The original idea behind inexpensive laptops for the third world was supplemented by the powers of capital depreciation. Specifically, why try and design a new $100 laptop for developing nations’ students when a first world $1500 laptop will be written down and donated to charities and volunteer groups within 2-3 years?
We recently had the opportunity to take advantage of a situation like this – a school in Burundi would benefit from 25 nice HP laptops, netbooks, and convertible tablets if we could find OS and education software for them. Laptops work well in this situation, since power is intermittent, and the load that can be taken from generators when they are available should be minimized. The mix of existing license keys for Windows XP through Vista and 7 were not going to be easy to work with, so I chose Ubuntu as the OS and an education package that included GCompris (140+ education mini games), Marble (Goolge Earth), Celestia (astronomy), and of course LibreOffice. Here are some of the things I learned and can pass on to save you a few minutes in a similar situation:
- Try the Edubuntu Distribution at http://www.edubuntu.org/. It has GCompris and the other software already in the image
- HP Laptops play very well with Ubuntu 14, from Wifi to webcams and even stylus/tablet. Models included Elitebook, 8170p (17″ machines), and 5101 Netbooks. (Linlap is a great reference for linux/laptop compatibility based on community feedback.) Very little configuration was needed aside from some wake up changes to etc/NetworkManagaer/NetworkManage.conf file. Specifically, setting the Wifi controller to be explicitly managed. This only had to be done to a few of the 5101s
- Ideally I wanted to install an offline version of Wikipedia and wikibooks. I found that Xowa could do the trick, and that English wikipedia without photos was about 5GB. Wikibooks was around 1GB. In order to have images and media, the Common package must be downloaded as well, best done from within Xowa’s download manager. This is still a bit of a work in progress, though, since I would like to install this from a stick, not n/w download
- Edubuntu run off a stick runs well with no known issues, good for machines missing hard drives, since storage space can be allocated on the USB stick at the time of creation.
- Install time is about thirty minutes per computer from a USB stick, Some care and feeding is needed during install, a fully automated install with all options preselected would be the next step for a project any larger than this one
- The Unity interface is intuitive for teachers used to Windows or OSX, though the applications menu via the default search icon is somewhat non-intuitive (a bit like windows 8 where you can’t just see all apps immediately)
Lesson learned – the Linux community is thinking about computer literacy for developing countries, and it shows!