Linux Screenshot of the day for 07/28/2008 – KDE for Kids on OpenSuse 10.3

My kids system runs OpenSuse 10.3 with a decidedly youthful bent. The teenagers like all of the arcade games, while the younger ones, the toddlers in fact, really enjoy the activities provided by programs like gcompris, an edutainment package aimed at the preschool through elementary crowd. Get ‘em using Linux young, and they’re hooked for life! This screenshot is of my daughters desktop sporting Konqui on a wallpaper from the KDE Kids Theme.

Affordable PC labs for your school district

edubuntuThree years ago, A friend and I installed a computer lab in a K-8 parochial school. There were 14 workstations and a server. The computers were donated by Concordia University where my friend happened to be a professor in the computer science department. The workstations were actually thin clients and the server ran LTSP. Slackware 10 was the only choice for the OS as this was Jeff’s current pet Linux flavor – I’ve been an SVR4 junkie ever since. We had to pull all of the components together to get things to work, so our installation took the better part of our Saturday afternoon – but really, an afternoon with an old school guru, 15 computers and Linux wasn’t exactly an unpleasant experience.

It’s been three years now, and things have really changed on the “PC’s in education front”; enter edubuntu. This addition to the ubuntu family really makes the transition to mixed os environments a charm. It comes in two flavors; a server, and a client. (I do have a knack for the obvious.) The installation for the server is very straight forward. It comes with the best of Open Source software for kids installed – educational titles, edutainment titles, and just plain fun titles. There are excellent titles for class room management, testing administration, thin client management, title management, the list goes on.

Hardware requirements for the server can be broken down as such:

  • 256MB RAM for the system and then 128MB per simultaneous user. During lessons, most of the users should be running the same programs – this reduces memory use.
  • Processor speed is dependent on usage. Obviously, if your thin clients are running demanding applications, the server processor will get throttled. There is negligible degradation of performance across the network if only a few of the thin clients are using these types of programs.
  • RAID is recommended because of the data throughput requirements. Fault protection is nice too.

As far as thin clients go, if it can boot from the network, it will probably work. Here is the minimum and recommended hardware:

  • Minimum requirements – a 233MHz processor, 48MB RAM and 2MB RAM for video
  • Recommended hardware – a 400Mhz processor, 128MB RAM, and PXE boot capabilities

Nothing to the thin clients really, even brand new, each system should be under $200.00, with keyboard and mouse. Monitor type would be determined by budget and need. If you plan to have more than 10 users logged on regularly, gigabit Ethernet is recommended. Scalability is not a problem either. If a single server is getting overworked, just add another and they’ll work in tandem.

This is an excellent value for any K-12 organization. There are many age appropriate software titles available and LTSP is easy to setup and maintain. Small and large scale deployments will see significantly lower cost related to hardware and software purchases as compared to traditional proprietary systems. Speaking of proprietary, edubuntu and LTSP play nice with SMB (Windows) and Mac based network resources.

Don’t be fooled, Linux is not free

C. Marc Wagner’s article Don’t be fooled, Linux is not free, makes several good points, but fails to remind the reader what the GNU says about “free” in the context of Open Source and GNU Linux:

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free” speech, not as in “free” beer…

Much of the money saved on software cost, assuming you are not using one of the many commercial (i.e. license fees) Linux distributions, is best spent on training. Proper implementation of IT must affect the bottom line of an organization in real and positive ways. Knowledge based on experience and thoughtful training at all levels of user and administration, serve only to realize these benefits.

Let’s be realistic. It’s a mixed platform world. It’s really nonsense to be all or nothing when it comes to operating systems, or proprietary v. open source as an IT professional. Serving the best interest of our organization and that of our user base should be paramount – not personal passions and prejudice. It is good to expose people to other technologies. Ignorance breeds fear – this fear is a barrier to implementing open source software. While I appreciate the innovation of many Open Source programs, I also appreciate some of the things that can be done with Microsoft products. Besides, Microsoft has been our bread and butter for years. Average users, and especially power users, are hesitant to try something new. It’s been my experience that once that initial barrier is crossed, the “novelty effect” has to be overcome as well. *NIX are just as “serious” as Microsoft products.

These barriers do not typically occur in children though. To them, a computer is a computer. If adults could only understand this! IT professionals are not exempt from ignorance either. To wit: At a meeting of the regional technical college IT curriculum advisory board, I was expounding the joys of spammassasin, clamAV, and new-amavisd when an enterprise IT manager pointed out that, “…business don’t want something new and gimmicky – they only want to use what is tried and true.” When I explained that *NIX has evolved from a code base that has been around for decades longer than even the oldest lines of Microsoft products, he quietly took his seat and said no more about it. I really enjoy checking out the various distributions of *NIX. It’s the same sense of discovery that I had with DOS 4.0 back in the day – you could take a text editor to command.com and make it say stuff like “formatted 1433.6 KB of crap”, so long as you padded the left-overs with asci spaces. I often see, what in my opinion, are superior programs and methods on these OS’s. Regardless of my enthusiasm, it’s a big deal for an organization to change platforms. Making sure that their accounting software, or SAP is going to work are just some of many considerations. In an education environment though, this is not a big issue, nor is it an issue at any level when given realistic cost analysis and proper implementation. When we talk of “free” software in this context, let us be reminded of Richard Stallman’s words:

“When talking about free software, it is best to avoid using terms like “give away” or “for free”, because those terms imply that the issue is about price, not freedom.”