For the last couple of days I’ve been trying to install some new software on the Ubuntu Linux machine that my kids use in their playroom. Being able to get a real computer for the kids for about $75 (about half of which was spent on the monitor; the box itself is a castoff desktop from the college that I bought for $10) and run all the software they could possibly want to use at their age for free has been great. But having to deal with the technical side of Linux and the usability issues in software reminds me of why I no longer use Linux in my daily life.
Back in 2001, when I started my new job at my current institution, I took the plunge and installed Red Hat Linux on my school computer rather than Windows. I had a colleague at my former work who was a Linux zealot and I figured I would take the transition period to my new job to switch operating systems. At the time, one of the driving reasons for doing so was the simple realization that, although I used computers all the time in my work and at home, I really didn’t understand how computers work. I figured running Linux would allow me a chance to learn, as well as expose me to some very good open-source software.
A friend sent me a tip about this new flavor of Ubuntu Linux that caters to Christians. It’s your basic Ubuntu distro, packaged with the GnomeSword Bible study software, BibleMemorizer, and something called the BibleFox theme for Firefox. I’m normally not a fan of Christian franchising (e.g. lame Christian ripoffs of famous T-shirt themes). But this case, why not? The whole point of open source software is that users can make of it what they want, and this seems like a pretty good instance of that philosophy. I can see the value of something like this, too, in getting inexpensive (well, free) and functional software to missionaries, churches in remote areas, and others who can neither afford nor obtain proprietary software. (And GnomeSword is actually a very nice piece of software, on par with the ridiculously expensive Bible study programs.)
When my friend send me the link, I emailed him back and said “What’s next — the Satanist version of Ubuntu?” It turns out that other people were way ahead of me. (In spite of myself, I have to admit “Linux for the Damned” is a catchier tagline than “What Would Jesus Download?”)
I propose the Amish version of Ubuntu, in which users have to write their own drivers, manually configure all the settings each time they log on, and which only works
on laptops with a crank handle.
Bloomington High School North, a few miles down the road from here, is installing 279 Ubuntu Linux workstations as part of the Indiana ACCESS program. Simon Ruiz is in charge of the deployment, and he’s got a very detailed blog going on here describing all the ins and outs. Very interesting from a technical standpoint and from the viewpoint of getting all this technology ready to use in a high school setting. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to do a major installation of Linux, that blog appears to be the place to go.
[Hat tip: Ed-Tech Insider]
Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, Bloomington
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[Hat tip: Disquistiones]
Please Don’t Send Me Microsoft Word Documents is the title of this web page from Tristan Miller, and it logically and thoroughly makes a strong case for calling a halt to the notion that Word is a universal file format. Read it, and bookmark the link so you can send it to all the people you work with who don’t think twice about file formats.
Word is very good for some things, particularly document authoring where comments and revision tracking are important. I use it every day on the Macbook. But Miller is spot-on that the main problem with using any word processor for basic communication is that they conflate composition with typesetting, and most of the time there’s no need for anything more than a simple text editor, which is “future-proof” and whose output can be read by nearly any machine in existence.
Then again, will people get it if you explain it? I think most casual computer users have a very poor understanding of the whole concept of a file format, and that’s a big part of the problem. Back when I was still running Linux full-time, a colleague of mine sent around a document to all faculty in Microsoft Publisher format. When I emailed the person and gently explained that not everybody on campus used Windows and so documents meant for all faculty should be in a generic file format, they re-sent the document… as a Word file.
Sorry for the light blogging, but
- the internet card in my laptop has died, which means I have to plug in the Wi-fi card (yes, an external card — not internal, which puts a lower bound on the age of my machine) to connect to the web;
- my Linux distribution can’t figure out how to use the Wi-Fi card;
- So I have to use Window$ for everything now;
- And my RSS reader with all the blogs I usually read and post about is over on the Linux side. Therefore I’ve had a stoppage in the raw material (= stuff from other people’s blogs) that I usually write about.
On the bright side, this has given me a chance to make a major push for the Mac laptop as an upgrade. As in: Sure, you can spend the money to fix the card in my laptop, which is going to be upgraded in 3 months anyway, or we can just go ahead and get what I am asking for!