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openSUSE Brings New Li-F-E To Schools

openSUSE Packs Plenty for School Kids and Schools

  • January 22, 2010
  • By Paul Ferrill

It's a safe bet that the majority of K through 12 students in this country have access to a computer either at home or school. With education budget trends resembling a ski slope (downhill) it only makes sense to look to open source for help. With the 11.2 release of openSUSE comes a separate project targeted at schools and school children.

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openSUSE for Schools (or Linux for education aka Li-f-e) packs a huge number of applications targeted at all grade levels. Packages for both desktop and server are included. They've also provided things like Internet filtering software to help parents and educators protect kids from potential problems. For classroom use you'll find tools for creating a kiosk mode or live CD bootable on older machines.

Desktop Options

On the desktop the project supports several different use cases. Installation options include a Live CD permitting you to test drive the distribution before installing. The ISO image is of the "hybrid" variety, so you can create a bootable USB drive directly from the ISO file. If you do a default installation, you'll get all the applications and server tools, taking around 8.7 GB of disk space. That's a good thing to know if you're installing onto a separate partition or small hard drive.

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If you want to give an alternative user interface a try, there's Sugar from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. Running the Sugar emulator gives you essentially the same experience you would have on one of the OLPC XO laptops. Etoys is a program that was adapted for the OLPC and Sugar to provide an authoring tool to help teach science and mathematics. It runs inside the Sugar emulator and as a standalone program available from the Edutainment application menu.

Another desktop use case is for the school classroom. Here again you have several options when configuring a desktop for school use. Option one would be to do a basic install and then remove all the components that you wouldn't want a typical student to access. Option two would be to use the remote boot tools in KIWI-LTSP and not install anything to a local hard drive. Both options require some work while the remote boot option provides the highest level of control over the software configuration of each individual computer.

Server Options

The Live DVD includes KIWI-LTSP, the openSUSE version of the Linux Terminal Server Project. This version supports up to five users on modest hardware. There's a quick start web page to help you get LTSP up and running in short order. Easy-LTSP is the result of a Google Summer of Code project from 2008 to help configure LTSP quickly. The quick start instructions include both manual steps and how to use Easy-LTSP.

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For school usage you'll find a number of content and course management tools including ATutor, FreeSMS, Moodle, OpenBiblio, and openSIS. While each of these packages are included with the distribution, you'll need to do some configuration and setup to get them up and running. All the typical Linux server applications like Apache, MySQL and Perl / PHP / Python (LAMP) make it possible to implement pretty much any open source platform like the Alfresco or Joomla content management systems.

There's both a client and server version of iTest, an examination administration tool. The iTest website includes screenshots, screencasts and full documentation to help you get going. It's basically a question / answer database application that would be applicable to any subject matter where a multiple choice test would be appropriate. The teacher enters the questions and answers into the database one time along with test specific information such as how much time to allow students to complete the test, what constitutes a passing grade and more. Tests can be taken on a computer, or they can be printed out and then graded by computer.


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