunty, which means evince and libabiword. I know Tomeu’s working on the former, and Luke on the latter. Please give feedback to the Ubuntu Sugar Team if you are stuck, or if you have been in contact with the Ubuntu packagers for these.

Logging bugs

If you have problems with Sugar on Ubuntu, please report bugs per the instructions on If you don’t report a bug, please at least let us know by mailing the Ubuntu Sugar Team (

Sugar bugs a-twitter

Inspired by how Launchpad posts bugs to twitter via an atom feed using TwitterFeed, I set up a twitter account for the Sugar Labs trac instance: Follow to see new bugs posted.

Due to rate limiting of a maximum of five updates in 30 minutes, it won’t show every bug logged during a busy period, but it gives a nice real-time notification of new bugs on trac.

Now I see TwitterFeed supports too, so I’ve added the feed to as well.

The status of Sugar, post-OLPC

[The following was largely written by members of the Sugar Labs marketing team.]

[UPDATE: Collabora also provide engineering resources.]

The recent layoffs of almost the entire OLPC software development team have been widely circulated, but not the implications for Sugar, the learning platform originally developed specifically for the OLPC XO but now available on various GNU/Linux distributions including Ubuntu, Debian and Fedora.

Here’s where the Sugar project stands:

  • Sugar’s development infrastructure is now mostly independent of OLPC, thanks to many generous partners (Ivan Krstic, OSU Open Source Lab, Free Software Foundation,, MIT Media Lab, Solution Grove, Collabora and Develer).
  • For about 3 months now, Sugar Labs has already been taking care of Sugar development with almost no support from OLPC (other than contracting the core development team until recently).
  • Sugar has not lost any of its full-time core developers as a consequence of OLPC’s layoffs: All of the core team will stay around as unpaid volunteers while we’re looking for new ways to finance their full-time contribution.
  • Today, development of Sugar and activities relies upon 20 active contributors.
  • Over the past few months, we have grown our community with new contributors, new partners and new distributors.
  • The rate of development seems to be increasing steadily as we consolidate our new community driven development model (we can obtain some support evidence from git).
  • Through the Software Freedom Conservancy, Sugar Labs is receiving some very generous support (although we’re not yet able to credit individual donors).
  • While we do not plan to hire a development team within Sugar Labs, we’re working to get some of our full-time volunteer contributors sponsored by external organizations.
  • Red Hat, Collabora and Solution Grove are contributing with engineering resources and covering traveling expenses for some of our members.
  • The development cycle is proceeding steadily and Sucrose 0.84 will be released as planned in March.
  • We’ve been working to establish Local Labs, grassroots organizations which, in our mind, will fill up the gap left by OLPC in deployments.

It’s starting to become clear that 0.84 is where we’ll prove our credibility as a self-sufficient, community-driven project.

See our Getting Involved page!

OLPC in Limpopo

I found a great video produced by One Here One There of their OLPC deployment in Limpopo province, South Africa:

Sugar development needs funding

My contract with OLPC hasn’t been renewed due to financial reasons. I’ve added myself to the rather obscure Professional Services Sugar Labs page – look for more of us to appear there in the near future, as almost all the Sugar developers are in a similar position.

We either need funding, or a way to provide contract services developing and supporting Sugar.

Sugar git repository change

There’s a shiny new instance of gitorious on, the new home of the upstream repositories for Sugar.

The following modules have moved over from

  • sugar
  • sugar-base
  • sugar-toolkit
  • sugar-datastore
  • sugar-presence-service
  • sugar-jhbuild
  • read
  • chat

sugar-jhbuild has moved over as well, and updated to use the new repos. Some of the module names have been changed at the same time, for example presence-service is now sugar-presence-service, and chat-activity is now just chat.

If you’re using sugar-jhbuild, the old repo is up to date as of now with the new repos, but I recommend a completely clean build, cloned from the new repo, unless you have the git-fu to change it in place.

Anyone who could commit/push to the old sugar-* repos is welcome to ask for commit rights on the new repos – we can’t add you until you register on In the mean time, it’s trivial to clone a personal repo in the web interface and push to that and request a merge.