A New Model
We make a distinction between the typical single-application, multi-document model of computing and the Sugar full-screen activity interface, where each object (document) runs within its own instance—multiple instances of a given activity may run in parallel. Activity instances within Sugar provide a way to handle files as objects; each instance may represent a different group of collaborating individuals, and creating a new instance of the Draw activity implicitly creates a new drawing. "Open" and "Save" actions are relegated to a Journal interaction; In fact, we strengthen this by replacing the notion of "Saving" with the more general notion of "Keeping" things. To "open" a drawing you've kept, you simply resume it.
Activities appear in the Actions section of the frame; starting an activity amounts to creating an active instance of it, represented in the activity ring. They can be started with a single click. An activity may also be directly manipulated; dragging an activity into the ring will also create a new active instance of it.
Visual cues differentiate between instances of an activity and the activity icon in the frame. Specifically, any activity installed on the system and appearing in the Actions edge is drawn as a white outline stroke, with no fill. Upon instantiation the icon receives a fill; both stroke and fill colors match the XO colors of the child who created it.
Newly created activity instances inherit the scope of the view in which they are created. This means that any activity started from the Home view begins as a private one by default. Children may later share private activities, opening them up to friends, classmates, group members, or anyone on the mesh through an explicit invitation.
Since newly created activities inherit the scope of the view, any activity started directly from the Friends Group view will be open for her friends to participate in. This applies to any group the child belongs to as well. Implicit invitations are sent to all of the members of the currently selected Group, alerting them of the activity. Likewise, any activity started from the (unfiltered) Mesh view will be open to everyone on the mesh, although invitations are not sent.
The views provide scope for instantiating activities. For finer granularity, the search (located in the Frame) provides an incremental filtering system that enables arbitrary selection of scope. As a query is entered into the search field, the view—Friends or Mesh—dynamically updates to reveal the matching selection. Matches remain in color, while those filtered out appear with a white outline. The filter terms apply parameters such as the names of activities, the types of activities, the names of individuals, and the interests of individuals. For instance, a child could search for anyone who likes games before starting a new game of Memory, or everyone in the same grade in a classroom setting, or a specific group of individuals by name. The results of the query become the scope for any new activity instance, and all XOs within that scope receive implicit invitations when an activity begins. These groupings may be saved as groups for future use.
Once a shared activity begins, the child who initiated the activity is taken into Activity view. Others who received invitations won't join the activity until they accept the invitation; white outline placeholders for their XO icons appear in the People section of the frame to indicate their potential arrival. If they accept an invitation, their XO fills with their colors; if they decline the outline disappears.
Children will often find themselves joining activities already started by others. Activities can be discovered through search; searches may specify an activity name, an activity type, interests of individuals, and names of individuals. For instance, one could search for all activities that relate to music, or all activities that have participants who like camping, or all the active chat activities, or a few specific people by name. Once an appropriate activity is found, a single click on the activity icon will engage it.
Activities may begin as private, or restricted to a small group of individuals. There may be occasion to open up activities to a broader scope. For instance, a class may break into groups to work on a project within private group activities. At the end of the session, all groups may wish to open up their activities to the rest of the class for discussion and critique. Through selection in the activities contextual rollover, one may set the scope of children who may join an activity to one of Private, Mesh, or any specific Group to which she belongs, including her class, her friends, and potentially others.
A child may lock activities in a similar manner, tightening an activity's scope. Participants must leave on their own volition or at the request of others within the activity before locking it.
The activity ring indicates the activities currently running on the laptop. From the Home view, a single click on any activity in the ring will select it as the active activity, automatically transitioning back to its Activity view. Keyboard shortcuts enable quick transitions among open activities.
Ending an activity happens as easily as starting one. To complete the metaphor, dragging an activity out of the ring will end it. Selecting the End action in the activities contextual rollover will do likewise. Note that ending a shared activity—even one you started—does not necessarily "close" it. An activity instance remains active on the mesh as long as one or more individuals remain as participants.
In lieu of an "Open" command, one may simply resume an activity. If a drawing resides in the Journal, then resuming it will automatically restart the Draw activity, allowing modifications to that drawing. Due to the emphasis on collaborative activities, special consideration has to be given when resuming them; An activity fingerprint identifies a particular instance on the mesh. Resuming an activity implicitly invites all others who at one point participated in its creation that also remain within its currently specified scope. Additionally, cases may arise when an activity being resumed is already active on the mesh. In such cases, the child will automatically join the already active instance.
All activities designed for the laptop should place a strong emphasis on robustness. Two essential robustness considerations are input and network.
Invitations perform an essential functionality in a computing environment that so strongly emphasizes collaborative learning and creation. For this reason, two forms of invitations are present in the OS: explicit and implicit.
Explicit invitations are used to invite specific individuals into already active activities. The ability to send explicit invitations to others serves particular use when in a private activity, be it a private group or a solitary one. In these cases, an explicit invitation can extend the group by including one or more specific individuals, without opening up the activity to a broader scope.
A child may initiate an explicit invitation either from within the activity itself or by identifying an individual or group in either the Groups or Neighborhood views.
Implicit invitations do not require specific action on the part of the child. These invitations go to the appropriate individuals whenever actions suggest it, such as when starting an activity from the Groups or Neighborhood views. All individuals within the activity's scope receive implicit invitations to join. When an activity is resumed, those who participated previously receive an invitation.
Incoming invitations appear within the Actions section of the Frame, adjacent to the installed activities; they are rendered in the color of the inviter. Rollover reveals both the name of the inviter as well as the name and type of the activity. On extended rollover, the options to accept and decline appear. There is an optional message back to the inviter upon declining an invitation.
Notifications behave similarly to Invitations; they also appear in the Actions edge of the frame. However, unlike invitations, which are sent from people on the mesh, Notifications come from activities or directly from the system. As new notifications come in, they form a queue, with the most recent in the lower left-hand corner for quick access.
By default, notifications will remain in the frame until the child acknowledges them.
Transient notifications alert a child when they arrive, but as they contain information that has a limited lifetime, they expire. Thus Activities may specify timeouts on notifications, after which they will automatically disappear.
The Activity Bundle
Activities will exist in the form of bundles. These bundles will manifest as groups of related files—source code, images, documentation, etc—that compose a given activity. As self-contained modules, the distribution and installation of an activity distills to a simple transfer of the activity bundle to a laptop. Properties stored within a bundle provide information about its version and its creator(s).
OLPC will support a signed "official" bundle type. Signed bundles have been tested and verified by an authority such as laptop.org or any other organization through which children obtain bundles in some official capacity, such as a country's official repository. This system may support a trickle-up metaphor through which locally signed bundles propagate upward to higher authorities, allowing wider distribution of newly created activities and content to other regions and countries.
Personal bundles, on the other hand, have been created or modified by an individual among the laptop community. A personal bundle isn't signed or verified by an official source; instead, it is signed or watermarked with the identity of the individual who modified it. This watermark remains attached to the bundle throughout its lifetime. As others modify or change it, their own watermark should be appended to the bundle. This gives a personal bundle some sense of origin and a means through which it is possible to give credit or responsibility.
Bundles always automatically update to the latest officially signed version present within the laptop's network. If a child's friend has a more recent version of a signed bundle, Sugar will download that newer version and update the laptop automatically. This requires bundles to communicate a unique bundle identifier and version, as well as their signature if they have one.
OLPC aims to provide a platform which encourages expression through creation. In support of this idea, activities — not applications — provide the main tools through which objects are created. Whenever possible, activities should be named with descriptive verbs, or suitable pseudo-verbs, in order to emphasize their function as things you do.
Activities as Verbs
Activities are verbs. As such, the phrase "<activity> with my friends" should make sense. For instance "draw with my friends," "browse with my friends", "chat with my friends" and "edit text with my friends" all make much more sense than "text editor with my friends." Similarly, "Tam-tam with my friends" reads as an action, even though you may have never heard "tam-tam" before. Treating the activity as an action (verb) and not as a thing (noun) maintains the interaction model that the laptop tries to embody.
Of course, we don't mean to impose arbitrary limits on the types and number of activities that the platform has the potential to support. Just because there is a "Draw" activity doesn't mean that one must either find a synonym or come up with a different activity. (However, note that the former can be a very reasonable approach, as a synonym might actually have subtly different connotations which better support the concept of the activity. For instance, drawing and painting typically imply two very different types of media, dry and wet respectively. Much is gained when these types of differences are reflected in the nature of the activity, and are not simply arbitrary.) In some languages, verbification has become common practice in speech. Many words function as both nouns and as verbs, indicating the action of creation and the resulting product of that action; additionally, many nouns can also function as verbs. For instance, if you speak English, you've probably "Googled" something in the past few days. Many nouns, not just proper ones, can be used in a similar manner.
Additionally, while straightforward names can simplify the interface and provide a means of understanding an activity before entering it, compound names may also be used. Providing a modifier, such as an adjective, can personalize the activity and provide that extra bit of information which differentiates it from similar ones. For instance: "Finger Paint." However, please refrain from resorting to simple one-upmanship in the form of "Super Sketch" or "Ultra Paint," especially if another activity already uses the modified base. Such names only serve to indicate superiority, and don't provide any useful feedback about the particular activity which makes it unique or useful. Providing a meaningful name goes a long way to making the activity intuitive and enticing to the children using it.
Finally, please avoid integrating the name of yourself or of your company into the name of your activity. As an open-source initiative we fully believe in giving due credit, but the name of your activity doesn't provide the appropriate place for accreditation.
Tags provide additional information about the context of a specific activity, enabling powerful searching on the Mesh for generalizations or categories of activities. For instance, searching for "game" should return the "Memory," "Chess," and "Tic-Tac-Toe" activities. Likewise, searching for "drawing" should return any activities that relate to drawing, painting, sketching, etc.
Obtaining Activity Bundles
Officially signed bundles should spread freely across the mesh Neighborhood; their information and the bundles themselves should be readily available to anyone within communication range. Installation and updates should occur implicitly.
While personal bundles are slightly more restricted, current thinking would limit distribution of personal bundles amongst a child's friends only. This should help limit the destructive power of a malicious bundle from spreading across the Neighborhood, yet still allow people to open up their bundle source code, improve it and share it explicitly.
We may wish to allow distribution to any Group rather than just to Friends,
so that if a child wrote an activity that is useful for her whole class, she
does not have to add everyone to her Friend group, breaking the metaphor.
Implicit Bundle Sharing
Implicit bundle sharing will automatically update signed bundles on a child's machine when the network allows. If a child finds an interesting activity running on the mesh Neighborhood, she will implicitly download and install the activity on her own machine when she joins that activity. Additionally, this provides a means of obtaining completely new bundles, since she doesn't necessarily need to have an older version of the bundle installed prior to joining. Of course, since there will likely be some download time before the activity can begin, a visual indication of the progress will appear during launch.
In cases where a child joins a group running an older version of an activity she has a newer version of, the same will happen. Her laptop will silently download the older version of the activity so that when she joins, her active instance is service and communication level compatible. However, in such instances the old version will not overwrite the newer version, and will instead remain a transparent detail for compatibility reasons. The newer will remain present on her machine, so that future activities which she initiates begin with the new version, ultimately encouraging the spread of newer bundles.
We might need some kind of warning when joining an activity on the mesh whose bundle is not signed...
Explicit Bundle Sharing
In the case of personal bundles, explicit sharing will be required. This results from the fact that many children may ultimately edit and redistribute new and altered bundle versions of a variety of software; automatic distribution of such modifications is neither secure nor efficient.
In these cases, activities may be posted to private Bulletin Boards, or distributed directly to a child's friends through the drag and drop metaphors used elsewhere in the interface.
Where Are Bundles Stored?
The Journal keeps a record of all bundles on the laptop. Installing a bundle creates an entry that indicates who the child downloaded the bundle from and its version. If she installed the bundle through the joining of an activity, the activity entry in the journal will reference the newly updated bundle. Of course, once stored within the journal, the Bundle will be available for activation within the Actions section of the Frame.
The journal entry for an activity bundle also allows for its removal; it is deleted in the same way one would remove any other item from the Journal.