Over the past few days I’ve been setting up a few old computers to send to a school in Vanuatu. They’re fairly modest machines but still perfectly usable (albeit not with Vista); P4 1.6ghz, 256mb ram, 40gb hdd. They even have nvidia vanta graphics cards (which sadly can’t do OpenGL – it would have been nice to load Stellarium on the machines). They also have brand new 17 inch LCD monitors, as the bulky CRT monitors that they had originally can’t be taken over as luggage on the plane.
The computers are going accross with students as part of a cultural exchange trip, which allows the students to experience life in Vanuatu. The school they are visiting has virtually no IT expertise – when our english teacher sets them up he will be the closest thing they have to a systems administrator!
This makes is more important for things to just work, but there are also other challenges. We could just roll back the machines to the Microsoft operating system they are licensed for (Windows 2000), install a few Open Source applications such as Open Office & Firefox, and send them on their way. However a computer setup in this way doesn’t even begin to realise the potential of computers as tools for teaching and learning.
In the end it was a pretty easy decision to install Edubuntu on them. Edubuntu comes with all the usual productivity tools (the base Ubuntu system), plus a whole lot of “edutainment” packages (games), and also some specific tools to aid the teaching of specific subjects. You don’t get an equivalent setup on Windows 2000 without a lot more effort or a lot of money. Windows 2000 is now 8 years old, and well past its use-by date anyway.
The timing actually turns out to be quite bad however, as Edubuntu 7.10 is now 6 months old, and the LTS version 8.04 is about to be released. But I would rather send over a fully patched Gutsy system than a beta Hardy system, so that is what they’re getting.
The school also asked if we had an old library cataloguing system that they could use, as their one has “crashed”. Unfortunately I only heard about this yesterday, otherwise I could have set up koha on another machine. Koha is an open source intergrated library system that was originally developed by a New Zealand company. There may yet be time to do this, but I have never even looked at it before so it would be a bit of a rush job.