What should become of Edubuntu?

Free Software 9 Comments »

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First, A little background.


Edubuntu was initially created based on discussions that took place at the first Edubuntu Summit that took place in London in July 2005. The first release of Edubuntu aimed to be a turn-key solution that provided an LTSP computer lab with the best educational applications that were currently packaged in Ubuntu. It was to Ubuntu what the K12LTSP project was to Fedora, and schools around the world took advantage of the benefits that Edubuntu offered.

As time progressed, there were 3 full-time Canonical staff working on Edubuntu and Education withing Ubuntu. There was even a full time Ubuntu Education Manager. A technical problem that plagued Edubuntu since the very start was the amount of free disc space on the CD’s that were distributed. Often, funcionality or language packs had to be removed that would otherwise be in Ubuntu to make space for the programs and libraries that was shipped with Edubuntu. LTSP had become incredibly easy to install on Ubuntu, to the point that it was just an installation option from the installation CD, which impacted on the need for the turn-keyability of Edubuntu. Since the Edubuntu and the Ubuntu disc already shared about 90% of the same data, it made sense to make Edubuntu an add-on CD to Ubuntu. That way, there’s much more free space available on the installation disc, and the ease of installation of an LTSP lab wasn’t really compromised, all that was required after an Ubuntu LTSP installation was to insert the Edubuntu disc and install the required packages. Edubuntu was also adapted to Intel Classmate PC’s and other netbooks used in education and is installable via a USB flash drive.

Current Status

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Jordan Mantha, who has been juggling his work and his dissertation with Edubuntu work, there has been an Edubuntu release with this release of Ubuntu (Jaunty) and the previous one (Intrepid). If it wasn’t for Jordan, these releases simply wouldn’t have existed. The Canonical staff that were involved full-time either moved to other projects where they were more needed, or moved on from Canonical alltogether. Edubuntu is currently completely a community driven project with the backing of Canonical in the form of hosting, build services, bug trackers, etc, similar to the Xubuntu project. If there’s no community, there’s simply no Edubuntu at the moment. This isn’t necessarily a problem, back when we had 3 full time Canonical staffers working on the project, it certainly had an effect on the growth of our community. When there are people who are paid to do the work, then everyone assumes it will be done and they get less involved. When the involvement of the Canonical Education team was the highest in Edubuntu was when community participation dived to its lowest. Unfortunately, community participation hasn’t recovered yet. I do think however that one full-time staff member in Edubuntu would be beneficial.

From now forward

With the last few releases, I’ve been asking myself whether I really want to continue being part of Edubuntu. I haven’t been contributing, and I didn’t want to be in it half-hartedly. Yesterday I got a notification from Launchpad that my Edubuntu membership is about to expire, and I considered just deactivating my account, and then I realised that I really do want to be part of this, but it has to be pretty much all or nothing.

I believe that the Edubuntu project is neccessary and that it will add value to the education world, but in order to make it grow again we need to fix its vision and goals, and get people involved that care about the project and who wants to make Ubuntu the killer system for educational environments.

I think we need to answer the following:

  • Who are our users and potential users? What do they want from us?
  • What does Canonical want and expect from the Edubuntu project?
  • How can we align the above with the available amount of resources, as well as find ways to increase current participation?

I’m sure that Canonical had certain goals in mind when Edubuntu was founded, and I also don’t think that the project has quite become what they have hoped it would be. I think it’s important to satisfy the needs of the users of the project as well as the sponsors.

Some people suggested that it’s better to contribute to the upstream educational projects rather than Edubuntu directly. I think fixing upstream bugs and adding features is awesome, but having a pre-packaged solution for teachers is equally cool and just as important.

I’m sending a link of this entry to the edubuntu-devel list, where I hope that Canonical will provide some answers on the future of Edubuntu. Feel free to follow and get involved in the discussions there.

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OLPC Sadness

Free Software 8 Comments »

I like the OLPC XO-1. It’s a quite little machine, it doesn’t have venting holes, and is quite resistant to dust and water. It’s also strong, and handles small falls (like falling from a desk to a floor) very well. I also like the amount of effort they have put into creating the custom Sugar interface, and all the other things around it like the mesh networking support and the way that a user can find other users close to them.

I think the project has taken a turn for the worse though. Nicolas Negreponte, founder of the OLPC project, is pushing the project for the XO-1 to use Microsoft Windows, and they have lost top staff like Walter Bender, who was also one of the top open source guys in the company. Negreponte claims that his interest is to get the machines in as many children’s hands as possible, this article also says:

He lamented that an overriding insistence on open-source had hampered the XOs, saying Sugar “grew amorphously” and “didn’t have a software architect who did it in a crisp way.” For instance, the laptops do not support Flash animation, widely used on the Web.

“There are several examples like that, that we have to address without worrying about the fundamentalism in some of the open-source community,” he said. “One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist.”

Personally, I think that getting the laptops in the hands of kids in an irresponsable manner can do more harm than good. I previously blogged about Microsoft trying to force their old software on users, and this isn’t too much different. Microsoft is already reportedly releasing the next version of Windows next year. This means that by the time many of these XO laptops running Windows get to their target users, it would be an 8 year old operating system that’s already two releases behind the newest. I think this is terribly cruel, and shouldn’t be allowed. If I was a project donor, I would rather pay a bit more for decent hardware like the ASUS Eee or Intel Classmate PC (or even a Classmate 2) and run a modern, supported, localised operating system that truly benefits the users, instead of providing a legacy operating system on slow hardware.

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Microsoft vs Mandriva: The plot thickens

Free Software, Politics 1 Comment »

Previously, I blogged about how Microsoft wants to make sure that they don’t lose market share to Mandriva. The plot has thickened as more details emerges in a PC World article.

The funder of 11000 of the 17000 classmate PC’s is insisting that Mandriva remains on the machines, at least for now. This will have a big impact on the project as a whole, and Mandriva might just yet be the default system on all these machines after all.

In the article it also mentions that the Microsoft country manager for Nigeria, Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu wrote that Microsoft is working on an agreement with the Technology Support Center (which seems to be an independent service provider in Nigeria) to pay them US$400 000 for marketing activities around the classmate, if they switch to Windows.

It seems that the Nigeria is bit behind when it comes to competition laws, since Microsoft claims that they have broken no international laws or the laws of the countries it operates in, according to the article.

I hope that it turns out for the better for Mandriva, if Microsoft could get away with these kind of tactics in every country, we would have a really tough time increasing the market share of free software everywhere.

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One Laptop Per Adult?

Education, Free Software, Gadgets 10 Comments »

People just love the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project. The hardware is great: It’s water-resistant, dust resistant and even to a large degree child resistant. The project have made huge innovations, especially in terms of the unique user interface developed for the machine, as well as large amounts of development that have gone into it’s mesh networking technology and the display that has a super-low-power black and white mode that is clearly visible outside in the sun. The project also aims to develop it at US$100 when it is produced on large scale, which makes it a great cheap and durable machine for the developing world.

Jenni with OLPC Laptop

Jenni with OLPC

Then there’s the slightly lesser well-known Classmate PC. Another low-cost machine intended for use by children. It has a nicer keyboard (although I don’t think it’s water-resistant) and has better processor (the OLPC seems to be a bit underpowered for some of the Python applications people want to run on it). The Classmate PC’s are even capable of running Compiz, which is quite impressive for such a small device. The Classmate PC costs more than US$200, and will probably be more appealing to youth who would already have at least computer at home.

Ogra with classmate
Oli with Classmate PC

Both these laptops use flash memory for storage, which generates less heat and uses less power than a traditional hard disk. In some cases, performance is even increased, since the storage is solid state and there is no seeking that has occur. The innovations in both laptops will benefit young humans everywhere, but why stop there? There are literally billions of adults on this planet that don’t have access to basic information technology and the technology used in the machines mentioned above could certainly be used to create a low-cost, low-powered machine for adults. Or can it?

Yes, it can, and the ASUS Eee is the answer. It contains a Celeron-M Ultra Low Voltage CPU, up to 1GB of RAM, and up to 8GB of flash storage. Just like the OLPC, it also contains a built-in webcam. The great thing about the Eee is that it will make access to information cheap and accessible to people from around the world. Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t think that this is a machine that will only be used by the less fortunate. The compact size and the low power consumption makes it an ideal machine for the traveler. It’s also easier to carry along than the traditional bulky laptop (weighing less than 1KG), and it even has a smaller power supply. What it misses though, in my opinion, is an integraded GPRS/EDGE card. It would probably only cost US$10 per machine to build it in, and would go a long way to help people stay in touch. Eee stands for “Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play“. It will be available with either Xandros (tailored version for this device) or Windows (not that ASUS was really keen on Windows on the device in the first place). The Eee costs around US$400, depending on which options you select.

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Eee PC (Photo from ASUS Website)

This is probably not the last low-cost laptop we’re going to see. There will be plenty of manufacturers who will follow, and the great thing is that these machines tend to love GNU/Linux, which should improve uptake of free software everywhere. I suspect that Microsoft will also use its bad business tactics to try to circumvent this, we’re in for interesting times!

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Microsoft spreads more misery in Africa

Education, Free Software, Gadgets, Politics, Project Mayhem 13 Comments »

I’m quite saddened and disgusted to read this open letter to “Steve” (I would guess Ballmer) from François Bancilhon from Mandriva. The Nigerian government made a deal with Mandriva to supply a localised version of their system for 17000 classmate PC’s that have been ordered for local schools.

Unfortunately, Microsoft got to the government, and those classmate PC’s will now be running Microsoft Windows instead of Mandriva. How utterly disgusting. I can’t believe that a government could make such a bad decision. I wonder if the Nigerians are actually paying for the software, it wouldn’t surprise me if they provided the software for free, simply to undercut Mandriva. And if the Nigerians did pay for licenses, they should be ashamed of sending more money out of the continent on something that’s such a big waste.

From a technical perspective, those machines are very nice. However, they are heavily underpowered for running current versions of Windows. Does this mean that those machines will be running the quickly aging Windows XP? What an injustice to the poor kids who will be using those laptops, especially after effort has been put in to give them an optimised, localised system for the machines. Support for the current versions of Windows XP ends on 14 April 2009, which means that the operating systems on those machines will have an even SHORTER lifecycle than a short-term-support Ubuntu release. Do anyone want to place bets whether Microsoft will care enough to upgrade 17000 machines in Nigeria by then? My bet is that they won’t.

If you’re in Nigeria, please write to your local government and express how you feel about this (write to your vice president, his name is Goodluck Jonathan, so he must be good for something!). Send a copy of your appeals to Mandriva too, maybe they could set up a “wall” page where all these letters are posted. I don’t think the people of Nigeria should simply accept this. Nigeria deserves better. Africa deserves better.

Edubuntu running on Classmate

Classmate PC running Edubuntu

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Kusasa Analytical Education

Education, Free Software, Gadgets 1 Comment »

Previously, I mentioned the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Classroom Coders project. It seems that it may soon be a reality under the Kusasa Analytical Education project. Kusasa is real innovation, it fundamentally changes some of the few 100 years old teaching methods we still use in classrooms.

Kusasa screenshot

It makes use of Mathland, Squeak and Python to achieve this. From the Kusasa site:

The idea is not that learners gain tools they use for the rest of their lives. That’s not realistic. We don’t use any specific theorems or other mathematics constructs from school today. Learners should use tools at school which help them develop a general ability to learn new tools. This general ability is the skill of analysis. It is the ability to break a complex problem into pieces, identify familiar patterns in the pieces, solve them using existing tools, and synthesize the results into a view or answer. We want to ensure that learners graduate with this ability, making them effective, successful, productive and fulfilled members of society.

Kusasa is a Zulu word that means “tomorrow”. Take a peak at the Kusasa website for more information. I think it could potentially be a good educational program to run with OLPC/Classmate type PC’s, and even more importantly, have a major influence on the way the future generations learn.

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Ubuntu stuff!

Free Software No Comments »


Saturday I went to Ubucon here in Sevilla, and saw Fabian talk about Canonical support, and Jono giving a community talk, “Herding Cats”. Both were quite good, I got them on video, and will upload them as soon as possible (most probably in a week from now).

Jono Bacon's talk

Edubuntu on Classmate PC!

Oliver got a basic form of Edubuntu running on the Classmate PC. According to the Intel representatives, you will be able to buy them in South Africa soon. I’m quite eager to get my own one for a bit of hacking. And since I’m joining the bandwagon and planning on getting a Dell Ubuntu laptop as soon as it’s released.

Ogra with classmate

Ubuntu Tour

Last night, Canonical organised a tour at Alcazar Castle for the attendees of the Ubuntu Developer Summit. It was the highest concentration of Ubuntu members I’ve ever seen in my life. I love the sense of humor that many of the Ubuntu developers have, we had a good time. There was a LOT of camera flashing going around!

Cool people

Guadalinex tour

Guadalinex gave the Ubuntu Education (website coming soon) team a tour of their support center this morning. Their operation is very impressive. They have 1100 schools across Andalusia, and 40 staff members taking calls from the schools. They never miss ONE call. They also have a small testing center there where support staff can experiment before giving advice on tricky issues.

Call center tour

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