Best Linux Distro for a primary school?

Part of my yearly summer vacation duties is looking after my wife and kids’ primary schools computers. So far, I have 16 quite slow PCs running on Ubuntu Linux (9 point something or other). Kids are mostly working on text, or on a few education programs that run in WINE.

One PC has been the dedicated “server” where every other PC had an NFS mounted folder. That worked most of the time, but sometimes broke due to flaky network connections.

Next week we’ll try something new. I’m looking for a Linux distro that is cloud oriented, i.e. either gOS (is that still being maintained?) or PeppermintOS.

I’m looking for pre-installed Chromium browser and Google Apps support. I’ll be installing DropBox to share and backup (!) files, and replacing OpenOffice with Google Docs.

Has anyone done that yet? Is that a feasible approach? There aren’t going to be any dedicated email accounts, it’s all about backing up and sharing files. Is it possible to share the WINE drive via DropBox? Any creative ideas appreciated.

Ubuntu Gutsy: winecfg freeze due to 3D conflict

I’m spending another beautiful sunny afternoon in my wife’s primary school. The school bought a Windows based learning software (Oriolus) which we had previously successfully tested to run on WINE.

So, it’s install WINE on 15 PCs, configure, create the required “My Documents” folder, copy the server software over (for some strange reason running from an SMB share won’t work, and I can’t be bothered to investigate) and create links.

Worked beautifully, except for ONE PC which froze completely when I started winecfg. I updated the Ubuntu installation, but still no luck. It was also not due to the lockup with the ICE1724 sound chip.

In my case, using the VESA video driver instead of VIA solved my problems.

That kind of crap is no good for Linux desktop adoption, let me tell you…

Is there an easy solution for doing something like this from a central server instead of on each workstation? I looked at FAI, but it seemed overly complex. Any suggestions?

Ubuntu In Primary Schools – Part II

The Ubuntu installation in my wife’s primary school is doing well so far. We hit a lot of scepticism initially, the local paper even reported that the PCs “only run Linux”. In daily work (mainly Firefox and OpenOffice Writer) everything works fine.

The main complaint was that the school couldn’t use their Windows based learning software anymore. WINE might be a solution to this, so far I have installed software by Oriolus and Pusteblume successfully.

Another complaint arrived yesterday, when the headmistress tried to work on OpenOffice documents in Microsoft Word and couldn’t read them – easily remedied by changing the default save file format to Microsoft Word.

I also set up one PC as a server, sharing a folder via SMB. Two questions around this:
– where do I configure that sharing independently from the logged on user?
– how do I set access permissions – right now any client PC can copy/delete files, but the locally logged in user can’t (nouser.nogroup)

Same crap with USB drives: they mount nicely, but creating folders on the stick and managing access rights across multiple PCs is a nightmare. Is there an easy way to do that properly?

The schools internet connection isn’t too fast. Is there an easy way to upgrade Ubuntu from 6.06 to 7.10 without destryoing all the users home directories? Or would I be better off putting home drives on separate partitions and simply re-installing?

Any help appreciated.

Primary school goes Ubuntu

Recently we managed to fund the purchase of 16 new computers in my wife’s primary school. The old hardware were Pentium III 500 MHz boxes running Windows 98. When I connected the computer room to the DSL router (Linksys WRT54G running DD-WRT), they were all crying for security updates.

I wasn’t going to put Windows 98 on the new PCs, so what options did we have? Buying new Microsoft licenses was not covered by the budget, and probably not needed, anyway: the only software that was already available was a set of outdated education programs, most of which could easily be replaced by stuff available online.

After a brief trial with OpenSUSE, my choice was Ubuntu. The reason to go for OpenSUSE was that it’s available with german language pack – going to Linux and english at the same time might have been a bit too much for 3rd graders ;)

But then I found german Ubuntu CD images, and I was good to go. I prepared 5 CDs and installed 14 PCs in less than two hours, including account setup and Firefox preparation (start page to a kids friendly site, Adblock).

Very nice. The next thing to do will be to set up a common file storage, and to look for educational software (1st to 4th grade primary school, in german). Any hints gladly appreciated.