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In this Desktop Environment review, we take a departure from the norm and focus on a very specialized desktop environment. Sugar is a desktop environment that’s designed for education and ease of use and is built very well for what it is. This articles goes over the Sugar Desktop Environment, its user experience, some notable features, and some recommendations on who should use Sugar.First Impressions
From the start, it is very obvious that Sugar is very specialized. I’m using the Fedora SoaS (Sugar on a Stick) Spin, which is designed to just be flashed to a USB stick and used that way, but the point stands. It’s clearly specialized and made to be used a particular way. Icons are large, the cursor is enormous, and it’s supposed to be easy to use for a young child.User Experience
The user experience of Sugar is incredibly simple. The Favorites view is just an icon in the center which controls your session, the Journal view just underneath that, and a ring of pre-selected Favorite applications around that. There’s an option to look through a list of all applications at the top right, and you can search the system using the bar in the top left. It’s quite simple, and it’s designed to be. It’s focused toward interactive learning for children, and it does its job extremely well.Games
It wouldn’t be an interactive childhood learning platform without games, right? Many of the games are designed to teach problem-solving and help you with basic skills like typing, physics, math, astronomy, and more.Typing Turtle
This is a game I wish I had when I was a kid. It’s a classic typing game, but it makes things fun and simple. I also appreciate that it’s free and open source so that nobody will be using your kids’ typing data.Memorize
A basic card-flip memorization game that helps teach memorization and basic arithmetic. You have to flip a card in the top, calculate what that would be, and look for that solution in the bottom. It may seem simple, but if you’re trying to teach a young kid arithmetic, it can be awesome.Maze
A simple maze-solving game. It’s particularly easy because it makes it almost impossible to make a mistake, but you can continually choose harder and harder puzzles until you get to massive ones. If your child thinks one is easy, have them choose a harder level. You can get quite complex ones that make just about anybody sweat.Paint
If your child is a major artist, this is the one for them. It teaches them some basic color theory by making them mix red, green, and blue to get whatever color they want and allows them to just draw to their heart’s content. This is especially recommended if you have a touchscreen, as they can actually draw with their hands.Performance
I don’t have a nice htop output for you. Virtual Machine Manager reports that Sugar uses about 1.6 GB RAM at idle and about 0% CPU. This is quite a heavy desktop environment, and I don’t recommend it for particularly memory-starved machines, but if you have an older desktop or laptop machine with at least 4GB of RAM (better if you can upgrade to 8GB), this is for you.The Cons of Sugar
One of the things that I don’t like about Sugar is that I don’t feel very in control of the system. It feels very abstracted from me, which is something that I imagine parents wouldn’t like. I’d like to be able to manipulate the system a little bit more than is possible. It can be installed as a package on a system, so there’s always that option.Where to Experience Sugar
Sugar is available on a variety of Linux systems. One of the most convenient for dedicating an old laptop or desktop to this cause is Sugar on a Stick (SoaS). This is a collaboration between SugarLabs and the Fedora Project, creating a modern, high-performing system that your children can use on just about any hardware. There’s even support for the Raspberry Pi, which can make this whole process even simpler for parents. Be warned that the Fedora project doesn’t officially support the Pi 4 at the moment, so you’ll need a Pi 3. There are some great official docs on their Github page.Who Should Use Sugar
it is obvious that Sugar is meant for children. You can choose your age, so you can theoretically set it as an adult if you want, but there’s not much learning for adults in Sugar. I could picture setting up an old machine that is lying around specifically for use with Sugar so that kids can learn while playing some fun games.
Make sure to check out some of our other Linux Desktop Environment reviews, including GNOME, KDE, Cinnamon, XFCE and many others.
John is a young technical professional with a passion for educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering topics ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.
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