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The Official Ubuntu Book, 3e: Using Edubuntu

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This chapter introduces Edubuntu, a community-driven project that aims to create a version of Ubuntu specially tailored for use in primary and secondary education.
This chapter is from the book
  • Introduction to Edubuntu
  • Installing Edubuntu as an Add-on
  • Applications
  • Using Edubuntu in LTSP Mode
  • Managing Your LTSP Server
  • Managing Your Edubuntu Clients
  • Controlling and Managing the Users’ Desktops
  • Troubleshooting LTSP
  • Finding Help and Giving Back to the Community
  • Summary

Introduction to Edubuntu

Several Ubuntu advocates have leveled the counterintuitive suggestion that the groups of users who have the most problems switching to Ubuntu are those with the most computer experience. For the technically competent, learning Ubuntu often involves unlearning something else. But while for most of those reading this book, Ubuntu is an alternative operating system, for many others in an extraordinarily exciting generation of users, Ubuntu is a first operating system. No team or project within Ubuntu has done more to target, support, and grow this group of users than the Edubuntu project.

The community-driven Edubuntu project aims to create an add-on for Ubuntu specially tailored for use in primary and secondary education. Edubuntu exists as a platform for tools for teachers and administrators. But the real thrust, of course, and the real purpose, is to put free and open source software into the hands of children. In doing so, Edubuntu provides children with a flexible and powerful technological environment for learning and experimenting. Based on free software, it offers educational technologies that are hackable and that can ultimately be used by students and teachers on their own terms. Distributed freely, its gratis nature serves an important need for schools where technology programs are always understaffed and underfunded. Fluent in Ubuntu and in free software, the children who, right now, are growing up using Edubuntu are offering the Ubuntu community a glimpse of where it might go and the generation of Ubunteros that may take us there.

While the Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Xubuntu desktops highlight the products of the GNOME, KDE, and Xfce communities, respectively, the Edubuntu project aims to provide the best of everything in Ubuntu—properly tailored for use in schools and as easy to use as possible. One thing that made Edubuntu popular was its amazing ability to integrate thin clients, allowing the use of one powerful machine (the server) to provide many very low-powered, often diskless machines (the clients), with their entire OS. (See the section What Is LTSP? for more information.) This model, while uninteresting for most workstation and laptop use by home or business users, is a major feature in classroom settings where it can mitigate configuration and maintenance headaches and reduce the cost of classroom deployments to a fraction.

A History of Edubuntu

Edubuntu started life as two specifications written in the Ubuntu Down Under developer summit by Eric Harrison, Jeff Elkner, and the LTSP developer team to implement an educational version of Ubuntu based on a thin client architecture. The rest of the Ubuntu team valued the goals of their specifications and saw Ubuntu’s use in education as both appropriate and important. As a result, the specifications’ priority was set to high—they had to be implemented.

Enter Oliver Grawert, an important community contributor to Ubuntu who was new to Canonical and did not yet have specific duties and responsibilities within the project. Grawert wanted to work on one of the Edubuntu specifications and, prompted by Ubuntu lead developer Matt Zimmerman, took both. Over the process of the next release, Edubuntu turned into a full-time job for Grawert and a full-fledged offering for Ubuntu and Canonical.

Shortly after being given the specifications, Grawert attended an education summit and met with several educators, administrators, and developers, as well as the core of Skolelinux in Bergen, Norway, to get a deeper insight into the matter. In turn, Canonical sponsored an event in London where the core of the Norwegian Skolelinux team, joined by educators from South America, Spain, Great Britain, and other areas of the world, attended to discuss the future of the educational OS. Together they decided on the core application list and that LTSP would be required by default.

Edubuntu’s goals were simple but expansive and provided a roadmap for the project.

  1. Conquer the classroom.
  2. Grow to school size.
  3. Expand to fit even into municipalities.

Shortly after this, in October 2005, the first edition of Edubuntu based on Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger) was born. Since then, the community has grown massively, and Edubuntu is now worked on by many developers from around the world with a small but growing list of deployments.

In 2008, it was decided that the developers of Edubuntu should focus more on bringing the best educational applications to the desktop than trying to maintain an entire distribution of their own. As a result, Edubuntu is no longer a distribution like Ubuntu, Kubuntu, or Gobuntu, but rather an “add-on” for users. What this means is that you can easily either use an add-on CD image or install the Edubuntu suite of tools using the Synaptic Package Manager onto any existing installation of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, or Gobuntu. Along with this change came a new name as well: Edubuntu—Ubuntu Education Edition.

Where to Find Edubuntu

Edubuntu is found in the same place as the Kubuntu and Ubuntu distributions. If you visit www.edubuntu.org, you can download a disc image and then burn it to a CD.

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